Automotive Strategy: Twenty heads are always better than one

Jan. 1, 2020
With an economy that is going on four years of down turn, the uncertainty and disarray in the world of marketing, the shortage of qualified technicians, search engine optimization, social media and consumer confidence at an all time low, the pressure
With an economy that is going on four years of down turn, the uncertainty and disarray in the world of marketing, the shortage of qualified technicians, search engine optimization, social media and consumer confidence at an all time low, the pressure on automotive shop owners is all but overwhelming.

It is a very rare individual who can wage this war for survival and too often, with our being pulled in so many directions; the bottom line results only just barely make it all worth the effort. Only barely allow us to survive. If we are not one of those very rare individuals, and if we are challenged on multiple fronts in moving our shop forward and in staying competitive, I am going to suggest you find an automotive focus group made up of shop owners just like you, who likely suffer the same difficulties you do and begin to get your arms around all that challenges you and challenges your shop.

Who knows, you might even begin to enjoy your business again. Stranger things have happened. In a former life with a former employer, I had the great good fortune of hosting two automotive specific focus groups for automotive shop owners. With all of the training and coaching and events I have done over the years, I would tell you without reservation that these were by far the best, most enjoyable events that I have ever been a part of.

And they were so good and so successful because they were all about the owners and all about the challenges they faced every day, every week and every month. I would tell you that there was always a certain amount of pain and embarrassment arising out of these events but that was way overshadowed by the focus and sense of mission that most of the owners left with.

I have seen and experienced any number of variations on these types of meetings. Many are heavily facilitated with a significant training agenda. Many concentrate on the numbers and seem to approach this from a coaching perspective, identifying problems and offering solutions. What we used to do was have a two day event and mostly we were there to keep things moving and to keep things focused. The event was all for and about the owners and we didn’t do a lot of talking.

On day one we would review the previous quarter’s numbers for the twenty shop owners in attendance and nearly without exception, the owners dreaded this portion of the event. Not only were we discussing a broad spectrum of performance indicators, good or bad, but we were discussing them publicly. I can tell you that some pretty confident, pretty cocky shop owners found humility pretty quick.

 

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Though most of these were high performing owners, running high performing shops, with an awful to be proud of in the big world but no shop is perfect and allowing anyone to dig around in the back of your underwear drawer can be a bit embarrassing and a bit humbling. I would tell you that without exception everyone survived and except for some much wounded egos, they mostly left with a strong commitment to get better.

If for no other reason than to not be so embarrassed at the next get together, they nearly always found a new urgency to get better.

Most of day two was taken up with each of the owners describing up to three things that made him or her successful in the previous quarter. From the humility of day one, we saw the emergence of that old cockiness and confidence on day two and this was invariably where a lot of the owners got to throw out their chests a little bit and describe their successes to a room full of their peers.

Shop owners, both men and women, talk about their shops almost as they would describe their children and if the day before had been explaining why little Johnny had misbehaved or was a bad boy, day two was describing Johnny throwing the winning touchdown with seconds left on the clock or smashing a homerun in the state finals to deliver that last minute victory. And truthfully this is where I thought the value in these groups was most obvious and tangible.

Where else can you go and listen to twenty or so guys just like you describe strategies and ideas they have successfully implemented and even have the opportunity to ask questions. In my opinion there is nowhere else you could go and have that kind of opportunity.

The last thing we did on day two of these events were to ask each of the twenty or so shop owners to describe their take-away from the meeting.

Invariably there was joking, invariably there was a genuine commitment to the group and a commitment to get better but I was always shocked by the emotion that came out. I am thinking that owning and running a shop is so big, so overwhelming an undertaking and one that you have so little opportunity to share with anybody for the simple reason that they wouldn’t understand and these events put shop owners with shop owners and there was a deep and immediate connection.

Suddenly you were among friends, suddenly there was understanding and suddenly the years, upon years, of sacrifice was out in the open and suddenly you were understood. I would describe a shop owner who tearfully talked about his wanting nothing more or less than just to attend his son’s soccer games after years of missing out on them.

 

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I would describe a husband and wife team with similar tears, who came into the meeting resigned to losing their shop after several decades in business but being able to leave there with a new focus, a new determination and a room full of new friends who would help them get there.

Hope comes in many forms and flavors. There is none better than a room full of shop owners, who have all had their own set of challenges but all of whom learned to spell success and there being there, willing to share. That is about as good as it gets. The tire and automotive repair industries are extraordinarily complicated and challenging. Add to that staffing, marketing, customer service challenges and it is not difficult to imagine our getting overwhelmed. None of us could possibly have all the answers. Join one of these automotive focus groups and at the very least you will have a great place to start looking.

Mark Twain said, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way”. A lesson learned is only important if it inspires you to something better.

The very best thing I ever did in the automotive repair industry was sit in a room and listen to twenty automotive shop owners. Can you top that?

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