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Greg Sands’ group of 20 automotive repair shops c...
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Shop Success: Good Planning Is More Fruitful Than ‘Magic Bullet’
I spend nearly every day talking to shop owners. While some seek my advice, others I encounter as I search for locations to open new shops. Despite the differences in their backgrounds, locations and individual situations, all of them inevitably ask me the same question: “What is the magic bullet that will take my business to the next level?”
By Greg Sands
It’s a fair question, but it misses the point. Focusing on one secret ingredient instead of the entire recipe won’t lead to success. If I baked a cake and you asked me what was in it and the only thing I told you was sugar, you couldn’t replicate the cake. Yet, that’s the approach many shop owners take when building their businesses. They think that simply launching an advertising campaign or sponsoring a local baseball team will drive sales. While advertising and community outreach are important, addressing those issues in isolation won’t result in higher profits.
Instead, develop a plan or “recipe” that includes a wide range of factors from customer service to staffing. Keep in mind that creating this list will take time, but try to narrow it down to the items that you feel are most important to building a strong business. Here are the seven factors that I consider essential to creating a successful shop.
1. Core Values
The core values I establish for my shop guide everything I do. For example, because appearance counts for so much in the retail business, I set strict standards about how clean my restrooms, waiting area and other public spaces should be. These standards are followed in all of my stores, so customers know what to expect, whether they’re visiting one of my shops in Houston or Atlanta. If you’re environmentally oriented, then your core values might address how you dispose of used oil or whether you recycle old equipment.
2. Customer Benefits
For me, customer benefits encompass everything from what kind of warranties I offer to how my sales representatives talk to customers on the phone. I provide convenience by focusing on speed of service. I ensure safety with well-lit parking lots and avoid tinting windows to add another layer of comfort. I guarantee transparency by videotaping all of our jobs. Highlighting these benefits allows me to differentiate myself from the competition.
With so many stores, it’s impossible for me to personally manage each one. So, I rely on my employees to serve as my eyes and ears on the ground. As a result, I need to have very clear practices regarding staffing. For example, after many years in business, I found that I can handle almost anything volume-wise, if I operate with three managers, four general service representatives and four technicians. That’s my formula for staffing and I don’t deviate from it because I know I’ll run into trouble.
I also have very specific rules regarding the types of skills and qualities I look for when hiring for certain positions. I like my managers to be outgoing and come to the job with prior success in the retail industry. My technicians have to be veteran mechanics, with more than $50,000 in tools. Beyond those qualifications, I set bars for each position, so employees know exactly what to expect.
Having a formal training program for your staff is key. If you hire a well-skilled technician, but fail to teach that individual your processes or try to convey your practices in a short conversation, you’re destined for problems. We’ve created manuals to outline our systems, so employees always have something to refer to when questions arise. You should also establish who is responsible for training in your shop and whether you want to develop a test or some other measurement to determine how well employees have mastered what they’ve learned.
Many shop owners think that advertising is a luxury. But, the truth is, if your doors are open you should be advertising. And your campaign needs to be ongoing. People shop all the time, so advertising helps keep you front of mind. Customers also move, so the audience who received your advertising messages a year ago, may be significantly different today. I believe direct mail is the most effective advertising vehicle for reaching your target audience and growing your business. Direct mail takes time, so if you’re considering utilizing this tool, be patient and stay with it.
Some shop owners may not even consider community involvement, but I think it’s mission critical. If you’re in a rural area or particularly crowded field, sponsoring a local cause can make a big difference. Because I find myself inundated with requests for funding, I decide on an annual basis what to support and I stick with that plan. While I try to sponsor organizations that will provide the best impact, I also advocate supporting causes that you are passionate about or those with which you have some personal connection.
How will you know what your operating hours should be or how many employees you should hire if you don’t have a growth plan in place? Even if you’re just starting out, knowing where you eventually want to be will help guide many decisions, such as how many service bays you’ll need. You should also determine what level of sales may justify extending your hours and whether you want to own more than one shop. Establishing a timeline will help you achieve your goals.
Keep in mind that my “ingredients” may differ from what you need to cook up a thriving business. The first thing you may want to do is take a mental inventory and figure out if you have a plan in place to address the issues that could make or break your business. If not, consider hiring a coach to help craft one or dedicate the time to list your priorities.
Once your plan is in place, remember to update it regularly to respond to changes in your business. And, lastly, don’t get caught up in the latest marketing trend or technological advancement that someone says is sure to double your business. Good planning will always prove far more fruitful than any so-called magic bullet.
Greg Sands is the CEO and founder of Mudlick Mail in Acworth, GA. The company provides demographically targeted, direct mail programs for automotive service and repair shops nationally. He also owns and operates 20 automotive repair shops across the country.