What Pandemic? How To Grow Your Shop Through Crisis
by David Rogers
As published in Shop Owner Magazine, March 2021 (pages 8-10, 12)
Across the US, shops absorbed lockdowns, quarantines, and fear and grew their shops by hundreds of thousands of dollars. What we can we learn from them about handling crises and growing your shop no matter what.
In late March 2020, as COVID panic was just setting in and states were beginning to issue lockdown orders, at Keller Bros. Auto Repair in Littleton, CO, we were hard at work on marketing and advertising.
We already had contactless tools through our Shop Management System called Shop4D. Our staff was already trained in the criticality of following correct procedures on every vehicle, every time. In other words, we knew we were able to care for our guests and keep them safe.
Which means that our biggest decision was “will we cut back and hope we survive, or will we increase marketing and grow our way through this crisis?”
Repeated studies by the Small Business Administration and Harvard Business School say that during a crisis is when it’s most critical to increase marketing, because your competition isn’t, and you can take a bigger share of your market. This is what successful businesses ALWAYS do.
Look back at the last year and think about how many Amazon advertisements you’ve seen. Stores were shut down across the country, and Amazon used the opportunity to take the world over. (Jeff Bezos grew his net worth by $75 billion during the pandemic!) The reason is that when successful businesses see their competition retreating, they use that opportunity to seize a bigger share of the market.
I know that can feel like a huge risk. By late March 2020, car counts were already falling, and nobody was sure how far lockdowns would go or how long they would last. Spending marketing dollars in a situation like that can feel like you’re gambling with your emergency savings.
But shops across the country did exactly that – they increased their marketing spend in the face of a crisis – and they grew their shops by hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2020.
The reason why they were confident spending those marketing dollars is a critical part of the story.
GROWING OUT OF A CRISIS
Surviving COVID lockdowns was, in large part, about maximizing production. When there are fewer cars in your bays, it becomes that much more important to thoroughly inspect and advise every customer of everything the technician recommends. Shops that had already maximized their production were far more confident in spending marketing dollars and knowing that the shop would get the best possible return on their investment.
The need to maximize efficiency didn’t start and stop with COVID, though. Years before the pandemic, our industry was already in the middle of a technician shortage. There are far fewer technicians entering auto repair than there are leaving, a trend that has been underway for years.
And while yes, these are very different crises, when we get to the root of things, the solution is the same…
If you don’t have enough cars, stopping advertising isn’t going to fix your car count problem. If you can’t find a tech, stopping advertising and making sure there isn’t enough work to go around isn’t going to help you find one.
Which means that in both cases, the only way to survive is to grow your way out of the crisis. You need to eliminate every inefficiency, bottleneck, leak in your production pipeline so that your team can maximize every customer visit. It’s the key to knowing that your team can survive the crisis, meaning it’s the key to being confident in increasing your marketing budget even as your competition is pulling back.
Keller Bros. – and shops across the US like Keller Bros — was ready for this crisis, not because of luck, but because of preparation.
Trace a vehicle through the production pipeline in your head, and all of the places where your team is working on process instead of production…
Lost time when transferring from POS to inspection.
Lost time when looking up labor during estimate.
Lost time in poor communication between tech and advisor.
Lost time on slow part sourcing for the estimate. Lost time waiting for customer authorization.
Lost time waiting for parts to complete repair.
When your shop is busy, it’s a nuisance. When you’re slow, it’s a disease. When you’re in a crisis, it’s a death sentence.
The recipe, in other words, is this: the shops that grew by hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2020 used a shop management system like Shop4D to maximize their production and grew their advertising budget to take control of their market.
QUALITY BEGETS QUALITY
If you rise to the challenge, maximize efficiency, and set your shop up for long-term success, but sabotage that effort by filling your bays with low-quality customers, it’s all wasted effort. You can’t increase billed hours if your customers don’t trust and approve your recommendations.
You cannot just send the same generic marketing and advertising that everyone else is sending. You must set your shop apart. It all comes back to a critical question we should be asking ourselves constantly: is my marketing bringing me the kind of high quality new customers I need to grow my shop? If not, then fixing efficiency is putting lipstick on the proverbial pig.
2020 was a year nobody wants to relive. Lockdowns and fear and panic ruled the day.
But there’s hope in this crisis, like there is in every crisis: your shop doesn’t have to subscribe to the narrative. You can take control and grow your shop in spite of what is happening to your competition.
You just need to maximize your efficiency, increase your marketing, and take control of your shop’s destiny.