Preparation is Everything
Well, I didn’t see that coming.
How many times have you heard someone say that after they were blindsided by an action or event they really should have anticipated?
How many times have you said it yourself?
If your life experience has been anything like mine, it’s happened more times than either of us would care to admit! And, that’s OK. Because, being blindsided is one of the few things in business that is essentially universal.
But, the fact that it’s universal doesn’t make it acceptable. Consequently, I divide “I didn’t see that comin’” events into two distinct categories: those who recognize the possibility of getting hit in the head by something as it falls through the cracks, and those who haven’t a clue there are dark and sinister forces working hard to subvert their success.
That’s why, when someone came to me recently with questions about opening an automotive service business for the first time, I tried to respond as openly and honestly as I could. In doing so, I realized that a lot of what I had to share with him really applies to the vast majority of shop owners currently in business today!
The first piece of advice was: Find a coach, a mentor and/or a consultancy you can work with. You don’t know what you don’t know and what you don’t know can destroy you!
If you are unwilling to do that, find a shop operation that mirrors the success you seek and take up residency there. Study everything that goes on, both good and the bad. Look for the “right” patterns, policies and procedures. Study the culture and the values everyone embraces.
The next would be: Know where you’re going.
One of my favorite exchanges in literature takes place between the Cheshire Cat and Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In that scene, Alice admits she has no idea where she is, but also confesses she doesn’t know where she’s headed. The cat suggests that if you don’t know where you are going any road will do. When you decide to start a new business or purchase an existing one, any road will not do.
You need a clear vision and realistic goals and objectives if you are to have any hope of achieving success, and those goals and objectives need to be written down and visited often. You will need a strategic plan, which demands clarity of purpose.
Third: Know what you want, especially, with regard to compensation. That means knowing what you need. A colleague suggested taking finance classes (both business and personal) at your local community college. There is a direct correlation between understanding your numbers and success.
Pay attention to location, competition, years in business and current pricing. A critical consideration is the ability of a business to provide sufficient revenue to not only service the debt (the amount owed whoever is financing the acquisition), and to pay you, as well.
Of course, this last element presupposes the acquisition of an existing automotive service business. But, that doesn’t have to be the case. Just know everything we’ve discussed is just as applicable if you’re about create a business from scratch.
If you are looking at an existing business, perhaps the most important consideration after asking is: Will this business support me, current operations and the cost of acquisition? Is there room to grow this business big enough to service the debt and provide the lifestyle you desire without crippling normal operation?
The number and nature of existing automotive service businesses in the area will always be a consideration, as will the demographics and psychographics of the area surrounding the site. If the area is urban with adequate to excellent public transportation, there may not be enough vehicles for everyone to work on. If the neighborhood is really upscale, the majority of the vehicles may be leased and I’m not sure anyone can exist on leased vehicle maintenance alone.
There will always be the question of history: years in business in the community and reputation. If you are looking at an existing business, where is it in the normal cycle of things? Is it an up-and-coming neighborhood with new families and growing affluence or is it a neighborhood in decline?
And, there will always be the question of pricing. What will the market you choose to enter support? What can it support? And, the answer to that question, like the answer to all the others, will depend almost entirely upon you, the quality of work you insist on delivering, the culture you build and how deeply ingrained in the community you choose to become.
How would you answer questions like these? I think you answer them the way you would want them answered if you were the one asking!
You would want the best advice available. You would want the truth. Why? Because, no one wants to find themselves scratching their head, mumbling, “Well, I didn’t see that coming!”