I hate to say this, but this word seems best to describe the attitude of many parts managers I have spoken to. It’s not their fault, just their response to their daily input of negative information. Every day they get another dose of pressure, criticism, and doom. They worry about the dealership’s future, loss of customers, rising costs and falling profits. All this on top of the daily stress of filling orders, creates the natural response, “please just let me survive.” They exist on a short term basis, hour by hour, day by day, and month by month. This is how it has been for over three years, since the start of the last economic crash.
We have lost 15% of our dealerships. The weak have perished, and the strong have survived. Here is the good news… things seem to be getting better. According to the L.A. Times, we’ve had a 20% increase in auto sales so far this year! This is the start of a new growth cycle. Smart survivors are taking this opportunity to shed their fears and expand their operations. I say smart because this is the best time to get aggressive and go after new business. The survivors have less competition, and should see steadily increasing sales.
We will always have a minimum level of business. Our customer’s lifestyle demands transportation. Our communities are designed with separate living and commercial areas, and walking between them is not an option. We must have our cars! Maintaining and repairing a modern automobile requires trained technicians and expensive equipment. Very little work can be done by the average owner. Money for maintenance is still short, but repairs are a necessity. That means steady work for all of us.
Now is the time to be positive. Shake off that dull, negative attitude. Aggressive solicitation of new customers will pay off for those dealers that move now. Take some time and visit your best customers. Congratulate them for their tenacity and tell them you will be with them for the good times ahead. Partners who survive hard times always find their bonds stronger. Keep an eye out for customer opportunities that you may have overlooked. Be ready to serve the new customers that will be calling you.
There is another major negative assumption to overcome. Several parts managers have told me of their loss of interest in the wholesale market. The main reason for this is the lack of profit. It seems that there is constant pressure to reduce costs, starting at the corporate level. I am talking about the insurance companies that cover most of today’s repair costs. In a never-ending search for investor earnings, quality, care, workmanship, and pride are considered to be unnecessary. The only thing that matters to these corporations is their bottom line. They constantly push the repair shop to reduce the cost of the repairs. The shops cannot reduce their labor cost any lower; employees are already at the poverty level. The only place to cut is the cost of materials. The solution for some shops is the use of cheaper parts. These shops adopt the practices of the corporations, and consider only the cost of materials. Save a dollar, no matter what method you use.
We need to fight back! Quality in both parts and service needs to be worth more than a 5% discount. For example, sheet metal has been a center of concern for several years. Cheap replacement imported metal has found customers, at the cost of quality. Numerous organizations have come out to support the use of original parts only. We all agree on the value of quality in this area. How about the rest of the operation? How about quality of service?
I have never advocated sacrificing service and quality for cost. I believe if you pay less, you get less. There is a minimum everyone must pay for quality service. The competition should be for better service, not cheaper prices. I believe that servicing the wholesale market is still a rewarding job. Our final goal, happy customers, is a worthy goal and customer satisfaction brings us our own happiness.
Autobody News has always supported quality in our industry, promoting the best products, materials, and service, never “less for less.” In keeping with this philosophy, I would like to offer an opportunity for those dealers who believe in the quality of their service to speak out. I would like to promote those dealers who still believe in customer satisfaction.
Strong, optimistic leaders deserve recognition and support. Any of you that believe as I do, and want to spread their message of quality service; contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will include you in my column, and promote you as a truly distinctive dealership, a good partner in the auto body repair industry.
Take an active, aggressive role now in your local community. Attend as many local business meetings of the auto industry as possible. Take a stand for quality service above all else. Our customers deserve our best efforts, and our best efforts will bring us more customers. This is an opportunity for a “win-win” for all.