Are You Ready for 2020 and Beyond?
It was 1998 and I was renting a small 2,000-square-foot shop. It wasn’t pristine, by any means, but it was mine and I’d worked hard to gain a steady stream of business. One day, my landlord came to me and said there was an offer to buy the building. He said I’d been a great tenant and he didn’t want to put me out but he couldn’t refuse this offer—unless, of course, I could come up with the same amount of cash within one month.
I immediately had that sinking feeling. I’m in my early 20’s and there’s no way I can buy a commercial property at this point. Was I going to bring my box of receipts to the bank to prove I ran a business? No, I had to leave, and it wasn’t the first time. The reason that landlord had a great offer was due to a Shell gas station up the street replacing its two-bay auto repair operation with a convenience store. Sound familiar? The manager of that small two-bay repair business wanted to keep operating, hence the offer on the place I had rented.
How many old gas station garages have you seen turned into convenience stores? At some point, there was a change in the mindset of large fuel companies that fuel and repairs had to be offered together. They were, after all, in business to make money and could they make more money selling Cokes and chips. In business, a “pivot” is when a company makes a significant change based on what the market needs or wants. Shell—and many fuel companies—pivoted their service stations away from fuel and repairs, and over to fuel and convenience stores. I wonder how long it took them to make this realization? After decades of providing auto service, it would have been part of their identity. They would have had a true paradigm shift when presented with data that showed the results of convenience stores versus the classic two bay.
The New Year seems like a good time to take a closer look at our paradigms, or more simply put, our beliefs about ourselves and our business that we use every day to make decisions. Do we believe that the supply of skilled labor is running out and we’re doomed? What about the daunting task of marketing to the current and next generations of customers? Got your Tik Tok account up and running? Wait, what’s Tik Tok again?! Your mindset has so much to do with your success. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, maybe stop and take a moment to look at some past paradigm shifts in our industry and how we’ve handled them.
Who remembers the anxiety around OBD2 back in the mid-’90s? Some said that would pose an existential threat to independent shops. And it wasn’t too long after that before the first Right to Repair concerns were addressed by NASTF in the early 2000s. We made it past OBD2, we’re working through Right to Repair and continuing to find solutions to repair data. Our mindsets have changed and we’re motivated to keep pushing forward.
On a more individual level, how many of you out there struggled to find and hire your first employees? I know I did. What about that “ah-ha!” moment when you raised your prices? Or took on a huge chunk of debt? These are all actions that required a change in mindset. Something you previously considered impossible, now becomes a reality—and you pivot.
Now, think for a minute. How did you get to that mindset change? Did you join a group? Maybe read a magazine article? However it happened, that shift in your mind resulted in real-world changes that produced results. Do that enough times and you start to realize how much is possible. There will always be a new and different challenge, but after you’ve tackled a few, you start to look at them differently. Tech shortage? I can figure that out. ADAS service? It’s going to work out somehow.
One thing is inevitable, and that is change. It’s been happening and will continue at an even faster pace. Just because today’s challenges are different from yesterday’s doesn’t mean we won’t overcome them. It’s hard to say exactly how it will all play out—or when—but the independent shops that have a strong foundation are going to be the ones with the resources to make the necessary pivots in the future. That said, you better be running your shop by the numbers, staying on top of current marketing trends, and doing everything in your power to find, recruit, and retain the best talent. We’re going to need those people for what’s coming.
What’s coming will likely be more electric, hybrid, autonomous, and rideshare vehicles, but what I also see coming is a tremendous opportunity for people like us in the automotive service industry. Many are getting out due to fear or lack of desire to change. Those closed or bought-out businesses are opportunities for us. Combined with all sorts of new technology to help us run our businesses and communicate with customers adds up to a pretty awesome time to be in this industry.
If it was easy, everyone would do it. There’s a lot of pride in our circles and for good reason. We’re problem solvers. So, what mindset of yours will you change this year and what problems will you solve?