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Sunday, 30 June 2002 17:00

Delay: the road to ruin

Written by Tom Franklin

It's been said "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." I would add, "The road to ruin is paved with good intentions." 

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In my travels around shops, I hear many expressions of good intentions, but when I go back a week, a month and sometimes a year later, I see that nothing has changed. Not one of those good intentions has been implemented. Why is this tendency to procrastinate and delay action so prevalent?

Most guys will say, "I've been too busy." But too busy doing what? Generally he's working at 80, 60 or even 40 percent of efficiency and profitability. So where are the rest of those profits? Most of the time they're gathering dust with his delayed "good intentions." One shop complains of no DRP business, but his shop is messy. Signs and areas need some simple painting. He has no waiting room, and most of his employees are not ICAR certified. He intends to do all of this, but never quite "gets around to it." Nevertheless I'm told there that employees in his shop are standing around idle some days for lack of work. There obviously was time to get people cleaning things up and slapping on some paint where it's needed. But it wasn't done.

Another shop had an opportunity to add some services that would boost income and bring in customers who might also need some body work now or later. To add that new service would require hiring an additional worker. At first the service wouldn't generate enough revenue to cover that worker's salary. I suggested starting with a part-timer, even if only one day on Saturday, to get the project moving. He agreed that it was a good idea and affordable. Three months later, nothing had yet been done.

From "good intentions" to action

To move ahead, "good intentions" must become "relentless intentions." They have to be backed with a rock-hard determination to get them done, regardless of what it takes!

Often what it takes is risking. I've been amazed at how readily some people risk money on a lottery where their chances of winning are one-in-a-zillion, but they're unwilling to risk a few dollars betting on their own livelihood where the odds of winning are incredibly high. Risking is essential to growth and successful business.

Another key to moving ahead

A good model for getting those "good intentions" put into action is the famous door-to-door salesman's trick: "Getting a toe in the door." If you can get one toe in the door to that next action, the chances are very good you'll get the rest of your foot in the next time you tackle it.

I've just finished working on my taxes. If you're like me, you dread sitting down to that pile of receipts, reports, and forms to fill in. How do we do it year after year? You already know the answer. We start by picking up one piece of paper -- then another. Gradually we build momentum. We may only be able to tolerate an hour or two during that first attack on the task, but the next time it's easier because we've gotten a start.

Adding urgency to get it done

One reason we do our taxes is our awareness of having to pay interest and penalties if we don't. We have a sense of urgency, and so we somehow find the time to do them. Why don't we feel that urgency about a project that could boost business volume or profitability 10, 15, 20 percent or more? Usually it's because the urgency is hidden in the complexity of the matter. One shop's business is down at least 25 percent or more. In speaking to the bookkeeper, I learn that the cost of uniforms, which is several thousand dollars a year, could be cut in half by switching to another vendor, but the owner considers the matter too trivial to worry about. I can almost guarantee he has other small windows of opportunity to cut costs and increase profits that are being ignored.

Many shops in my area are slow this year. Very few shop owners would see this as an "opportunity," but it could be. When business is booming, not very many owners bother to pay close attention to costs, to discounts, reserves, or to long-term marketing actions. When a slow period comes, it should automatically add urgency to all of those concerns.


If a shop owner has thought about putting in a management system, he or she probably wouldn't have time to do it during a busy time. And they would think they don't have the resources to do it when business is slow, but the very opposite is true. A simple system like Summit Software (call me for details) should reveal those "tiny leaks" and provide a way to conserve enough resources to pay for the system and have cash left over.

The slow period should provide an opportunity for us to take the time to assess costs and longer-term marketing actions very closely -- that is IF we seize that opportunity and make use of it!

Opportunity to look beyond limitations

When this unusual "window of opportunity" is open, it's a good time to look around to see what others are doing. A recent article I wrote was entitled, "Everyone's slow is no excuse." I got back a lot of e-mails agreeing with me that it isn't true that "everyone's slow." There are some shops that are thriving, and this may be a good opportunity to find out what they're doing that's working.

You probably can't walk into the big consolidator's shop down the way and start asking detailed questions about their sales, marketing, employee incentives or profitability. But you should be able to ask these searching questions of a shop owner far enough away to not be in competition with you.

What can you learn from other shop owners? The outside of their shop may

not look much different from yours, but the key to learning is closer inspection. You already know this from years of closely looking at damaged vehicles. But looking at an entire business means learning to ask much more detailed questions and probing for more thorough answers.

Sometimes you come across unexpected situations and possibly opportunities. You may have thought it would be too expensive to put in an over-sized spray booth or frame machine. You may have thought there wouldn't be enough business to justify the cost. Then you may find out a shop across town with this very equipment gets business from other body shops who can't do limousines or other over-size vehicles, and these more than pay for the equipment. When you start asking detailed questions, you often find opportunity lurking in the dark corners.

Opportunities on the move

New "mobile computers" will soon give users access to networks and the internet almost anywhere. More and more a business need not be limited to the physical space it occupies. Estimates can be written anywhere, and perhaps in the future even more mobile services will be available. There's a mobile detailing service in an affluent area not far from my office. They do a boom business and have numerous service vehicles out doing on-site detailing all the time. They recently added a body shop at their main location and began doing some minor body repairs at customer's sites as well. I can already see they've begun to cut into the business of some of the more established body shops in their area.

Is this fair? No more so than Office Depot or Office Max coming into a neighborhood and putting the small stationery stores out of business. It may not be fair but, in today's competitive jungle, it's necessary to keep alert for those small whispers of opportunity that may spell larger success down the road.

Don't wait. Do it now!

Many of us lost money during the last stock-market downturn. Many of us also saw the occasional advance indicator that suggested maybe we should sell a stock even if we had to take a small loss. Many of us also delayed acting on that small indicator, and the next thing we knew the small loss had become a gigantic loss. Only now it was too late to act.

Few disasters come with no warning, but many times the first warning is only a small indicator. Perhaps it's a small darkening of the sky that foretells a huge storm on the way. Or it could be a change in economic trends that says sell stocks and buy gold. Or it could be an article tucked away in a corner of the business section that alerts you to the fact that a company that you already do business with just acquired and merged with a company you've wanted to do business with. And now you have a chance to jump in and get the deal!

When these indicators come, don't ignore them. Act! Windows of opportunity may be smaller than ever. Seize the day. Pave your road to riches not only with good intentions, but also effective actions!

Tom Franklin 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:


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