AKRON (April 1, 2002)-There's an old saying that a consultant is a guy who borrows your watch, tells you the time and then invoices you for the effort.
However, a competent consultant brings invaluable assets to a tire dealer in the forms of insight, objectivity and fairness.
Recently I joked about consultants during a presentation to a group of tire dealers. I questioned why some bosses need a consultant to teach them the most basic of business fundamentals. Later on, an ex-dealer who now offers consulting services to tire dealers teased me right back, reminding me of previous columns in which I espoused the virtues of competent consultants.
Although we had a good laugh about it, I told the man I was due to restate that argument. Namely, many owners and managers I've met could benefit immensely from a consultant's input.
After all, what's obvious to some is not obvious to all. My casual observations of their tire dealerships and service shops tell me they're hurting simply because they cannot or will not recognize arguably basic business practices.
To a point, it's only human nature to define your world as what's immediately around you.
Many bosses I meet should be reading trade journals—or reading more of them, more often. These guys desperately need to get involved in a trade association so they learn new ideas and hear firsthand from their peers what's working and/or not working in comparable businesses. If nothing else, association participation should convince them that their experience isn't unique.
But human nature being what it is, this exposure alone isn't enough for some people. Whether it's looking at themselves in the mirror every day or taking a long, hard look at their dealership's shortcomings, some bosses just aren't inclined toward self-evaluation. To the contrary, they resist self-evaluation because it's too painful for them.
Other bosses admit to me privately that they know where changes need to be made, where discipline needs to be applied at their dealership or service shop. But they procrastinate because they don't want to be perceived as the bad guy or the “heavy.”
The cold, hard fact is that a good consultant doesn't carry this emotional baggage. Rather, he or she builds a reputation based on impartiality, fairness and a knack for sizing up businesses' ills and recommending the appropriate medicine. A consultant understands that sometimes the best medicine for a situation may be a bitter-tasting one.
Playing the heavy doesn't bother a consultant because he or she knows that role comes with the job. Simply put, they're paid to get results—NOT to win popularity contests with employees.
In certain cases, the consultant recommends and implements needed fixes that the boss just doesn't have the backbone to suggest! For example, it's the consultant's decree or recommendation that reins in the shop's prima donna or dumps the mistake-prone technician who happens to be the boss' pet employee.
A consultant's jaundiced but impartial eye also promotes accountability heretofore unseen in some businesses. Strange as it sounds, paying someone to serve as your own personal boss of sorts—someone fair to whom you, the boss, answer—is the only way improvements occur in some service shops and dealerships.
Furthermore, some people need more coaching and motivation than others do. Ever seen a little leaguer who won't practice his swing unless his dad personally takes him to a batting cage? Like it or not, some owners and managers are the same way: You can teach them the swing, but they won't practice it unless they know you're watching them and expect appropriate results.
Every year, Americans willingly fork over millions of dollars to have personal trainers customize fitness programs to their individual needs. Some bosses should apply the same zeal to business improvement that they apply to building bigger biceps and flatter abs. Whether it's the health of your dealership or your physique, results equal effort and effort equals results.
If you aren't getting the results you expect from your dealership, it may be time to recruit the insight, fairness and objectivity a good business consultant offers. Do it before it's too late.