Auto Service World
Feature   January 1, 2006   by Bob Greenwood

2006 Define Yourself and Your Business

The Independent sector has experienced a great deal of stress and anxiety over the past number of years. Technology, personal self-discipline to get everything done, staff issues and training, uninfor...

The Independent sector has experienced a great deal of stress and anxiety over the past number of years. Technology, personal self-discipline to get everything done, staff issues and training, uninformed/misinformed consumers, commodity issues and productivity are just some things that “attack” an owner each day. Some of that stress comes from the fact that too many shop owners and managers continuously run their business to please everyone that walks through the door. In reality this cannot be done and still remain a profitable enterprise. These shops are focussed on top line activity and not bottom line net income.

Consider that it makes sound business sense to determine what you … the owner of the business … really want to accomplish over your career and determine what kind of business you really want to run to achieve that objective.

When you define your business you are really telling people “what” you stand for and at “what level” you will serve them. This truly is defining the “culture” of your shop. Culture is the way things are executed. Culture is an attitude. Culture is a philosophy. Culture is an image. Culture are ethics. Culture defines YOUR business in your community.

Today it is important to create an image in the consumers mind of “what” you are and “what” you stand for. Consider that if you run a shop based on “price” and market the business that the best price is always “here” then this becomes the culture of the shop. The shop is always dealing with price conscience customers who “shop around” for the best deal. This is the customer’s culture and the “price” focussed shop fulfills their need. It may work for the consumer, but over my years of study it does not create enough net income for the business, in fact, our studies show that these shop owners buy themselves a job. If that is what you are satisfied with, then this article is now over for you.

Consider that “price” is a culture

Now consider that “service” and “quality” are also a method of running an automotive maintenance shop. Consider that we are the “Independent Sector” of the Aftermarket industry. The average 4 to 6-bay operation is NOT a 490 chain store across Canada. They are one Independent shop in their community. Now how does a little shop compete against the “big boys”? Consider one very important difference; the Independent shop is in the “people” business. In other words the Independent gets to know their client base by name and by history of the vehicle. In many cases the Independent shop knows the customer’s family and kid’s names. They are in the “relationship” business. The true quality Independent is NOT in the volume, activity, “bang them in, bang them out” business. The true quality Independent understands the words “I will not let you down.” The best Independent shops in this country understand this and are building today’s and tomorrow’s successes on this “culture”.

There are many shop owners that I have met over the years who actually believe this type of “culture” does not exist and can not exist for an Independent shop because the marketplace is driven by the consumer. These shop owners that make these statements are “experts” in their marketplace as they have been in business in excess of 10 years. They know “how this game is played”.

Very interesting statements but I must respectfully disagree.

Consider the following factual statements made over history:

* In 1898, Charles H Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Patents Office said, “Everything that can be invented, has been invented.

* In 1943, Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of IBM, predicted that there was a world market for “about five computers”.

* In 1977, Ken Olsen, President of Digital Equipment Corp., authoritatively stated that “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”

The fact is that all of these men who were all experts in their respective fields, based their statements on their past experiences and the realities of the time. Had they stopped to consider the innumerable factors that could be expected to impact the pace and scope of change in the future, they would likely have made very different predictions.

The Independent sector in this country must understand it can determine its own future. Look at the many factors the WILL impact our sector such as, to name one, technology development. This sector is capable of defining itself BUT too many shop owners have never looked at what they are doing and HOW they are doing it. They just follow everyone else and follow the loudest in the industry, the chain stores and new car dealerships, due to their massive advertising budgets, that volume and price is the only way to run the maintenance and repair business. Why does the Independent shop follow this “culture” which for the Independent is a sink hole into oblivion? What may work for them does not work for the Independent.

I would encourage every Independent shop owner not to take the shallow view of the “experienced” leaders of 1898, 1943 or 1977. Stretch your mind into new territory where perhaps you have not been before. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace the opportunity. More and more of society are looking for that “personal service” because their lives are so busy and they really don’t understand the technology development of the vehicle, therefore, they require someone, or some business, they can trust! This is where Service and Quality is the right “culture” to embrace. The timing is right for the true Independent to surge forward as the right alternative for automotive maintenance and repairs in today’s and tomorrow’s marketplace.

Developing or changing a “business culture” does not happen over night, however, by defining who and what you are, explaining it clearly to the staff and asking for their “buy-in”, the shop can really start to move forward over the course of a year. Consider 2006 a year of opportunity to define your business. Consider from this day forward what real message you want to put into your marketplace when you advertise. Consider from this day forward what message you want to talk about with your staff each day. Consider that from this day forward, Management WILL “walk the talk” to the right culture for this shop. Do you want to be known for “best price” or rather be known for very personal service and high quality for what you do? I can assure you, the latter will outlast the former.

Consider … you are the architect of your own future … no one else.

Robert (Bob) Greenwood is President & CEO of E. K. Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. and Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. Bob has 29 years of industry-specific business management experience. He has developed shop business management courses for independent Service Providers recognized as being the most comprehensive courses of their kind available in Canada. Bob is the first Canadian Business Management Consultant and Trainer to be recognized for his industry contributions when he received the prestigious Northwood University Automotive Aftermarket Management Education Award in November 2003. E. K Williams & Co. (Ontario) Ltd. offices specialize in the independent sector of the automotive aftermarket industry preparing analytical operating statements for management purposes, personal and corporate tax returns and business management consultation. Visit them at and sign up for their free monthly management e-newsletter. Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre Ltd. is a leading edge company devoted to developing comprehensive shop management skills through the e-learning environment. Visit and take the free overview. Bob can be reached at (613) 836-5130, 1-800-267-5497, FAX (613) 836-4637 and by E-Mail: or