AKRON (Dec. 20, 2004) — A prudent person always chooses his or her battles. As this turbulent year draws to a close, tire dealers should follow that advice by focusing on worker loyalty and providing excellent value in the automotive services they offer.
Year-end is a time when editors ask columnists to sum up the year's most important issues in so many words or less. When I try to recall countless discussions with the owners, managers and technicians I've met this year, I could cite a variety of problems that need attention. I may sound like a broken record to some TB readers, but the two items that rise to the top of the issue barrel are still worker loyalty and providing value.
If you have to fight two battles, these are the ones you need to win to survive and thrive in the automotive service marketplace today. If accomplishing these goals was so easy, everyone who offers automotive services would have done so already, true?
Let's begin with the people who make your business what it is. Bosses need to remind themselves every single day that their tire dealership or service shop is only as good as the people who populate it—from the greenest tire changer to the savviest diagnostician they employ. They should look in the mirror every morning and remind themselves that the business isn't really about “me.” Instead, it's about the people who spend the majority of their waking hours breaking their backs on your behalf.
You shouldn't need a Harvard MBA or business consultants to tell you that the happier and more fulfilled these people are, the more money you're likely to make. If you're still having trouble with this particular fact of business life, I recommend hiring a competent manager and leaving your business in his or her hands. You, your staff and your service department will all be healthier for it.
Improve overall loyalty by getting and keeping people involved in the operation of the business—including the decisions that affect them the most. Keep them involved by giving them as much responsibility and authority as they can realistically handle.
Yeah, that's a mouthful. What's more, learning the limits of these abilities is probably the hardest work you'll ever do. But it's also the most rewarding work. Over the long haul, the results will separate your business from better-funded competitors.
Involved, empowered workers are much happier and, therefore, more loyal. To me, loyalty is money in the bank!
The other battle you should never avoid is striving to offer value instead of low price. If you have talked yourself into believing that a majority of people who walk into your dealership are seeking the lowest price, then you're grossly misinformed. Read all the consumer surveys you want to, conduct all the research you want to, listen to common folk at common gatherings.
The vast majority emphasize that they lead very busy lives. Time is more precious to them than ever before, and consequently, they don't want to waste it worrying about a vehicle that wasn't fixed correctly the first time.
Years of field experience have taught me that bosses who focus on offering value are the people who are fixing the vehicle properly the first time. Ultimately, fixing the vehicle correctly the first time is the best value because it saves the motorist time and money. But rarely does this best value translate into the lowest price for any given service or repair.
No, value is providing proper and thorough automotive services at competitive prices. Providing value is part and parcel of building a loyal customer base and ongoing referrals. Furthermore, there's no smarter marketing technique than earning loyal customers who regularly generate personal referrals. That's the most cost-effective advertising anyone could do.
The battle for the lowest price is one you'll never win. Besides, by the time you've won it, you've put your business into a downward spiral from which it won't recover. As one of my buddies explained it, fighting your competitor for the lowest price is like wrestling with a pig. You both end up bruised and muddy—and the pig loves it.