The COVID-19 outbreak is being felt far and wide. The need to close down businesses and create social distancing will change the economy for the foreseeable future. Small business owners are some of the most vulnerable to this.
“Every business is going through this,” says Dave Schedin, CEO of CompuTrek Automotive Solutions, a coaching company for the automotive industry specializing in cash flow.
Although it may seem bleak at the moment, body shops may actually have an advantage. While many small businesses had to or continue to be shut down, auto repair shops have been deemed “essential businesses” in many areas of the U.S., allowing them to stay open.
In order to come out of this in the best way possible—and learn a valuable lesson for the future—Schedin shares his tips on how body shop owners should go about handling relationships with staff members, customers and vendors.
How should you approach difficult conversations with your employees when they’re unsure about the company’s future?
Number 1, shop owners need to make sure their team feels safe. Not just from the coronavirus—safe in the longevity of their job. Speak hope into people. Leaders need to create a clear plan of what he or she is doing to handle the current situation and communicate what they’ve done in precaution already. Daily meetings are a great idea. Even more than one per day. Don’t let unspoken thoughts not be spoken. Check-in with your employees and let them know what’s going on. It’s important to let them know the financial stability of the company. If you don’t have cash reserves, it can be a challenge.
What should you do if you’re not financially stable?
You can still build hope—but you need help from everyone. Communicate the importance of banding together. Let your employees know that everyone is impacted by this, so if they’re thinking of going somewhere else, chances are that other places are not hiring. As a leader, you need to put a plan in place and the truth is, it’s going to be difficult. Many shops will have to cut wages. Rotational schedules and reduced salaries and wages will help, in some cases, keep the doors of a shop open, so communicate that to your employees. We need to make sure everyone’s core livelihood is protected, even if that means dropping employees down to part time. Owners can’t be afraid to spell the truth out. If we band together, we have a better chance of surviving and coming out the other side.
If business is slow, what should shop owners do to keep businesses afloat?
If you’re slow, now is the time to take advantage of training. Now is the time to upgrade and start servicing hybrids. Get your people trained. This way, when things get back to normal, your staff can perform on higher levels.
Another piece of advice that will help get customers in and hopefully prevent layoffs is get customers through the door. You can have someone work remotely and call customers. Get on the phone and go after your database like you never have before. Say, before all of this, you were closing 10–12 cars per day and now you’re closing 4–5. With some phone calls, you could bring it up to 6–8, which can make a huge difference.
Now is also a great time to make updates to your shop or equipment. If you’ve always wanted to paint, pay your staff to paint rather than paying a company. Make sure that when it is business as usual, you’re ready to go full force.
What about customers? How can shop owners reassure them and get them to continue to come to their business?
By this time, everyone has heard the same message over and over. Keep a fresh perspective and reach out to customers. Remind them that you’re still there for them without making a sales pitch.
Businesses should reach out and explain what they are doing to ensure their safety. For example, offering pick-up and drop-off delivery, no-touch payment and authorizations and no-touch key drop boxes, to name a few. Also, find a way to differentiate. One shop I work with, when they pick up a vehicle, they’re also offering to fill the customer’s car up with gas. It’s the customer’s money, but they’re making it so the customer has one less place to go and preventing them from going out when they may feel unsafe.
Is there anyone else shop owners should reach out to?
One of the most forgotten about is vendors. Have clear communication with your vendors. Many shops may need an extension to pay bills. Start having these conversations early about how to extend due times. Ask for price breaks. Let them know that you’ll stick with them, but you need to work out a plan.