I know what you’re thinking, but please bear with me. Training is not something everyone wants to read about, let alone enroll in, but I’m going to suggest that there are reasons to consider it in a new light as we approach the end of the first half of 2001. Is your business doing well? 2001 so far has been the year of the anticipated recession, with conflicting economic indicators, a dead tech sector, (at least in terms of the stock market) and profit warnings everywhere. It’s also the year of near zero inflation, relatively low unemployment, and a very healthy trade balance with the United States. I don’t believe that recession is a serious threat in the Canadian economy, mainly because leading-edge industries have rationalized continuously during the boom years, and are operating pretty efficiently right now. There just isn’t as much fat left to trim, and at some point, you can’t lay off the personnel that generate profits, even if they’re smaller than last year’s. Recession-proofing a company is about efficient practices, reasonable margins and a healthy demand for goods and services.
That’s true in automotive service too, and chances are there’s not much fat to be trimmed from the average Canadian operation in 2001. And I believe that recession or not, there won’t be a dramatic spike in consumer demand for automotive service regardless of the state of the economy. New car sales may be deferred, but repairs will be too, so don’t expect that you’ll get rich if the economy tanks this year. Protecting margins in these uncertain times will require finding efficiencies that aren’t immediately apparent on your bank statement.
This requires training, specifically business management training. Regular readers know that we at the Southam Automotive Group were behind the Federal-Mogul-sponsored Partners In Training (PIT) Tour, in which many of you learned crucial strategies from Bob Greenwood. It was a good program, but like all business management training, it needs to be ongoing to deliver consistent results. More is better, and there are multiple options out there to help shop owners get started without feeling overwhelmed. The most common reaction I’ve encountered when talking to participants is relief, relief that they’re not alone. Most shop owners don’t express their concerns about management skills to their peers, and the result is a mind-set that makes good owners feel inferior or incompetent. Relative to its return, business management training is a bargain, and should be budgeted for every year. Don’t use budgets? Then you need the training more than ever. There are legions of good shops and good shop owners that are “on the edge” because they can’t service vehicles and manage their businesses with equal excellence. That’s understandable, especially given the increasing complexity of modern vehicles. Unfortunately, modern businesses have also become complex and computer-driven, and like the new cars, need upgrade training for efficient, profitable service. Owners need to take the time, and spend the money, in order to earn the time and money they’ll need to survive. Investigate what’s available in your area, regardless of the sponsoring organization and learn as much as you can. Our industry is very good at fixing vehicles; there’s no reason for good shops to go down due to lack of maintenance.