If there is one constant in the tire and automotive repair worlds, it is that things are always changing. Certainly the last three or four years have proven this. Many who could not or would not react and change with these different market conditions have been forced to close their doors. Not trying to indicate that it was all boom times before the economy went south in 2008, but prior to that, there was a business environment that was very forgiving.
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If we were something less than prudent with our cash resources, there seemed to be an endless supply of creditors happy and willing to finance (for a modest fee) our follies and inefficiencies. Those days are as dead as disco, as are the business strategies that landed many a great shop and shop owner out of business. In truth, the last three or four years have been a wake-up call to many among us and for those willing to adjust to this new reality, there is a market alive with opportunity.
The greatest challenge, for most among us, is tapping into these opportunities and finding viable new solutions to the many challenges this economy and this industry present. A great place to start is 20 Groups.
The 20 Groups have been around since the 1980s and remain a great choice for automotive shop owners and managers. They allow us to identify risks and weaknesses in our current operation and allow us to see how our peers (20 or so) address similar types of issues and give us great insight into better paths and emerging opportunities.
What exactly are 20 Groups?
Though I have heard them called Peer Performance Groups, Bottom Line Financial Groups, 20/ 20 Groups or Management Workshops and Retreats, 20 Groups are facilitated meetings or events that may take any number of approaches toward engaging participants, but usually have a specific focus and nearly always are driven by attendee experience.
The great value in 20 Groups is in that collective experience. You might be there to talk about marketing, shop operations, tech productivity or to discuss financial performance but 20 Groups differ from a sales conference or a reengineering boot camp in that they are driven by the twenty or so participants and their collective business experience. A great 20 Group member is willing to be open and honest with other group members, which can sometimes be a very humbling experience.
A great facilitator at a 20 Group actually does very little of the talking but makes sure that we stick to the agenda and makes sure we are using our time equitably and effectively. He occasionally even acts as a referee. Each group will develop its own personality and set its own priorities but the facilitator is there to make sure we are accomplishing things in that process. Because 20 Groups tend to grow closer and much more intimate over time, there is always the risk of their becoming more social and much less effective. A great facilitator will assure our focus. They are all about our getting better and that takes time and that takes work.
How do you find a 20 Group?
Well the easy and obvious answer is going to everybody’s favorite search engine and writing something clever like “automotive 20 groups, executive 20 groups or financial 20 groups” and hit search. I might go one further and suggest talking to other shop owners and industry professionals, along with contacting industry organizations we might belong to and asking around. In the end, we have to find a group we are comfortable with, a group that addresses the areas we are concerned with, a group that will challenge us to be better and a group that has some record of success.
I would even advise finding a group that is out of town. The commitment to the 20 Group needs to be strong and for a few days, two or three times a year, we need to focus and concentrate on things other than what is going on out in the third bay or on our counter. A remote location removes a lot of the distraction and allows us to get the greatest value out of the 20 Group.
I would describe most of the automotive shop owners I have known over the years as a fairly skeptical bunch and certainly given the tough conditions we have seen over the past few years, I think that this is mostly a good thing. Too often though, this skepticism prevents us from making the types of changes and types of decisions that are called for. It is extraordinarily powerful to be able to look across the room and to be able to see a guy just like you who has taken on a particular strategy or who has implemented a particular program successfully. And even better, you get to ask questions and get the opportunity to get to know the guy and the shop behind it all.
At their base 20 Groups are events where 20 or so participants with a similar background get together in search of solutions to similar types of problems. At their best they are focused in specific areas, are able to measure growth and progress and provide the added value of a network and peer pressure. Being able to measure your progress and improvement is always a good thing but being able to do this in front of 20 or so respected peers is even better.
The reality of the tire and automotive repair industry is that there is just too much going on. Far too much change for the average owner or manager to stay current and up to date on all that is out there. A lot of owners are very much involved with the day to day running of their shops and simply have not looked beyond their bays or front door and are not even aware of looming problems, let alone exploring possible solutions. Your peers can without a doubt be brutal in their assessments but having walked a mile or two in your shoes, are likely to offer great solutions for the things that are ailing your business and daily operation.
Why is this objectionable?
Somehow I am guessing that you could survive having your peers make suggestions on how to improve your operation, especially considering that what they are suggesting is currently working in their shop. 20 Groups are in their own way painful in that your shop performance is explored and examined in great detail but where else are you going to have the opportunity to compare yourself to a room full of your peers.
Where else are you going to have the opportunity to have twenty or so shop owners, just like you, describe in great detail the things that have made them successful. I am guessing that there are probably at least twenty reasons why we should consider joining a 20 Group. The Survival of your business might just be one of them. Remember, cost is what we pay, value is what we get. 20 Groups are a great value and an investment in our future.
As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
Somewhere there are 19 shop owners who, like you, are searching for success. I hope you won’t keep them waiting. Remember, excellence, just like mediocrity, is a choice.
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