When Opportunity Knocks

Aug. 1, 2008
Tough times yield hidden potential—if you know where to look.

As the economy weakens, I’ve observed many shops shifting to a “crisis” mode of behavior. Good workers are being laid off and costs are being cut across the board. The problems of the day put shop owners under stress, possibly distracting their attention from what may actually be opportunities in disguise.

Tiger Woods, one of our most successful golf stars, recently won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Calif. Under intense pressure from knee surgery pain and a serious challenge from competitor Rocco Mediate, Woods sank a 12-foot birdie putt at the very end, forcing a tie and a play-off, which he won the next day. It’s been said that the key to Woods’ success is his incredible focus under pressure. From very early on, his father taught him to ignore every distraction and to focus one hundred percent on the play at hand.

“This may be the best time to reach out and try for deals that
may have seemed difficult, or even impossible, not long ago.”

Given the distractions of current economic pressures, how can shop owners keep their eye on the ball? By focusing on the unique opportunities that often appear in tough times.


With shops laying off even some excellent techs, you might have the opportunity to hire one. The question is, “How to afford adding a technician when work is slow?” I’ve lasted through several recessions where shops had to struggle to hold on to or hire good employees— and some succeeded. One strategy that worked well was to bring in work with little or no profit but enough revenue to pay the technicians and break even. Typically a quality shop may avoid low revenue work like taxicabs or car rental companies, but this may be a time when there’s a good reason to bend a bit to hold on to good workers.


When business really gets slow, marginal shops begin to fold up altogether. I heard about one repair shop owner who took advantage of a competitor who was just going out of business. He called the phone company and captured the failed shop’s phone number. All calls that would have gone to that shop now came to his, and he set up a script informing the caller of the change and inviting him or her to come to his shop. He reported a nearly 50 percent increase in business as a result.

There may even be a possibility of taking over a shop’s business name if it has been abandoned. Ads and phone directory listings may still be running under that name even though the shop no longer exists. By capturing both a long-standing name and phone number, you could create an asset well worth having.


While cutting costs may be essential during an economic decline, another way to reduce costs is to get better discounts. It’s important to stay aware that your paint, parts and materials vendors are going through the same slow-down crisis you are. You can be certain they want to hold onto every bit of business they can. Now could be a good time to let them know you may consider changing vendors if you don’t get a better discount. While they may be reluctant to give a larger discount during slow times, giving the discount would certainly be better than losing the customer.


These days it can be more than a bit difficult to secure referral relationships with insurance companies, fleet companies and dealerships. But times of crisis are also times of change. This may be one of those moments when you can offer a referral source a better deal than your competitor—if he’s still in business at all!

During times of crisis many shop owners and managers make like turtles and pull back inside their shells. But this may be the best time to reach out instead and try for deals that may have seemed difficult, or even impossible, not long ago when times were better. As U.S. President Richard Nixon said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity.” He might have missed it himself, but you may be more fortunate.

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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