It started informally. A few shop owners getting together in the early ’90s through our local chamber of commerce. Unfortunately, the relationship with the chamber didn’t last all that long. As I recall, the breakup had a lot to do with external rules and regulations that most independent shop owners don’t generally understand or appreciate.
I can’t tell you much more about the group than that. Not beyond how much I really enjoyed the meetings and being with the other shop owners. Being together felt good. It felt natural, almost therapeutic.
Getting to know each other as small business owners struggling to succeed, not just as competitors in a highly competitive market, made it a lot easier to pick up the phone to call for help, borrow a piece of equipment or share a bad day.
I didn’t start the group. I didn’t lead it. I was just a passenger on that train. But, it was a train I really enjoyed traveling on and I think it would be safe to say everyone felt that way.
I’ve written about the importance of this elusive concept of community before. I pointed out the critical impact hanging out with other shop owners can have on your business. Shop owners who actively meet with other shop owners to talk about business related problems and opportunities just plain do better. They make more money, generally with a lot less effort!
They overcome obstacles with more confidence that comes from the shared experience of others who have overcome the same obstacles. And, they achieve their goals and objectives more quickly and with less anxiety, because other members of their community have marked the path.
They enjoy a better quality of life as well, made better by the active and voluntary contribution of the shop owners involved in their community.
This is not a new and different appreciation of the need to participate with other shop owners. Thanks to my father’s example, that commitment has stayed the same throughout my entire career.
He was a member of his local association of service station operators in New York and one of the first things we did after opening our service station in Santa Monica, was join the Automotive Service Council of California. We continued our membership in ASC-CA when we opened in Simi Valley, and augmented that state and local involvement with a membership in the Automotive Service Association.
Our involvement in community went beyond that when we started working with a company that coaches automotive service businesses like ours and joined a 20 Group.
So, my commitment to the concept of shop owners working together to elevate the industry and their position within it hasn’t changed at all. I’ve just achieved a new and different perspective. The same perspective that forces you out from under the hood of the vehicle you’re working on, to work on your business instead of just working in it.
What has changed is the anger I feel looking at an industry in which so few shop owners are willing to affiliate with or participate in anything. A number that, if increased, would and could change the entire landscape of the industry.
Suspend your current reality and walk with me for a moment. I want you to see this industry through my eyes. I want you to see an industry in which shop owners are willing to communicate, participate and share.
There was a group of shop owners that decided it would make more sense to work together than to go it alone. They formed a holding company that took on the responsibilities of negotiating for uniforms, insurance, tools and equipment. They even managed employment by hiring and then leasing employees back to their individual shops.
Did working together work? It worked well enough for the holding company to open a sixth shop!
There was an association of shop owners in another city that purchased shares in a parts warehouse that resulted in deeper discounts and year-end dividends.
That’s in addition to the exponentially better financial performance affiliated shops enjoy in contrast to non-affiliated shops.
In each case, I brought those ideas back to my community hoping at least five other shop owners consider working together at that level. Unfortunately, it was another instance of “I/me” triumphing over “we/us.”
But, I still ask myself what would have happened had we started a holding company or purchased the local parts store up for sale at the time. What could we have accomplished working together that escaped each of us working in isolation?
How far could we move forward as an industry if just half of us affiliated with a state, local or national association? Where could you be if you joined a coaching consulting company? Where would you be if you combined your knowledge and experience with the knowledge and experience of 20 other shop owners just as committed to their success as you are to yours?