As I write this, I am on a long flight home from Australia where I had the pleasure of speaking to shop owners facing many of the same challenges as those in the U.S.A. You know the usual topics – labor shortages, pressures dealing with insurance companies, speed of technology, etc… I also heard from many in the land-down-under who were worrying about larger competition grabbing large amounts of market share. I have now traveled and met with shop owners around the globe and, while differences exist, we are more alike than we are different. In any free country around the world there are those that are struggling and those that are crushing it even though we all have the opportunity to succeed.
In the book, The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shop we discussed the six specific secrets that are propelling shops in America to outperform their competitors. In this article, I want to talk about my global perspective on the difference between the successful shops and those struggling to keep up.
The Technician Mind
In front of an audience of Australians, I asked the same question I have asked dozens of audiences in America and beyond. “Who here was a technician (‘panel beater’ in Australia) prior to opening your own body shop (‘smash repair centre’)?” In the usual manner, a majority of the hands in the room proudly flew up.
Whenever I ask this question, I can’t help but share a sense of pride myself as a former technician. Even though it has been years since I was a painter, I still marvel at the skill and ingenuity of the people that do the real work in our shops. How society can belittle those that work with their hands is beyond me; these guys and gals are some of the smartest people I know and I laugh my ass off when “high-society-snobs” can’t even figure out how to pop open the hood on their car! Okay… I’ll be nice.
Those possessing a technician’s mind have the unique ability to figure things out and that is why they have the opportunity to become great business owners. But sadly, this is often not the case. Notice I used the word “opportunity.” Technicians will be great at nearly anything they are passionate about and this is where the problem starts for many techs turned business owner. Most techs in our industry are passionate about fixing cars, but not necessarily the business of fixing cars. This is a monumental difference in the requirements of success in today’s collision repair business.
The Peril of the Lifestyle Business
It saddens me greatly to see mom and pop businesses fail. Many of our world’s oldest family businesses perish each and every day. It’s easy to understand why so many continue to blame “big business” and other factors for the constant demise of small business. Those that know me, also know that I don’t tolerate victim thinking and therefore I want to warn you, I am going to shoot it to you straight here!
Many technician-turned-business-owners went into business during a time when business skills were not imperative to create a nice lifestyle business. Shop owners starting a business in the seventies or eighties could make a good living, buy some toys and go on nice vacations a couple times a year and not even know how to prepare or read a balance sheet. It required hard work and some smarts, but not necessarily a “business” mindset or education. Today’s business environment is changing fast. Successful modern business leaders are as passionate about working on their businesses as they are about working on cars. This dynamic in the industry is causing an ever-widening divide in the size and profitability in shops. Technicians versus businessmen.
Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News First?
Let’s start with the bad news… Shop owners that are only passionate about properly repairing today’s modern vehicles will likely not survive for long. This comment will certainly bring on some haters, so let me finish before you slaughter me on social media! In today’s business environment, proper repairs have become table stakes to entry in the sustainable world of collision repair. In other words, if a business cannot provide this commodity, they don’t even deserve to be in business! So, the bad news is that no matter how passionate shop leaders are about the physical quality of the repairs, it does not guarantee success in today’s business world because business success today requires business know-how. This is where bitterness and negativity often start – hard working shop owners providing excellent repairs and still not seeing financial rewards. I can understand why so many people believe they are becoming victims of “big business” or insurance companies even when in reality the problem usually resides with the person they stare at in the mirror each morning.
Here’s the good news… Even though some large collision chains are becoming more business savvy, some of them have little or no passion for the product. In other words, they have not engaged any of the potential found in a technician’s mindset because all they care about is short-term return on investment for a group of financial folks that could care less about a car or the owner of the car. My friends, this is where the opportunity lies!
Business owners possessing a technician’s know-how and ingenuity are, in my opinion, in an amazing position of power. The ingenuity and passion that drives many of today’s shops can also be applied to the building of a business that is quick to move on its feet, able to build winning cultures, and keep up with the speed of today’s ever-changing world and do it a lot faster than the huge companies they compete with. Generally speaking, the only missing component needed to take advantage of this amazing opportunity is simply the willingness to learn new skills outside of how to repair a car.
As I write this, dozens of companies are already applying this thinking into their businesses and I am certainly not hearing them complain about the current conditions of the collision industry. These are the business men and women who have discovered an equal passion for building their businesses and the proper repair of their customers’ vehicles. This balanced approach, in my opinion, is the secret sauce to success in the collision repair business and perhaps most other businesses.
In conclusion let me just say that I believe in the potential of the technician-turned-business-owner more than ever. It is your time if you give learning a chance. I am here to help you find the resources you need to evolve and discover your limitless potential as a collision repairer.