By Richard Dansereau
What does success look like for you? Whether it’s money or freedom, the numbers your shop generates will either help you or hinder you in achieving that goal. Getting those numbers right needs to be your first priority.
I’ve seen shop owners struggle to hit $1.2 million in sales with six technicians and a service advisor. All of their effort (and, I can assure you, it is effort!) results in barely $50,000 in operating profit.
On the other hand, I’ve worked with smaller shops (four technicians and two service advisors) that realized some $2 million in sales, and managed to clear $400,000 in operating profit.
The difference between these shops – in stress levels, career fulfillment, customer service, and financial reward – could not be more stark.
How do we explain the difference between these shops? It’s true that some local economies are doing better than others across Canada. Is that the key ingredient? Some communities have greater access to skilled labour. Is that the secret? The weather is more of a factor in some areas than it is in others. Is that why some shops thrive while others struggle?
Over the years, I’ve heard many explanations why a particular shop is not doing well. Some shop owners seize on any reason to explain their poor performance. They cite that reason over and over until they truly believe it.
What they really need to do is face the realities of their business, and take the necessary steps to right its wrongs. The analogy of a cup of tea might help clarify the matter.
The Full Cup: Imagine you have a full cup of tea, but it has been sitting for hours and has grown cold. Rather than heat the cup up properly, or empty it to make room for some fresh, warm tea, you decide to simply pour new tea into your already full cup. Immediately the tea flows over the rim and makes a lukewarm mess. What a waste of new tea, and what a ridiculous idea to solve the problem! But this is what many people do in business. Their minds are full of old information and rather than discard what no longer works, they simply add in new concepts, creating a confusing jumble of strategies that is doomed to fail. You have to be willing to get rid of the old in order to retain what is new and better.
The Dirty Cup: Imagine the cup you want to drink from is old and dirty. Would you be tempted to put fresh tea in? Or would you want to clean the cup first – or get a new one? Most of us are very protective of the cups we’re always used. They represent what we believe to be true. New ideas are immediately contaminated with the dirty residue of old ideas. It is much better to clear your mind of old ideas and try new ideas without preconceptions.
The Cup with a Hole in it: Sometimes the tea leaks out before you get a chance to enjoy it. To capitalize and implement routines that will drive lasting improvements in your business, you have to value them enough to trap them. Don’t let them leak away. You have to write them down, consider their applicability, and then decide when and how you’re going to implement them. This will require what is being called “maker time,” that time of quiet, uninterrupted reflection where one thought can build on another.
The Empty Cup: This cup is empty, clean, and ready for tea. It represents that rare owner who has a “beginner’s mind,” able to receive new information without prejudice or judgment. They can enact new concepts without conflict or contamination. This is an extremely valuable state of mind. When they hear new ideas, they listen fully, evaluate them fairly, and adapt them to their own situation.
So the question is, what kind of cup are you dealing with?
If you want to start with an empty cup – one that will avoid the problems associated with full, dirty and leaking cups – here are six starting points:
1. Value a beginner’s mindset
Forget your negative past experiences and reinvent yourself. Don’t be like the child who burns his hand and is forever after afraid to use a stove. Don’t let painful situations define you. Rather, figure out what went wrong and discard the errors that preceded it. Empty your cup.
2. Raise your leadership level
If your leadership skills on a scale of 1 to 10 stand at a 7, that’s pretty much the limit of how high your staff can reach too. Your leadership skills impose a natural cap on your business. Want to raise your shop’s potential? Raise your leadership ability. Learn public speaking, and essential management skills. Read some management books. Join a peer group. Your business depends on your competence in this area.
3. Lock in on a business model
Decide exactly what kind of business you want to have, and then develop a list of customer promises that will drive it. Will you be focused on growth or retention? Vehicle or service specialties? How can you clearly set expectations for your customers that will appeal to them? And what systems do you need to implement to deliver on those promises?
4. Empower your key people
Leadership is not about proving that you’re the best. It’s about making those around you better. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re the only one who can do certain tasks in your business. Rather, develop leaders among your staff, and let them take away some of the responsibilities that limit your ability to fully work on your business.
5. Free up some ‘maker time’
Take the time during the week to work on your business instead of in it. Spend at least eight hours a week to consider the big picture: the marketing strategy, the standard operating procedures, human resources issues, key performance indicators, and financials. These are there areas where your attention is truly needed. If you don’t know exactly what you should be doing during maker time, take some management training to help you understand.
6. Have a thick skin
Change is never easy and there will always be individuals who resist it. There will almost certainly be some on your staff. Many shop owners feel unable to implement change because they’re concerned about how people will react. A true indication of a top entrepreneur is the ability to sell new ideas to clients, staff, and family. The tough part is not letting the naysayers wear you down. Stick to your vision.
So what’s it going to be? Stay the course you’re on and let your business slowly erode away? Or come in tomorrow determined to make the changes necessary to improve your business?
The world just keeps changing. Rather than bemoan the negative impacts, get rid of your outdated ideas, clean your cup, and pour yourself some fresh tea!