The recession is over. Feeling better already, aren’t you? At a recent industry meeting of tool and equipment manufacturers, distributors and independent sales representatives, several of us were sitting around a table, discussing business conditions and what we had been experiencing. Someone described their current business situation with this analogy: Our industry has suffered like most other industries in the country, but some businesses are acting like a wild animal that has been hurt, flailing around, doing what they can to survive. And they are creating a lot of damage in the process. That’s what we’re seeing with some manufacturers and some distributors.
I’m sure you’re seeing some examples of this at the local level in your area as well. There’s always someone who thinks they’re getting “creative” with their marketing approach, when actually all they’re doing is cutting prices. This type of marketing can lead to price wars amongst competitors, and I’ve never seen where that is a good thing for anyone (except maybe the consumer). Long-term, it is usually unhealthy for a business to compete on price alone. I’m not altogether against cutting prices or offering a loss-leader, but I would say if that is your primary approach to competing in your market arena, it should always be combined with other aspects of a marketing plan. For instance, cut your price on an oil change, when it’s combined with a full-service cooling system analysis.
But getting back to the economy, the recession is over. Or is it? The better question you should ask yourself is, “When it comes to my own business, does it matter?” In reality, there is not much you can do on a local level to affect the national economy. So I say, don’t let the national economy dictate your local sales success. And all sales are local.
Before you get too excited and fall back into your pre-recession habits, here are some ideas you can use to positively impact your sales growth:
Communication with customers is critical. When times are tough, many people quit talking to their customers. They don’t want to hear more bad news, or they don’t know how to deal with a “no.” In actuality, this is the time when you should be closest to your customers. They’re dealing with bad news too, and are looking for ways to improve their own situations. The more you know about their problems, the better you are able to help resolve them. If not today, then tomorrow, as the economy and their situation recovers. Give them a reason to come to your shop. Communicate your “summer specials.” Enhance your website: list weekly or monthly specials, describe an “employee of the month,” provide an area for customer feedback. All these will keep your customer closer to you.
Communication with employees is critical. Take time to listen to your employees. Their anxiety level is most likely pretty high right now. We’ve had more than a year of economic uncertainty, wildly fluctuating gas prices and general lack of confidence. It’s your job to share positive and sometimes negative information with them so they can be better employees. Sometimes all you have to do is share a cup of coffee and 10 minutes of your time. If you truly feel that your people are your best asset, treat them that way. Let them know it by your actions, not just by their paycheck.
Education and training. More than 1,000 dealerships closed their doors in 2008, and hundreds more are expected to close this year. Many of our readers are reporting a steady increase in traffic at their shops. You may be seeing vehicles that you or your technicians are not quite comfortable diagnosing and repairing. This is the time to upgrade your skills and the skills of your technicians. You don’t want to turn away new business. Make the investment to train your technicians on new products and methods to work on newer model vehicles.
You and your people may already share ideas and techniques with each other, as you experience them in the shop. Have a monthly “best practices” meeting where you and your techs share knowledge in a more formal setting. Pick the best practices that help improve productivity, and then share them with your staff. Ask your mobile distributor to feature his or her “Top 5 Tools of the Month,” and get a thorough explanation of their features and benefits. He’ll be happy he stopped by the shop, because he may make a sale. And you and your technicians will have more in-depth knowledge of a handful of tools that should help improve productivity.
Effective Leadership. When we poll our readers, many shop owners admit they spend more time in the business than they do working on the business. If you find yourself in this position, the first thing you should do when you finish reading this magazine is close the door to your office, sit down and make a list. Do a quick SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) analysis of your business, and begin to map out a plan for improvement. Number one on your list should be: Stay focused and be disciplined. Number Two: Map a strategy for growth and implement it.