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Rebuilding Business After a Tough Year

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If you’re anything like I am, you believe that privilege is accompanied by an equal or greater measure of responsibility, suggesting that, “For unto whomsoever much is given, much is required.”

I believe this simple admonition applies to every one of us equally, as human beings responsible for ourselves and for one another, as custodians of our planet, as citizens, and as craftsmen pursuing our chosen professions.

I feel I’ve been given much; in fact, I know I have. Consequently, I take the responsibility to give back seriously. But, giving back can be subjective. Giving back as an individual isn’t the same as for a “citizen.” Nor is it the same for an environmentalist or a professional.

Giving back as a shop owner may mean giving back to the community—supporting the local high school marching band, youth sports, or your local church, synagogue or mosque. It could mean ensuring that clients get full value for the investment they’ve made in the vehicles they entrust to us every day.

Giving back as a writer carries with it an entirely different set of responsibilities, however. One of those is a commitment to honesty that can be painful at times, especially when the search for truth turns inward. It means sharing your defeats with the same willingness, clarity and candor as you share your triumphs.

For me, one of those painful truths—one of those difficult experiences—centers on our shop’s fall into the abyss and the excruciating months of effort, energy and sacrifice involved in clawing our way back out again. And, while I’m not sure I could have done anything better or differently, I am certain the experience brings with it something of value, something for everyone.

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It started a year ago last November with the worst month we’d experienced in years. I wrote about it, trying to exorcise the demons and end the nightmare, trying to “make the bad man go away!” But the bad man didn’t go away. He lurked in the shadows and hid in the dark corners, allowing us to believe things were getting better, that November was an anomaly, an aberration. And, then, like some kind of deranged carnival ride in a Stephen King novel, the bottom fell out, leaving us scrambling for anything to grab on to, anything to prevent us from tumbling into oblivion. Only, there was nothing there.

We searched for a reason, first looking inward. Was it something we were doing differently, doing wrong? Had we become complacent, indifferent? Was our pricing out of line? Were we beyond the perceived value difference all the value-added services we provide should compensate for? Had we stopped caring or, at least, caring as much as we’ve always cared?

We reached out to our clients and customers, the ones that were still coming in regularly and the ones that hadn’t been in for a while. We were searching for the truth, a reason for the drop. We were ready to listen to whatever they had to say, ready to hear the worst. But, there was no worst.

Then, we looked outward to see if any other shop owners were suffering the same reality. We’d come through the worst part of the recession almost unscathed. It didn’t make any sense to have things fall apart just as things were getting better.

We re-examined and continue to re-examine everything we do in order to ensure it’s all focused on taking the best possible care of our clients. We communicate better—more clearly, comprehensively and more often than anyone else we know. We’ve vowed to give them more value and better service.

We’ve been climbing and clawing our way up and out of the abyss for more than a year now. We’ve been at it long enough and climbed and clawed our way high enough that we can almost see the top, almost see our way out.

In the end, I believe it was and continues to be a host of things that caused the problem. New car sales are up as the economy creeps toward recovery. A dangerous combination of pent up demand, “cheap” leases and low- or no-interest deals are making it easier to “trade up.” Two or three years of “free” maintenance hasn’t made it any easier.

But the reasons, and whether or not the fall could have been avoided, is irrelevant. What is important is that we didn’t take up residency at the bottom, wallowing in our own misfortune. We didn’t give up.

An acquaintance of mine, another writer who believes as I do that to whom much has been given, much is expected, recently wrote, “The opposite of courage isn’t fear. … The opposite of courage is surrender!”

We fell, as many shops before us have fallen and as many will fall again in the future. The difference and one of the things I am most proud of is that we haven’t surrendered. 


Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at mschneider@ratchetandwrench.com.

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