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A Shop Master’s New Year

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As the new year approached, I had an opportunity to speak with two very different kinds of body shop owners. One was bemoaning the past, saying that 15 years ago, the business was fun—there were fewer regulations and fewer forces nibbling away at profits at every turn. He was earning less and working more today, and the fun was gone. He was pessimistic about the future.

“Periodically, a business owner needs to go through a renewal process, evaluating what is working and what is not, shedding what isn’t working and strengthening what is.”

The other kind of owner—and I spoke to two of these—was expanding. They were both buying out a nearby shop and increasing their reach into a wider market. They were optimistic about the future! What made such an incredible difference between these two very different shop-owner types?

REPRODUCTION THROUGH RENEWAL

It seems to be human nature to mimic the life cycle of the human body, only in other areas of life as well. The body goes through birth, growth and reproduction, and then gradually declines.

Creation of a desirable fut­­ure is what inspires us to work—and especially to put out that extra effort to build the kind of future life we wish for. If we are optimistic and believe it is possible to create that better future, it is easier to get up in the morning and eagerly attack the tasks of the day, knowing that each day is bringing us closer to what we have envisioned.

By contrast, if we see the future as being doomed to continuous decline, with diminishing returns for the efforts we make, it will become more and more difficult to make that effort. Business-wise, we may be experiencing a kind of spiritual hardening of the arteries.

Generally speaking, as things age, they slow down. Body parts become less fluid and tend to solidify, and, in business, we see a parallel as practices and procedures eventually become set in stone and change becomes more and more difficult. To reverse that process, we need to become more capable of adjusting to the constantly shifting world around us. The body shop owners who saw an optimistic future, for example, accepted the necessity of “reproducing” their businesses. They had prospered on a small scale; now they were reaching further to create something even better.

It would, of course, not be practical to suggest that every shop owner should renew him or herself by opening a second shop. A more realistic kind of renewal would be more of a parallel to the way the snake sheds its skin and, in a sense, becomes a new snake. Periodically, a business owner needs to go thro­ugh a renewal process, evaluating what is working and what is not, shedding what isn’t working and strengthening what is.

SEEING THE FUTURE IN EVERY MOVE

I’ve noticed that the more future-oriented shop owners seize greater efficiencies by anticipating the future sooner than most. Many of the delays in getting a repair job finished are the result of parts coming in late, for example, so the future-oriented shop owner tries to determine what parts will be needed as early as possible. Sometimes it might only be an educated guess to order a part before a vehicle’s tear-down is complete, but with years of experience, those guesses can become incredibly accurate.

Another point in the repair process where allowing for future delays can make a difference is the final inspection. Many shops make that inspection just before delivering the car to the customer, but if some problem is discovered at this stage, the customer might have to be notified that delivery will be delayed—or worse, the customer might have to bring the car back later. In both cases, the customer comes away with a perception that this particular shop doesn’t really have its act together. Better anticipation of the future could have made all the difference in customer satisfaction reporting.

The shop owner who somehow anticipates new trends and successfully seizes on new technologies and practices before the competition has a significant advantage, but not many manage to do it. Perhaps that’s because seeing the future actually requires a firm grasp on the past and the present as well.

Over the years, a few very smart shop owners in our industry have seized an advantage by anticipating the future and capitalizing on it. Like the shop master, a future-minded shop owner might do well to study the moves of those shop masters. Taking a deeper look at a wider range of moves for his or her own shop might then reveal future consequences or advantages in each maneuver. And that just might provide the renewal you need for 2008.


Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.

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