Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2010   by Andrew Ross

Success Begins with Mythbusting

Ontario Grand Forum Offers Sound Advice for the Automotive Service Provider

The Second Annual Ontario Grand Forum has been declared an unqualified success.

The Automotive Industries Association of Canada event featured breakout sessions from more than half a dozen experts, as well as general sessions hosted by noted speaker Donald Cooper.

The event, attended by approximately 200 jobbers, service providers, and other aftermarket professionals, was focused on providing real-world management training and tips that aftermarket professionals can put to use in their businesses.

The event kicked off with noted speaker Donald Cooper–whose family owned the legendary, but long-gone Cooper sporting goods company–telling attendees that simple truths will define their business success, and that myths can get in the way of success.

He said that while managing a business today is more challenging than ever before, technology is also easier in many ways.

“Back in the day, we had 11,000 SKUs at Cooper. That means we had 11,000 bin cards.” Nowadays, such an inventory can be easily handled with computer tools, “without the worry of the incorrect, inaccurate, or the illegible.”

The key moving forward, he said, is how you feel about the business.

“Every business is tough, unless you love it. Do you love what you do, whom you do it for, and whom you do it with?”

He said that those who want a glamorous job need to understand that glamour is an illusion. “What’s glamorous about the movie business? It’s an illusion. It’s the Academy Awards.” In fact nothing is glamorous about spending endless hours on the movie set. What matters, he reiterated, is that you love what you do.

“Do you love what you do, and do you have a burning desire to get better at what you do every day? Why do you have to be this good? Because business imperatives make it so.”

In the business world, in any industry with an oversupply of players, the number-one company will have an ROI of 15%, the number-two company will have an ROI of 10% to 12%, number three breaks even, and number four and five will lose money.

“And what happens when numbers four and five are safely resting in their graves? Four or five entrepreneurs see what they perceive to be a hole in the market and jump in.”

They eventually leave the market, but not before damaging the marketplace for the other players.

“The free-enterprise system is not self-correcting; it is self-buggering up!” he said.

To avoid that eventuality, Cooper advises paying attention to several basic truths.

• Mediocrity is no longer an option. “Sometimes tinkering with our business is not enough; you need to reinvent it.”

• Stop being a commodity. “What are you famous for? What are you doing that is so extraordinary that you are famous for it?” A jobber in Orillia, Ont., manages a garage for a week so that the owner can take a vacation. “While they are running the shop for a week, they are also writing a complete report on ways that it could be improved.”

• It is a myth that it is important to have goals, targets, aims, and objectives. “What we need is clear commitments.”

• Leadership is the most important job. “Grandma used to say that we need to get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. Is everyone singing from the same hymn sheet?”

• Vision statements matter. “What we tend to forget is that there are two kinds of future. [There’s] the future over which we have no control and that we cannot affect. That is the future we spend all of our time thinking about. We have no time left over for the future you could proactively create in your business. What future do you choose to proactively create?” A vision statement should be a clear and measurable statement of what you are committed to become to be a profitable and responsible leader in three to five years.

• Do not have an emotional attachment to an uneconomic business. Cooper gave an example of a business that could be sold for $4 million because of the land it was on, but lost money every year. The reason for keeping the business operating was to keep the owner busy. Cooper told him to get involved in charity work. “And he said, ‘I never thought about it that way.’ That’s the best thing anyone in my business can hear.”

• Loyalty is not gone. We are desperately searching for heroes to be loyal to. “People are loyal to what’s best for them, or what they assume is best for them. What are you doing to earn loyalty? Make a list of all the help your customers need.”

• When we’re getting beaten up on price, it’s a sure sign that we’ve failed to create and communicate any other compelling value.

• “We have an advertising problem,” is a myth. “Are you communicating the right message?”

• “You can’t get good help anymore,” is a myth. “The best people have to work for somebody. It’s just that you have to deserve them.”

After the opening session, attendees moved to several breakout sessions.

One of the best attended was the series on underperformed maintenance by former AIA chair John Watt. By using examples from shops in attendance, he showed where and how much work they were missing out on, often as much as $10,000 a month in total revenue.

In addition, sessions by HR consultant Janice Leroux and Norm Rose of Excel Sales Consulting were very popular.

Several jobbers and distributors actively participated in Rose’s session on the sales process, exchanging dialogue about the processes they used to determine where their focus should be.

David Vaughan of Eastern Automotive Warehousing was among the most engaged, describing how his company had literally covered the walls of a conference room with notes on the services it provides, and then honed them down to what they could do well, and what their customers needed.

“And it is important to distinguish between what they need, and what they want,” offered Kam Sukhram, director of marketing and sales support for Uni-Select in Ontario, a comment which had a lot of heads nodding in the room.

Also on tap for the day was a brief but informative presentation by the AIA’s Scott Smith and event chair Jeff VandeSande, president of Bestbuy Distributors, on Jeff VandeSande the legislative and regulatory changes affecting businesses in Ontario. Of primary concern were the changes to the workplace safety legislation, which puts the onus on employers to provide a safe, violence-and harassment-free workplace for their employees, and changes to the municipal hazardous and special waste program and the Phase 2 “Eco-Fees” that came under fire during the summer. While most of the controversy has now dissipated (with the scrapping of much of the Eco-Fee program after a public outcry), it is still an area in which most businesses could use some clarification.

Sportscaster Rod Black closed off the Ontario Grand Forum with an entertaining selection of impersonations, and some poignant observations about life.

AIA president Marc Brazeau closed the conference by asking those in attendance to spread the word. “I would ask that if you found today to be worthwhile, tell a colleague, and urge them to come next year so that we can continue to build the numbers and success of this event.”

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