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Disaster Planning Can Help You Mitigate the Unforeseen

If you consider that your shop is a fragile ecosystem, you can be prepared for a natural business disaster.

Oxford English Dictionary defines “disaster” as a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe, that causes great damage or loss of life.

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Many times we think of disaster in terms of the five biggies: tornado, flood, hurricane, fire and earthquake.

Some natural disasters are easier to prepare for than others. Hurricanes aren’t usually sudden. Here in Texas, each year we start seeing PSAs reminding us to get our hurricane preparedness kit and checklist in order far in advance of June 1, the official start of hurricane season. The PSA and ready kit are designed so we’re ready just in case a storm spins up in the Gulf and heads our way. Many seasons come and go without a threat of a storm making landfall and if we aren’t careful, we will let our guard down. Then, when a storm comes, the store shelves will be bare and we just might have a more difficult time getting through the aftermath of the storm.

Of course, if you consider just how fragile the ecosystem of your shop is, then you can make the comparison to a natural disaster and be prepared. The different “seasons” your shop faces will give you clues to what might befall your business. What else might be considered a disaster?

First, remember this: Time is our most precious and perishable commodity.

Anything that inhibits, limits or outright halts the production and generation of car repairs at your shop will create an undesirable impact on your business, your team and you as the shop owner relevant to lost revenue and wages. If you consider that what we produce is sold time and once the time has elapsed with or without producing any work, we can never regain it. Unlike a manufacturing business that can speed up the production line, the commodity in the repair industry is time. We can’t slow down or turn back the clock.

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Recovering from a disaster starts by first identifying what might inhibit your day-to-day operations. Obviously, any natural disaster is on the list, but have you considered some not so obvious? Remember, anything that prevents operating income from being generated isn’t good and having a plan in place to mitigate the losses sustained will be beneficial.

Here are some things that you may not have considered before. Ask yourself, “What happens if this happens?”

Power loss – Lift, compressor, lights and computers are all down.

Loss of telephone service – While uncommon, what is your plan if you cannot use the phone? 

Loss of the Internet – Connectivity is vital to so many areas of your operation. From building an invoice to referencing technical data, your shop’s connectivity is more vital than it ever was. Many internal and external forces could cause the loss, so what is plan B if this happens?

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What happens if your server crashes, catches a virus or your data is corrupted?

Do you have a relationship with an IT service that can get you up and running? Do you have a back-up server or replacement hard drive ready to go that has the most current data?

If your shop is not connected to the cloud for your daily backup of your shop management system, do you back up your data and take it offsite at the end of each workday?

What if there is a fire in the shop? First, if the shop is engulfed in a fire during the day, how will you know that everyone got out safely? At our shop we had a dedicated “muster point,” a spot where everyone is supposed to meet. This ensured that we could account for each of our team. Thankfully, we never had to use it, but everyone knew to meet at the northeast corner of our property should a fire break out.

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How will you respond to a break-in? The disruption caused by a break-in can wreak havoc on your shop, from loss of production to feeling violated. The first step is to prevent it by having your shop secure; the second is understanding what to do if you do get broken into. 

What if there’s an extended illness or loss of life of the owner or key employee? Nobody likes to think of death but, especially given the COVID pandemic, it is something you and your team need to come to terms with. Sickness and death happens. I know of one shop in the Midwest where the owner passed away suddenly without a plan. Days after his death, a business that had been serving the community for 70 years closed permanently, leaving employees without a place to work and a community without a trusted shop to service their car. 

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This list is by no means comprehensive, but as you begin to look around your shop and ask the question, “What happens if this happens?” you will identify the areas that need a plan.

Areas to Protect

  • People – You and your employees are the essential elements that keep your shop humming. 
  • Data – Customer repair order data and history are critical to daily operations. Protection of your data should be high on your priority list.
  • Facility – The condition of your facility will be a determining factor in your shop’s ability to generate completed service and ongoing revenue generation.
  • On-Going Business Operations – You and certain key employees are an essential factor in how well your shop operates. What would happen if there was a sudden loss of a key employee?

Make Plans to follow this 5-step process

  1. Review mission-critical aspects of your business.
  2. Craft a plan/process that lays out the steps that answers, “What happens if this happens?”
  3. Reevaluate the process for weaknesses and adjust accordingly.
  4. Document each step of the process.
  5. Share with key employees who will be involved in carrying out the actions necessary to address the potential issue.

No matter what the disaster, preparation for it is half of the battle, and being prepared will assist you in achieving a favorable outcome for you and your shop.

Along with being prepared and advance planning, having good business council and the grit to push through is often the difference between successful navigation of business obstacles and utter annihilation from crashing your “shop” upon the rocks.

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