How's this for a wild claim -- a consultant with whom I'm acquainted would guarantee to solve any company's problems if they would allow him unlimited access to question every employee without revealing or reporting to management who said what during his interviews. Well, maybe it isn't such a wild claim.
If you’ve been in business a while, it’s likely you have been hit up for contributions by every organization and charity in your vicinity. When you first started out, you probably just sent a few bucks to those that struck you as desirable enough to support. But once you contribute to one, you get on the list and soon you’re swamped by requests for donations.
I have recently finished re-reading Stephen Covey's excellent book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" (Simon & Schuster Fireside Book, 1990). As I read through Covey's basic principles of personal vision, leadership, management, communication, cooperation, renewal and interdependence, it occurred to me that for every positive trait, there is an equal and opposite negative trait.
Shop owners are generally strong-willed men and women who have had to fight their way to ownership of their businesses, then fight even harder to make their businesses work. As an owner they are in a position of leadership. But are they really leaders, and does it matter?
Quite a few years ago, one of my clients was a fast food establishment. They were having a continual turn-over of managers and couldn't seem to keep one for more than a few weeks. We did an analysis and found that the job called for simultaneously watching the cooks, the clean-up people, the take-out window, the lines where employees were taking the eat-in orders, and the cash registers. When we asked a couple of ex-managers what the problem was, they said while they were watching one employee, one of the others was certain to make a major mistake. They felt it was impossible to keep track of everything they were expected to.
The autobody business has changed dramatically the last few years. Consolidators are now even moving into smaller communities that few would have ever expected just a few years ago when they started in major metropolitan areas. Insurance companies are getting more and more aggressive in their efforts to control claims costs and repair facilities -- even to the point of getting into the autobody business themselves!
I live in Los Angeles, California, often called LA-LA-LAND, the city of fantasies and dreams. Each year hundreds of beautiful young ladies and handsome men descend on this city, hoping to become stars. Many of them wind up waiting tables while they're waiting to be "discovered." After all, Fabian was "discovered" sitting on a door stoop. Elvis Presley was "discovered" by the Colonel. Many such stars are "discovered" by some enterprising promoter who sees a potential money-making machine for himself if they succeed. But even to be "discovered," the hopeful "stars" have to put themselves in some situation where they'll be seen, even if it's only waiting tables in some classy restaurant.
Almost every shop owner I speak to tells me he or she wants more business. But when we start talking about business growth, I begin to hear reluctances. Too much growth means hiring more people, which means more paper work, more reports to the government, more insurance, and on and on. It also means more capital investment to cover additional equipment and to cover accounts receivable during the interval between the time parts are purchased and checks arrive for completed jobs. Everyone wants to grow in profitability, but very few want to face the costs and pains of growth.
"Power" is a peculiar word, having both negative and positive implications. The first definition in the dictionary is simply "the ability or capacity to act or perform effectively." Hopefully your estimator possesses selling power. The most common definition that comes to mind when hearing the word is "strength or force exerted or capable of being exerted" -- military power, political power, or financial power. Similarly we may think of the meaning: "a person, group or nation having great influence or control over others."
I recently did a seminar for the Nebraska Autobody Association during their "Collision Day" event in Lincoln, Nebraska. Located, as I am, in one of the most populous cities in the world - with arguably the most cars (since we have just now begun a rapid transit system) - I wasn't prepared to address so many shop owners in such lightly populated areas, with so few vehicles to repair. Strategies which work well in a densely populated area like Los Angeles seem not to have much value for shop owners in these small, rural communities.
A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on "Funding Risk." Most shop owners want to grow their business, but in today's economy, it seems a bigger concern is simply not going backwards -- growing smaller. Taking risks to grow seem doubly dangerous when just surviving is difficult. Nevertheless, it is vital to keep growing, and finding the resources to grow may be easier than you imagined.