Auto Service World
Feature   January 1, 2009   by David Meunier, President Of Total Automotive Consulting & Training

When Opportunity Knocks, Choose The Right Door To Open

|| Meunier on ManageMent

Recession and tough economic times can create opportunities or disasters for anyone, let alone independents. It is forecasted that in the next twelve months there will be 30 per cent fewer dealerships in Canada and the US. In talking with many automotive repair facilities, they are ringing their hands in anticipation of growth, profitability and better times ahead. Not so fast, I say. If we believe that all of these vehicle owners who once belonged to a dealership which has closed its doors will come to our facility we might be sadly mistaken.

Invest in your shop and make huge profits

The statement of investing in yourself and your business is not wrong — it’s just too generic and non-specific. Tell a technician who now owns their own shop to invest in themselves and I guarantee he will invest in …… That’s right, you can fill in the blank with tools, equipment and technical training. These are not bad investments. However, such investments are only a small part of your investment portfolio as a shop owner.

If you are given a tried and true road map to success, but just before you read it or begin to follow it someone takes of the map away and burns it, how will you follow your path to success? That is like someone who goes to school for seven years, achieves and M. D. and decides, “Ok now I have the knowledge to run and administer a full-fledged hospital and be profitable.” What do you believe their chance of success will be? That person was trained to be a doctor, not a business owner/manager/administrator. What makes us believe that because I have training as an automotive technician I am now qualified to go out and buy an automotive repair facility and run the business and be profitable? Profitability does not come from the customer coming into the shop, but rather it must come from a healthy, well-run, team environment with productivity exceeding 90 per cent.

So the questions must be:

• Necessary investments should include management training, technical training, human resources, tools and equipment. The next question should be where do I find these resources?

• What is the right order or priority of investment?

• What are my expectations for complete implementation of best business practices, systems and procedures?

• How much will it cost in terms of real money?

• From where do I get these funds?

• How do I get my whole team to get on the bus and have a true understanding of the required changes as well as a desire to make the necessary changes?

• What are my fears and how do I overcome them?

• Can I be a mentor and coach to my team, or will I resort to paternalistic management practices?

• Do I have the complete vision and understanding of how it will all come together, or do I just do it because a professional automotive consultant told me to do it?

This last statement is what I will focus on for the rest of this article. I have devoted the last 15 years of my professional career in the automotive business management training and consulting industry with varied results. I have some incredible success stories to tell you about from amazing ex-technician shop owners who are now professional automotive business owners. By the way, these success stories come from across Canada in all markets, rural, urban, small town, big city, poor provinces and rich provinces. The intent of this article is not to brag about my limited success. More importantly, it is to share with you about what we have learned through all these years of trial, error and in some cases failure to convert great, intelligent hard working, technically smart inde- pendent shop owners into the business success they truly deserve to be.

My greatest epiphanies and inspirations have all come from my failures, not from my successes.

When you have some success you believe you must be right and therefore why change what is working. Maybe not success every time or as consistent as you would like, but it is working. This is a trap and limits growth. Most of us have fallen into this trap at some point in our business.

I have written many articles and training manuals about an important business practice which I call “My Fault Management.” Basically, it means stop trying to find fault with something or someone else. If we make it our fault, we can regain control and can change it. If we do not make it our fault we have created an excuse to justify failure.

With this ideology as my guide I began to examine the shops which had received our training, left the class filled with inspiration and determination to return to their facility with absolute resolve to change their business practices, and yet implement very little and consequently have very limited success. They said, “Give me something new! I’m tired of hearing the same thing over and over again.” Knowing and relying on the success of my team and of successful shops across Canada, I had no choice but to make their lack of success “my fault” and try to ascertain what I was not doing or doing wrong.

My epiphany came in understanding that telling someone something and what their comprehension of what I was teaching is quite another matter. There is not much difference between teaching and preaching if there is no engagement with the intended student on their level of comprehension and understanding. Toyota management has a saying, “The teacher hasn’t taught if the student hasn’t learned.” If that is not a great example of my fault management I do not know what is.

When I went back to these very intelligent, highly frustrated shop owners who were asking for something new and began to engage them on their level of comprehension about our best business practices, I quickly understood that I had failed in helping them completely understand the value and importance of how this training positively affects the customer, technicians, service advisors and the business. Once I truly listened to them and let them talk about what their interpretation was in regards to our training, it was only then I could have meaningful dialogue and provide clarification on our best business practices. I am very proud and excited to inform you that the results of our new T. E. A. M. training program, has begun to succeed. T. E. A. M. is our newest acronym and stands for: Train. Engage. Acknowledge. Manage.

I am proud of the shop owners who have succeeded as a result of allowing me and my team to serve them. If you have attended our training program and have left because we did not serve you well enough to affect the changes you desired, we would love the opportunity to prove to you that we are capable of listening to you and your concerns.

I will close where I started, with my opening statement: when opportunity knocks, choose the right door to open. Many dealerships will close their doors in the next several months; however, the ones remaining will be doing everything possible to bring these clients to their facility. Having more vehicles to work on has proven over the years to sink many independents. Having a team of professionals to take care of your clients needs will bring more of the right clients to your door and more profits than once ever imagined.


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