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The Importance of the Women’s Industry Network

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Lillian Maimone has always had a passion for business, a sense of creativity and an appreciation for achievement. So when she found herself sitting in the office of Marco’s Auto Body in Monterey Park, Calif., she saw a real, long-term opportunity for herself in the collision repair industry. In the past 25 years, Maimone—whose résumé includes Los Angeles City Hall, Bank of America and Arrowhead Water­­—has helped the shop expand to eight locations and 180 employees. Here, she shares her thoughts on the importance of the Women’s Industry Network, the state of the industry and the secret behind her success.

 

You’re a board member of the Women’s Industry Network. How is WIN working to involve women in the collision repair industry?
Young women need someone to support them, to reassure them they are not alone, to help them believe they succeed. That’s what WIN does, by reaching out to colleges, body shops, insurance companies, vendors and other companies within the auto body industry to support women. Any woman who seeks support, WIN responds.

 

You were recently honored as one of 2008’s Most Influential Women in the Collision Repair Industry. What has this award meant to you?
I am so very much honored for it. AkzoNobel, [which sponsors the award] is such a wonderful company to invest their resources in recognizing women. I hope the award can show other women that they can, indeed, achieve success. This award showed me how important it is to help other women advance their careers. I love what I do and I want other women to feel the same.

 

As CEO of Marco’s Auto Body, what has been your biggest struggle?
Fragile referral sources and employee layoffs. It’s all about survival these days. But it kills me to lay off an employee, especially knowing they’ll struggle to find another job. Although we try to give severance and medical insurance, it’s still incredibly sad and heartbreaking. Just like any business, we sadly have to make tough decisions so we can survive the tough times.

 

While managing Marco’s, you earned your business degree from Pepperdine University. What was the most valuable business lesson there?
Many schools and seminars expand your knowledge of new ways in “doing things,” but very few spend time teaching ethics and implementation. Those two lessons have become valuable elements at Marco’s, and we practice them daily.

In practicing ethics, even if we suffer a blow—and we’ve had our fair share—we know that if we do the right thing, we’ll be OK. We know if we compromise just once, we’ve made a decision to let things slide. It’s a dangerous thing and it can be easy to justify, but those decisions snowball, especially when employees see that an owner is willing to look the other way.

Regarding implementation, many business owners have grand ideas but don’t give enough thought about how to make those ideas a reality. Without the planning, flexibility and proper talent to execute implementation, the new ideas will weaken, cost more money or simply disappear. I owe a lot of gratitude to Pepperdine for educating me in those two areas.

 

You are president of a California Auto Body Association chapter. How important is it to be involved in an organization like that?
The best advice I can give body shop owners is to go to chapter meetings. Go to several different ones. Go to other types of associations like the Collision Repair Association of California (CRA). It’s not enough for only the owners to attend. Spend the money to have managers attend. Depending on the subject matter, it helps to have different types of employees attend. That way, all your key people are on the same page. They also benefit from [interacting with employees from other shops, in terms of finding out what other people are concerned about and picking up on new ideas].

 

What is the most pressing issue facing the collision industry today?
Speaking for Marco’s, it’s not being able to forecast, not being able to predict my customer base based on our data. [On the positive side,] this is an opportunity to run my business differently. We look at everything creatively, and constantly try to revamp ourselves. I’m fortunate to have employees who are fighters; they believe in our company. That’s because they are equal drivers of the direction of the company. They believe our company can handle any downturn.

 

What advice do you offer to shop owners struggling to survive?
First, cut or eliminate your own pay for as long as possible. It starts from the top, and all employees need to know that the owner is willing to feel the pain of a pay cut before employees face cuts or get laid off. It builds tremendous good faith and understanding throughout the company. It also voids feelings of resentment that can further hurt the company. Most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Cut as many unnecessary costs as possible without hurting the integrity of the company or your employees. Do not cut on quality or service. My company is known for both, and my employees know that now’s the time to step up because many competitors are using shortcuts to save a dime.

If anyone must be laid off, start with poor performers and problem employees. Run the company as lean as possible. All employees, no matter what their title is or how highly skilled they are, have to help every department. For example, all managers and lead technicians have to help detail cars. The crossover assistance helps lean the company to its maximum level.

Have a candid discussion about all this with all employees of all ranks. Everyone needs to hear the same message. Talk positively to the employees about the company’s future. Let them feel hope and a sense of security. Don’t just talk doom and gloom. If employees feel hopeful, they will support the company in any way they can. Talk to them often and let them see a smile on your face. Give them a pat on the back for having a good, productive day.

Spending money on marketing is still important. Most companies cut their marketing costs during times like this, but I did the opposite. While shops ceased getting their names out there, my company is [presenting] our name in every avenue possible.

 

As a successful shop owner, what has been the secret to your success?
Honestly, it’s just doing the right thing: keeping integrity and honesty in my company’s culture, being humble yet firm on the principles of the company. Most importantly, it starts from the top. Every message the owners give to employees, they have to set the example with 100 percent consistency. That creates loyalty, and loyalty ensures a strong company.

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