Paul Gange started the Fix Auto USA franchise approximately 10 years ago. He recently spoke with FenderBender and broke down FUSA’s strategy for navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in a fashion that keeps the company’s finances on as solid of ground as possible.
FenderBender: What are your financial strategies for surviving this COVID-19 outbreak?
Gange: I think there isn’t a tremendous amount of magic in this, meaning what we do is probably similar to what others do.
You need to manage your controllable expenses. Maybe that’s services you can slow down or suspend for the shop. In our case, we travel extensively and that stopped weeks ago. It becomes a focus on cash more than earnings. We’re very cash sensitive. We have very strong bank relationships and have worked closely with all of our franchises to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program under the CARES Act.
We’ve also worked closely with some of our key vendors to develop strategies to limit some of the services and eliminate the costs of those services so we can provide leads to our franchisees.
There’s a revenue portion we wanted to focus on, which is: How can we make this easier on customers to bring us their vehicles? So, we’ve embraced photo estimating and we’re working closely with our technology providers on that. We’ve implemented curbside concierge, which is a contactless way for customers to drop vehicles off at our shop.
Have you seen any examples from your company that give you hope that your company will be able to adapt to the "new normal" brought about by this Coronavirus outbreak?
Generally speaking, there’s always a silver lining. We’ve sort of always said the silver bullet inside of Fix Auto’s business model is that we’ve essentially assembled the best and brightest entrepreneurs to help them work closely together and help each other. They’re very open with each other.
We’ve witnessed a group of 160 shops out there that are finding solutions every day and sharing them openly and proactively. They’ve embraced the group chat programs we use and the video call platforms. One of our franchisees might ask a question and get multiple responses from fellow franchisees and members of our corporate staff. We are quick to support each other and get a good solution.
That to me is almost foundational but that innovation goes beyond helping each other. It goes to best practices. We have a franchisee in Minnesota, for example, that produced a really solid video early on in the process that showed how we were open for business and able to ascertain it was a safe environment. That’s the kind of thing we’re able to do quickly and efficiently and share across the platform for the rest of the franchises.
Finally, we're optimistic about our readiness to our return to full business and have developed plans to not only return to that level, but to grow, as well.
How can shop owners make sure they’re showing they appreciate employees during this time?
I think the most important thing leaders can do is communicate. I think we need to be honest and acknowledge that our employees are in fact humans and that this is a scary time. It’s certainly stress-inducing. We need to be as communicative and available to our employees as possible.
People are not just worried about right now but they’re worried about the longevity of our businesses. Will they have a place to come back to? What will happen if they get furloughed right now? But, I think it’s important to talk to employees about what we’re doing strategically to ensure the continuity of our business long-term.
Personally, I’m very open with our staff about what we’re doing. If there is challenging news, we’ll share it and talk about it.