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A Vision for Success

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One of Bob Cooper’s favorite pieces of business advice came from a 1980s interview he read with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. The interviewer asked Gretzky how he could be so much better than his opponents when he wasn’t noticeably faster, quicker or stronger.

“And he had a really great answer: He said he never skates to the puck; he always skates to where the puck’s going to go,” Cooper says. “I took a business lesson out of that, and our industry is no different.

“The shops that are going to struggle, those are the ones that skate to the puck, and by the time they get there, it’ll already be gone. So, the greater question is where is the puck going to go in this industry? Next year, in five years, in 10 years—where is it going?”

“You are responsible for putting your business and your people in the right position for success.”
—Bob Cooper, president and founder, Elite Worldwide Inc.

That’s what Cooper has helped shop owners figure out for more than 20 years. Cooper is the president and founder of Elite Worldwide Inc., an international consulting firm for the auto service industry, and he sat down with Ratchet+Wrench to share his insights on the industry—and where it’s going.

All industries struggle with change. Growth is always a struggle. Anyone telling you otherwise is doing you a disservice. Whenever you’re growing a company, regardless of the industry, it’s always in no-man’s land. It’s always someone inventing, re-creating, rebuilding, doing something different.

It has been a struggle for our industry, but like Darwin says with evolution, the guys or gals in our industry that don’t have the ability to grow—well, they perish, they disappear. That’s good, for the consumer and the industry. The industry is a better place than it was 20 or 30 years ago, certainly for the consumer, and for everybody.

One issue, though, is that a lot of owners learned to operate a shop from the previous shop owner who was a mechanic, who worked on cars and never really understood the business. A lot of them came to the table with a lot of the wrong skill sets.

If you were to ask me, what part of their skill sets should these people really give some pause to and question how they can get better, it would be their employee management skills. If you manage your people, and become their champions, the more productive those people are going to want to be. If you do that, people will want to work for you. Attrition will go down, productivity will go up. CSI scores will go up. A lot of guys don’t understand that relationship.

I don’t want to say this in a way that will be misunderstood, but the biggest mistake shop owners make is that they don’t do their jobs as owners. They don’t understand their jobs.

A lot of business owners will come to us at Elite and see if we can help them with creating job descriptions. And we’ll say, “That’s great. We can do that, but let me ask you something first: What’s your job description?”

And really, it’s always like a deer in the headlights. There’s always a long pause, and then they’ll say—and it’s almost like they all went to the same school—because they almost all say this: Their job is to help out the service advisor when it gets too busy, lend a hand with technicians, chase down a part if it’s needed. They’ll say they help with customers and sweep out the parking lot if it’s needed and even clean out the bathroom, because they don’t want their employees to be expected to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves.

And then, after they’ve paused, I’ll politely disagree with them and say that not one of those things belongs on your job description, especially cleaning the bathroom.

My argument is this: Does the bathroom need to be cleaned? Well, yeah, it does, but not by Steve Jobs, not by Henry Ford. That’s not how you role model and that’s not how you build a company.

 I have to remind these guys that their job description is very short—it’s very profound, but it’s very short—and it includes just five things.

Number one: They have to set the goals for their company. You can’t delegate this; you can’t make it go away. You have to do this, and you have to do it yourself.

Number two: Develop a business plan. How are you going to get from here to there as a shop?

Number three: Hire remarkable people. You can’t delegate that one, either. You’ve got to have stars working with you, and you’re responsible for making sure this is the case.

Number four: Bring out the best in your people. Once you have them on board, you have to keep them on board, so bring out the best in them.

And number five: Ensure the success of the company.

It’s no different in any industry or business. Those are the principles I live by daily here; that’s my job description.

So, one of the common mistakes a shop owner makes, and it sounds silly saying this, but it’s not knowing what their job is. I didn’t say anything about working in the business, or working on the business, or using any fancy clichés with this. These are just the fundamental tenants, these things they are doing. You are responsible for putting your business and your people in the right position for success, and it starts with those five things.

Successful shop owners know what their job description is and they have the right systems in place—how they inspect automobiles, how cars are processed through their shop, how customer follow-up is automated. They have the right systems in place.

The other thing they do that the struggling guys don’t do is that they hold their people accountable. They tell them the amount of billable hours they have to produce, and they hold them to it. These are the amount of sales you need to do, these are the type of CSI scores, if you’re going to stay on board with our company.

Shop owners need those skills to ensure they are ready for anything that comes up. Now, I really don’t see a big change in the coming year, but what I see, looking out beyond this year—and this is something I’ve been talking about for the last four or five years—is what I refer to as the new emerging market in our industry.

I think that this industry is just completely unaware of what the Y-Generation is going to do to this industry. I look at that generation, and they’re different. I’m not saying better, but different from all other generations.

This is how I see the difference: This generation, and I’m thrilled to say it, is the first generation that I’ve seen in a long time that really focuses on principles and ethics. It’s a very ethics-centered generation, and they absolutely demand transparency. Other generations haven’t been like that. And because of technology, they have a demand for speed, a demand for information and to have it instantly.

I think most shop owners don’t understand that this is their emerging market for their shops. This is your future customer base.

If I ran a repair business today, what I would be doing is targeting the Y-Generation, and this is how I’d be doing it: The first thing is that I’d have clearly defined goals with my company. Second, and I guarantee that less than 1 percent of shops are doing this, is that I would have a mission in my company.

Now, I’m not talking about a mission statement, the typical mission statements that say we’re going to provide a high level of service to the community and provide a place for our customers and those things. I’m not talking about that.

I mean a true mission, a mission that’s truly a theme for your company. And I’ll give you a couple of examples to better understand this. One theme might be the environment. That would mean everything we do at Bob’s Auto Repair is built around taking care of Mother Earth. Recyclables, e-content rather than paper products, recycling old parts—I’m talking about being the greenest of green in everything we do. Another thing might be to open up Bob’s Auto Repair centering everything on children. All the events that we do, all the sponsorships we do would be about children. We could specialize in installing child safety seats and child identification services at our company. We could donate to children’s charities, children’s hospitals. Everything we do is built around taking care of children, and we would market our shop that way.

This provides a uniqueness to our company and separates us from competitors, and it will allow the people that work with us to be excited about the mission and about something outside of just building a company.

You have to have clearly defined goals with this. Let’s say our mission is going to be all about kids. The next thing I would do is hire the right people, and once I get them onboard, I want them to be immersed in the culture. You need to have extraordinary people and they need to enjoy that culture.

Other key elements of success are pricing competitively, making training mandatory for all employees, and understanding your target audience.

Now, I’m going to tell you the best-kept secret for growing an auto repair business, and it’s where 99.9 percent of the guys miss the mark: When they look at the Y-Generation, they’ll say it’s not their target customer. And it might not be yet, but this is your emerging market.

I tell people all the time that word of mouth is dead; today it’s word of text. I tell them that if they do a good job for this generation, they’ll tell the world for you. They demand ethics and transparency. You do a good job for them, and you’ll be king of the hill.

The people embracing that right now, they’re going to be the ones succeeding.

In the auto repair business, the guys who are going to be the most successful, they’re going to be the risk-takers, the innovators, the leaders in
this industry.  

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