Don’t Get Caught Up in Perfection

Dec. 1, 2010
A collision repair must be perfect. Many other aspects of your business can—and should—just be good enough.

During the many years I’ve called on body shops, I’ve been surprised by how long it takes many shop owners to add equipment, add signs, or make positive changes that could greatly increase their productivity and sales volume. A shop owner will rave about a recommendation and share their plans for making changes, but when I come back six months or even a year later, nothing has been done. Generally, it hasn’t even been started.

Why? I discovered what might be considered a shop owner handicap: A tendency toward perfection. That’s a very positive characteristic for a collision shop operator who wishes to produce a beautifully finished, high-quality auto body repair. Shop owners and managers have a keen eye for detail, and most want to turn out a perfect job. Unfortunately, that same perfectionist characteristic applied to shop improvements can become a major impediment to completing improvements.

Missed Opportunity

A good client of mine has a unique advantage. His shop fronts a very busy thoroughfare, with hundreds of cars passing daily. The section of his shop facing that street has a half-a-block of relatively flat wall space that I calculated could allow at least 10 small signs to be posted.
I suggested that my client post signs like “Fastest job turn-around.” “Easy deductible financing.” “Lifetime warranty on paint and body work.” on the side of his shop, taking advantage of his location on a busy street.

“Perfection is often confused with excellence. Perfectionism [can] become an albatross, rather than a motivator or path toward better, more balanced business decisions.”

More than a year later, no signs had yet been put up. Possibly 52,000 cars had passed that shop during the 52 weeks of the year. Even a tiny fraction of those cars coming in for estimates or work would have been a significant gain. But, like most shop owners, this shop owner possessed the auto body repair perfection trait. He wanted his signs to be equally perfect, and I agree that would be ideal. But meanwhile, money was slipping through his fingers. Temporary banners with basic statements could have been put up in a week, attracting business while his high quality signs with more exact wording were created.

I’ve seen similar delays in other shops, stalling on putting in production equipment that could double production time and generate greater profits. Showing off your shop in a shop tour is another great approach to boosting business. Everything had better look very good when you put on a shop tour! One shop owner made his shop the voting precinct on Election Day and hired a lady in an Uncle Sam costume to show voters around the shop. But I can think of a dozen shop owners who said they were going to make visual improvements to their shop and work bays, and a year later still hadn’t done it.

All or Nothing

The perfectionist repair mentality balks at incremental improvements. You can’t partially repair a car and have it come back in a week or so to make more improvements. You have to deliver a perfectly finished final product to the customer. But the currently popular Kaizen approach to business improvement calls for continual, gradual improvements.

Perfection will always be somewhere in the dim future. A better approach is creating a priority list that calls for the most dramatic changes first and allows for gradual improvement down the line. There is seemingly no end to all the improvements that could be made to most shops.

We all know it’s impossible to be perfect, but nevertheless, culture—and sometimes biological nature—conspires to make us forget this truth. A good example is the workaholic, so-called Type A executive who thinks vacations are a sign of weakness. Perfection is often confused with excellence. When the attainment of perfection in all domains of life is striven for as if it were the Holy Grail, perfectionism becomes an albatross, rather than a motivator or path toward better, more balanced business decisions. Psychologists say perfectionism refers to a cluster of thoughts, behaviors and feelings centered on attaining flawlessness and excellence, and in achieving high standards no matter what the cost.

Perfectionism is truly useful in obtaining a safe, great auto body repair. But the characteristic may lead to setting unreasonable standards for yourself, and others. It can actually interfere with work quality and relationships. Some shop owners I’ve observed who seem to have this trait often miss deadlines due to their high work standards. They seem to be stuck with all-or-nothing thinking, with experiences or situations being either “perfect” or “not perfect”—with no in-between.

When it comes to the many nonrepair projects that could advance a shop’s profitability, it may be useful to practice being a little bit imperfect in order to get some important things finished.

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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