If we lack money to expand and grow, or just to pay the bills, we may think of ourselves as relatively "powerless." But is money the best criterion by which we can judge "power?" If we believe this is so and we lack money, we may consider it futile and hopeless to think of expanding or growing our business.
Ponder for a moment about what ultimately defines power in a racing vehicle: speed. Considering firepower and the velocity of a bullet, we can relate to a physics definition: "The speed of a particle determines its power." Concentrated laser beams, traveling at the speed of light, generate enormous power. How can we use this reference to increase our own power?
Translate this definition to cycle time in your shop, and see an immediate potential for increasing "power." If you can increase the speed of vehicle repair completions, production power is quickly increased. Boosting the frequency of cards, letters, phone calls and other marketing communications sent out, you instantly step up your marketing power (by definition).
This brings us to a less scientific definition. It's been said that "knowledge is power." But is it really? If a genius sits alone in a dark room, reading endless books and absorbing enormous knowledge, but never applying any of it, does that genius really have power? I would say no. Communicated knowledge may be power, and applied knowledge can be power, but knowledge by itself doesn't qualify. To gain power in your marketplace, it requires making your knowledge known.
This happens to some degree every time you explain a necessary repair process to a customer, or try to enlighten a dense adjustor. But a one-on-one demonstration of knowledge won't add too much power in the short run (although after many years, you do build a clientele). To gain power from your knowledge, it needs to be leveraged. Leverage is a way of multiplying power. If you speak to one person, you have a power of one. If you speak to ten people at the same time, now you have a power of ten. If you write to a hundred people, or publish an article read by a thousand people, you begin to leverage and multiply your knowledge greatly and it becomes powerful.
The power of position
In 1981, a book by Al Ries and Jack Trout hit the market called "Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind." The message was that every product holds a position in your mind: Xerox is number one in copiers. IBM is number one in computers. Coca Cola is number one in soft drinks. Avis quickly gained marketshare with its ad campaign: "We're number two. We try harder." They captured much of the business that had gone to Hertz, recognized as number one.
The concept of "positioning" as a source of power also has a basis in physics and electricity. For example, every battery has a positive and a negative pole. Electrical current flows from one to the other. The dictionary thus defines this kind of power as "The product of applied potential difference and current in a direct-current circuit." The distance between the two poles therefore affects the amount of power. If both positive and negative poles were allowed to collapse together with no space between them, they would short out and there would be no power flow. It is the battery itself that holds the two poles apart at a fixed distance, and allows for a continuous current of electrical power.
In a way, you use a similar principle when using a chain pull to straighten a frame or unibody. You have a fixed anchor on the floor that allows you to apply pulling power to the vehicle. This same principle of holding a firm, fixed position can increase your power in the marketplace. McDonald's does this when it puts up a sign that says "Over 10 billion burgers sold." It says they have long-term staying power. By promoting your number of years in business and perhaps even guessing at how many damaged vehicles you've repaired, you make a statement about the firmness and reliability of your position.
Another power of a firm position
Years ago, a popular game at picnics was "tug-of-war." Two groups of guys would get on the opposite ends of a strong rope. Each group would try to hold a firm position while trying to pull the other group from their position. Whichever group failed to maintain their footing and was pulled off position, lost. When you begin a new marketing practice or initiative, you will begin to encounter resistance. The moment you begin to introduce change, you threaten the established order. You are likely to face resistance and opposition. Some of that resistance may even be within yourself: doubt, fear, possibly confusion and uncertainty.
Just as in golf, baseball or tennis, you need a firm grip on the club, bat or racket, you now need to hold a firm position. You need to endure your own momentary negative feelings and also resistance from those around you who would prefer not to change. Keep a firm grip on your resolve and you will increase your marketing power significantly.
For instance, in a recent article I suggested sending a letter to a couple of dozen prior customers every week, inviting them to return to the shop -- perhaps only to fix some dents and dings and have their car buffed and polished to remove the effects of oxidation on their paint job (if you didn't see the article, call me for a re-print). Getting office personnel to send out these letters consistently might require some significant resolve. People may not be willing to have added responsibilities piled on top of their already busy schedules, but holding a firm position and reasserting your determination until it is done would eventually result in increased business from prior customers. It would behoove you to point out how the whole shop benefits from a flourishing business.
Using other people's power
Eventually we come back to a basic form of power: "A person, group or nation having great influence or control over others" -- the kind of power exercised by banks, large organizations and government. Sometimes an increase in financial power is all that is necessary to push through a new growth initiative. If we don't have the funds, it may be time to "make like a toaster," and plug into a power source. All of our devices -- radios, TVs, computers, microwaves and, yes, toasters -- draw power by being connected to the large electrical infrastructure that underlies and powers our modern society.
Probably without even thinking about it this way, we also build our connections to the power sources need ed to survive. We build a line of credit at the bank. We carry credit cards. We build pension funds. And some of us go public and connect to stockholders or venture capitalists who fund our growth. However, most of the shop owners I know have relied on connections to suppliers and paint companies, family and friends and associates.
Although many of these may seem to be sources beyond our control, using our knowledge power and the power to communicate our vision, we may be able to bring others to believe in us and to provide the financial power required to expand and grow in whatever way we choose.
Never yielding to powerlessness
One of my favorite authors, Herb Cohen, wrote a book entitled "You Can Negotiate Anything," published in 1980. Over and over Herb makes the point that we have much more power than we think we do. He relates a story about a prisoner held in solitary confinement who pleads with a guard outside the door to pass him a cigarette. When the guard refuses, it would seem the prisoner would be powerless to get his way, but he tells the guard: "If you don't give me a cigarette I will beat my head against the wall until I'm bloody and unconscious. When the prison officials find me I'll tell them you did it. That will force you to go to the trouble of explaining and justifying yourself. Wouldn't it be easier to just give me a cigarette?" He got the cigarette, proving that even in that seemingly impossible situation, he still had some power.
In a time of economic downturn and uncertainty, we could easily fall into the belief that we are powerless to grow and thrive. But that would be a false belief. There are many forms of power to exercise, to draw on, to connect to. We just have to have a firm resolve to use them, and then to endure whatever struggle it takes to get it done.
Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.