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Want to Grow Your Auto Shop? Cook a Potato First!

The resources employees would have access to outweigh your fears about losing their focus.
Friday, November 1, 2013 - 07:00
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If you have been in business more than 10 years, you are well aware of how hard it can be to keep growing your customer base. Our most successful clients spend a great amount of time focusing on growing their customer base in the hopes of simply stabilizing car count for their people. Last month, I overheard George Zeeks, who is our coaches’ team leader, explain to a group of shop owners the basics of how to grow their shop. Many of us want to skip the basics or we never learned them in the first place, so let’s hear what George had to say.

I know this might not make much sense at first, but humor me; it will by the end. Try to remember back to the first time you bought a potato at the store. Everyone cooks them so it has to be easy, right? The major problem is that they don’t come with instructions. I know you can search Google or YouTube for that you need to know about cooking potatoes, but what if you didn’t have that, or at least not as much information? Opening a new shop, or trying to get yours to grow can be just as challenging. If only you had the information that you need to know on what to do each day to be successful.

So, as for that potato, you can grill it, fry it, boil it or bake it. Do you leave the skin on or off? My favorite is to core the center, insert cheese. Wrap the potato in bacon and, oh, remember to cut a small groove to put some butter in and then wrap in foil and cook on the grill. How do I know that? Trial and error. How do you run your shop? For many of you it’s the same way.

Working in It or on It?
I get it, you’re a pro. You’ve been working on cars for years and doing your friends’ and neighbors’ cars for even longer. It’s a huge difference when you actually go and open your own shop. Now there’s no one paying you; you have to pay yourself. There is a ton of things you’re just not prepared for. Believe it or not, you’re probably better off not knowing how to turn a wrench. How many times have we all been sucked into finding the lug nut key when a basic-level technician can’t find it? The worst thing that you can do is go and find it for them. Now we have a $50 head doing a $10 head job. You’re not even an owner anymore; you’re an entry-level helper. Do you really think that a master chef is back there peeling the potatoes himself? There is no guide to help you know what you should do on a day-to-day level, so I’m gonna give you some tips. Some of you need to take a hard look at what you do every day, and you’ll be surprised at what you actually do compared to what you should be doing to become a top shop.

So, back to the potato. You might be in a hurry to be successful so you might want to microwave the potato. How long? How do you do this? The same thing applies to running your shop. The first thing to consider is what kind of shop do you have and what kind do you want to have? Seems easy, since it should be the same thing, right? Not even close. Take a step back and watch the behaviors that are going on in your shop. Regardless of what you want the shop to be, the reality of what your shop has become is demonstrated by the behavior of your staff. Take a step back and watch your crew in action. Do the behaviors you see reflect the values and culture that you wanted? There is a huge difference between a repair shop, a franchise, a quick lube, etc.

Again, what do you want and what are you doing to get it? Everyone is unique and so are the problems they face. You want your potatoes to be great, but wishing just doesn’t get it done. The same with your shop.

Follow a Daily Checklist
A huge thing to consider is what you are supposed to be doing each day to make your shop a success. Most of you have an idea, but the biggest problem is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Again, those of you who know how to turn a wrench will, inevitably, get sucked back into the shop. It’s something that you know and are comfortable with, but it’s not what is going to make you profitable.

You need to know what you have to do each day, day in and day out, to be a successful shop. Anyone can make french fries, but you don’t make much profit for just french fries — and almost anyone can do that. Unless you make the absolutely best french fries in town, then you are at the top of the heap. But if you want to be a shop that operates on a higher level, then you have to know what successful shop owners do, day after day, to get to that higher level and stay there.

I’m sorry. I forgot that some of you want the quick, easy and painless solution to the problem. You may want to microwave the potato. Well, it can be done, but you have to know how to do that, too. The major problem is that there is no easy, quick way to run your shop. It’s hard work, and it might be hard to swallow for some of you. I get that you want to give great service and make all of your customers raving fans, but that takes hard work and a daily discipline that can be difficult for some. The problem is not the hard work — all of you work hard — it’s the things you must do that are outside of your comfort zone. I can give you some of the answers here, with more in the attachment you can request. But you might not like all of the things you need to do each day to be that shop that people know is one of the best. I have a client who was one of Motor Age’s top 10 last year, and I can tell you that it didn’t come easy, but the rewards are great.

One of the most basic things is to reconcile the daily receipts in your point of sale system. That’s like washing the potato before you cook it. It may seem basic but some shops still don’t do it. One of the next things is making sure you fix the problem that the customer came in for. I get it, it’s basic, but a lot of shops still have a problem with that. A potato that’s overcooked or undercooked is tough to eat. You only get the credit if it’s cooked properly, just like fixing the customer’s problem.

Another basic question that comes up is, are the margins right? Did you charge enough for the parts, and did you sell enough labor to keep all of the technicians busy and make a profit? Do you know what your labor inventory is? That goes back to knowing what type of potato we want to cook for our guests. If you are not using all of your labor inventory and not reaching your shop potential, then you are not maxing out what your shop can do. That results in lost profits and customers who may have wanted service but, for whatever reason, the service wasn’t provided.

The Money Is in the Math
Do you even know what you expect from each day’s production? If you don’t know the math, then you are doomed to guess. The money is in the math, and those of you who don’t want to learn it are doomed to mediocrity.

Another one of the biggest questions boils down to, are your customers happy? Do you know? Is it just a gut feeling, or do you have some kind of consistent repeatable process that will measure the experience that you provide?

If you would like a daily, weekly and monthly checklist that will give you the guidelines to enable you to provide a profitable and satisfying customer experience, simply go to www.ationlinetraining.com/2013-11e to get a copy of our Leader’s Operational Checklist. This is a limited time offer. After all, at the end of the meal, they don’t remember how hard you worked — they just remember the experience they had. Hard work alone just doesn’t cut it!

What keeps most shop owners from growing every year? Answer: they are too involved with fixing cars and can’t spend enough time on growing their business.

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