Marconi: The Tunnel Vision Trap
There was once a time when you needed a device called a "camera" to take a photo. This camera was loaded with what was called "film." You took a series of photos by pushing a button and the desired images were imprinted onto the film. The film was then removed and mailed to a company (most likely Kodak) or you took the film to a drug store to have it developed (where they most likely used a process developed by Kodak). When you received the film, those photos were printed on Kodak paper. I’m having a little fun here, but bear with me. The story of Kodak is an important lesson for us all.
The Kodak Company was founded in 1888 by George Eastman. Eastman disrupted the industry by putting the ability to take photos in the hands of the average consumer. His strategy was to sell inexpensive cameras, which would use his film. The profits would be made on the film purchase, the film-developing process, and all the related materials needed to produce the finished photos.
Kodak dominated the film and camera industry in the 20th century. In 1969, Kodak produced the camera that was used by astronauts on the Apollo 11 moon mission. The first ever photo of Earth taken from deep space was taken by equipment manufactured by Kodak. By 1996, Kodak was rated as the most valuable business in the world with revenue hitting $16 billion. That same year, Kodak was valued at $31 billion. In spite of all its success and fortune, on Jan. 19, 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.
How could Kodak fail? Kodak didn’t know what business it was in. Kodak thought it was in the film business and stuck firmly to its old strategies. By the early 2000s, the digital camera became the dominant player in photography, and we all know how the cell phone has taken over. While Kodak tried to reinvent itself in the early 2000s, the company never seriously invested in new technology. Kodak’s biggest mistake was that it never realized its greatest asset was not film, the camera, or any of its physical attributes. Kodak’s greatest asset was its customers.
What happened to Kodak should send a strong message. If we look at our own industry, we are in the midst of perhaps the biggest revolution since the internal combustion engine car replaced the horse and buggy. However, unlike Kodak, I am confident that with an open mind, the typical independent repair shop will make the transition into the future.
Understand what business you’re truly in. You may think you’re in the business of repairing cars. That’s what you do. It’s not the reason why you do what you do. You’re in the business of taking care of people and building strong relationships within your community. It’s crucial that you realize this, because no matter what, your customers will be driving in the future. If you gain their trust and loyalty, they will continue to think of you.
Don’t get tunnel vision on what you are doing now. Keep investing in your future and embrace change. Bump up your training budget and keep everyone in your shop updated on the latest technology. And don’t worry about training someone only to have them leave you. We have all heard the expression, “There’s only one thing worse than training someone and having them quit on you. And that’s, not training them and having them stay!”
The future will require a larger investment in technology. Which means profits must go up in order to have the financial horsepower to operate the shop of the future. It will also be essential that you understand the numbers of your business. There is no way you will be able to transition unless you are profitable.
Finally, you will need to employ the best people to remain competitive, which means you’ll need to attract the best of the best by creating an amazing work environment and creating an attractive pay program. Putting all this aside, it will be your roots in your community, your brand, and the customers you have built strong relationships with that will continue to be your greatest asset.