Satchel Paige, the legendary and longtime Negro League baseball pitcher who eventually received his due in the majors, once said: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” For many shop owners, that is a mantra that drives their business strategy every day. But, despite the competitive nature of the service shop business, in reality, it is less about competing and more about a tack that addresses delivering service right the first time, every time.
At the shop level, every day is a real adventure. Most days, shops are facing a compilation of a few jobs left over from the previous day, a number of appointments scheduled in advance, and a good handful of walk-in jobs that usually need immediate diagnosis, repair and completion, all in a same-day timeframe. The pace is frenetic, and there are never enough minutes in the hour, and certainly never enough hours in the day.
So, rather than staying ahead of their competitors, what most shops are focused on is meeting the customers expectations – or at least that is hopefully the message this industry is conveying to service shop owners in the independent aftermarket.
As suppliers, you face a plethora of problems every day and a myriad of challenges in keeping your business moving forward. Meeting sales and profit goals, gaining or protecting market share, controlling costs, advancing strategic marketing plans – these are what drive you during your daily grind. But, in crafting that game plan, you are hopefully guided by over-arching fundamentals that make the daily decisions easier to understand, making your actions effective in literally doing what needs to be done.
Among those fundamental guiding principles should be the realization that everything you do should make it easier for the service shops to meet or exceed their customers’ needs. In fact, it should probably be your prime directive.
Too often, strategies are developed at the supplier level that make a lot of sense and that address the current trends in business management. But the true test of effectiveness – especially in an industry like ours that is totally built on customer service and customer satisfaction – is what gets the job done right the first time, at a reasonable price and usually in the same day. That is a challenge no other industry attempts to meet, but it is what defines us as the industry that keeps America on the road.
Right now, as we read the latest projections for the aftermarket for the coming months and review the performance for the previous period, it is generally optimistic for our industry. And, as some have noted, the combination of deferred work coming out of the mild winter in early 2012, coupled with the punishing summer temperatures that most of the United States has seen, bode well for service work in the coming months
Most industry indicators are positive, and that should have shops busy for the near term. Hopefully, we continue to make those busy shops as effective as possible with advanced inventory management tools that get the right part to the right shop quickly and cost-effectively. Hopefully, we make the necessary training available in methods and means that make today’s technicians effective in diagnosing and repairing today’s complex vehicles. And hopefully, the necessary repair information is made available by everyone in the process, from tool suppliers through service repair information providers.
I have told the story many times in my life of the friend I knew early in my years in this business who was a trainer, who bought a shop after being let go from his supplier employer, and who decided to take all the advice he had given to shop owners and apply it to his new venture. Long story short, he could not have been more successful, building his business substantially while affording a strong employment opportunity to dozens of technicians and other support staff. He was quick to say it was never easy, but it substantially boiled down to the simple fundamental of treating the customers well, training and supporting his staff, and always doing the right thing when it came to the customer’s needs.
No, there is nothing easy about this business, whether you are a shop owner or supplier. But, when the right priorities are in place, the decisions become clear. And that is more than half of the battle.
Gary A. Molinaro