Stokes: Don't Be First
Remember when everybody was buying nitrogen machines to put nitrogen into car tires? People said, 'This is going to be the future. Everybody's going to do it. You've got to do it.' A lot of people tried it, but it didn't stick. We all raced out and spent money. Now we’re seeing that again with the new A/C machines. People ran out and bought these two to three years ago when they weren’t serving cars yet, and now prices continue to drop. We're just now getting to where it's common that we've needed one consistently in all of our stores, but people were buying them too early—back in 2018.
I believe that when you run out to become the first on any equipment or adopt any change in the industry, you also risk being totally wrong. As we watch some of the massive changes heading our way, yes, we need to keep an eye on electric cars, but also what’s happening with gasoline cars, hybrid cars, and diesels. One of the big issues coming is this battery crisis. Batteries are going to be extremely expensive, and customers will need financing options to fix their cars. I'm seeing more problems develop around the issues of electric vehicles and, with California and other states claiming they're going to try to force only electric cars to be sold after certain years, people are going to panic. We need to be careful not to rush into this too quickly, but instead, go to some of our mentors, the old-timers in the industry. We need to say, 'Hey, remember we went to fuel injection? Remember when we went to every car having A/C, power windows, a sunroof, and automatic transmission?’ As an industry, we’ve seen fads come and go; we've seen changes stay and we've had to adapt. But if you adopt too quickly, you can spend a lot of money only to find yourself hung out to dry wishing you had not gone down that path.
That said, I'm a big believer in being out there on the front end of things, but not so far that I get my nose cut off. I want to make sure that I'm conservative, but at the same time, that I'm not stuck behind the eight ball. This means I have to pay attention to the trends in the industry and ask, 'Is this going to stick? Is this something that I think is going to continue?' For example, look at all the new refrigerants for cars. I have to pause and ask myself, ‘OK, who is forcing this? The EPA. What are the odds they're going to keep forcing it? Pretty high. All right, I'm going to invest in this A/C machine.’ Next, I have to decide when to do it. If I'm the first, I'm going to pay $10,000 for an A/C machine. Three years later, that same machine is 2,900 bucks. So, there has to be a return on investment that makes sense before I leap ahead of everybody else. You may think leaping ahead with some new equipment is going to make you the biggest and the best, like some shops did with ADAS, but you have to be careful not to get too far ahead. If you want to be ahead in our industry, be ahead in repair service, be ahead in customer service, be ahead in the way you pick up and deliver cars, in the way you answer the phone, in the way you leave candy on the seat for your customer, in the way you leave a thank you card on the seat for your customer. That can help you get to the next level because if you follow the wrong trend, you go broke. Be watchful and follow the right trend, and you will make a lot of money. Just don't be first.