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Marconi: You Can (and Will) Survive an Economic Downturn

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Speaking with shop owners around the country, it appears that the recent surge in business may be showing signs of vulnerability. For most automotive repair shops, the past few years have been a comfortable ride with sales and profits exceeding expectations. While no one can predict what will happen in the future, should we be concerned at this point?  

The COVID pandemic may have been a challenge for businesses in general. However, it proved to be a minor blip on the economic radar screen for most repair shops. Yes, there were some areas around the country where business slowed to a crawl and some repair shops had to close their doors permanently. But for the most part, the conditions caused by the pandemic created the perfect opportunity for most auto repair shops. Will this perfect opportunity lead to the perfect storm?  Let’s take a closer look.  

Due to the pandemic, many repair shops received some monetary relief in the form of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, the Payroll Protection Program, and more recently, the Employee Retention Tax Credit. The concern is what these programs are having on the economy. Another issue is this: Did these programs give us a false sense of accomplishment, boosting our cash reserve when most shops experienced an increase in business?  

If we are honest with each other, then we need to consider two things. How many of us were prepared for such an extraordinary event as COVID? And how much of the recent boon in our businesses resulted from anything we did?  Most shops are reaping the rewards of ideal conditions caused by factors that were mainly out of our control 

Today, we face high inflation, rising interest rates, parts shortages, a technician shortage, rising wages and a possible recession. Is this all doom and gloom? No, of course not. As a former shop owner who spent 41 years working in the trenches, I have lived through many economic downturns and survived. From each economic downturn, the hardships endured led to valuable business and life lessons for those willing to view the tough times not as stumbling blocks but as stepping stones to a better future. 

The strategy now for shop owners is to build their companies to prepare and withstand the unknowns. You cannot assume things will stay the same. They never do. Complacency can be just as damaging as fear and negativity. Revisit your key performance indicators to ensure you continue earning a profit. Build a healthy cash reserve. If needed, adjust your pricing, margins and labor rates. Get your personal finances in order, too. Continue your marketing efforts, especially if you feel you are heading into a slowdown. Don’t make the mistake that so many companies make and pull your advertising budget to cut expenses. Bump up your training programs and invest in new technology. Perhaps the most important component in preparing for the future is assembling a great team of employees and creating a workplace environment that tells your employees, we care, and we want you to stay 

Our economy goes through wild swings, combined with good and bad times. The truth is that no economic situation is sustainable forever. The companies that prepare and grow their companies in the best of times will make it through the tough times. However, surviving is not the goal; thriving is. Become diligent with your approach to your company. Work hard today to grow your business in every aspect. Preparation, combined with hard work, will always pay off in any economy.  

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