Growing Your Business
After more than two decades in the automotive repair business – opening, growing and operating shops in multiple states under a variety of brands – I can definitively tell you there is no shortcut to success. Building a strong business requires patience, hard work and the ability to learn from past mistakes.
The shop owners who often call me for advice would prefer to hear about a magic formula that can transform their businesses overnight. The truth is, success is based on trial and error and determining what works and what doesn’t.
While keeping in mind that what works for me, might not work for you, here are some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my many years in the business. Perhaps these ideas will be worth incorporating into your business or at the very least, encourage you to experiment until you find the right mix of strategies for your shop.
Create a playbook: Can you imagine a football coach sending his team on the field without a game plan? While some of the players might be able to improvise, eventually the lack of direction would likely lead to a loss. That’s exactly what happens when you fail to provide a road map for your employees and leave them guessing about how to handle the various tasks they’re asked to perform everyday.
Instead, I create systems for every aspect of my shops. I have “playbooks” for how to manage accounting, sales, customer service, hiring, repairs – essentially everything. When someone calls for a repair, my service writers know exactly how to answer the phone and where to guide the conversation. My technicians are well-versed on how long a repair should take and how they should be inspecting the cars they service. While creating these systems might sound intimidating, It’s manageable if you break it down by function. Envision in a perfect world how you’d like your front desk staff to interact with customers and document it. Start with an outline and fill out the details as the system becomes more clear.
Once you have your systems in place, it’s critical to abide by them. You have to lead by example. And don’t be afraid to tweak your playbook as your operation evolves.
Hire good people and recognize good work. I know that sounds easier than it often is. One way to increase the chances of landing quality employees is to hire people who balance your weaknesses. Maybe you’re a great salesperson, but you struggle at management or you might be an expert technician, but hate interacting with customers. Look for people who bring to the table the skills you don’t possess.
Of course, skill sets are just one part of the equation. You also want someone who is going to fit your culture. If your shop emphasizes communication, listen carefully during the interview process. When asked a question, does the candidate answer clearly or stumble and stop in mid-sentence? It’s also wise to always check references. You may not get negative feedback, but what their colleagues say will give you a good idea of the candidate’s personality traits.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of recognition. I’ve found that recognition can be a bigger motivator than even money. Recognizing employees publicly for strong performance not only inspires the person being recognized to continue to perform well, but also encourages his or her co-workers to do good work and makes it clear that there is a pathway for success.
Track everything. The more information you have, the better. For example, there’s a tendency to judge employees based on impressions rather than facts. The charming, funny salesman might seem like a rising star, but his sales numbers could reveal a poor performer. If you’ve got data you can use to evaluate performance – whether it’s of an employee or an advertising campaign, you’ll make decisions based on facts not feelings. Tracking can also provide clues about why some aspects of your operation aren’t running as smoothly as they should. All of our advertising campaigns include call tracking and recording, allowing us to hear how our service writers are responding to leads. If they’re not converting those leads into sales, it could indicate that they need more training on our sales process. Simply put, tracking is mission critical and helps you identify problems and potential solutions.
With more than 20 years of automotive repair business experience, Greg is one of the most successful operators in the industry. He owns and operates 35 automotive repair shops with annual sales in excess of $50 million!