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Tap Into the Power of Collaboration to Grow Your Business

When it comes to making business decisions, going it alone can be a recipe for disaster for automotive repair shop owners. The world is more complex than ever. To make smarter choices for your business, you would do well to tap into the knowledge and experience of others. In Part 1 of this two-part article, I’ll discuss why collaboration is essential to your business. “We all learn from experience, but it does not have to be your own.”

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Dave Mischler is president of Sun Advisory, LLC and president/facilitator of Inner Circle Chicago (peer advisory boards for business owners). Read his blog at www.peeradvisoryblog.com or go to his website at www.il1.theinnercircle.com.

Collaboration in Action – Why Do You Need It?

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As a business owner, think about some big decisions you have made over the years, and whether they benefited from, or might have benefited from, the power of collaboration. Here are some examples of actual issues that have been raised in business owner peer groups from markets across the country:

“I have a difficult employee. He’s ­essential to my operation, so I can’t fire him. But he’s consistently doing just enough to get by. I am trying to grow the company. What should I do?”

“With the changes in vehicle technology, I am thinking about offering more services. But they would be new areas for my shop, and I would need to invest considerably in tech training, tools and equipment to be prepared to offer such services. Am I making a mistake to go into new service areas?"

“I’m thinking about lowering our prices to try to attract more customers. Is that a good idea?  What are my alternatives?”

“Here is my biggest problem. My son does not want to take over my business. What do I do now?”

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These are complex issues. Working through the best ­approach on any one of them, much less all of them, could be a challenge. Yet this is something that business owners try to do all the time.

What do you do to solve business problems? If your first instinct is to go into a cave and hash it out by yourself, you very well may be holding your business back. You may also be putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage. If you want to grow your business, you do not want to just get past these issues; you want to solve them, even leverage them to build a better, more profitable company.

Is that likely to happen if you take them on all by yourself? Without the benefit of outside advice, you are making business decisions in a vacuum, based solely on your own knowledge and personal experiences. By consulting with others, you will increase your chances of success.

Thus, even better questions are: Who do you collaborate with to solve your business challenges?  Who can you talk to when you want to make the most of an opportunity? As an automotive ­repair shop owner, you need to have access to expert, trusted individuals with whom you can talk about the business issues you are currently ­facing.

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Why Does Collaboration Lead to Better Business Decisions?

Academic research regarding problem solving suggests that there is power in numbers. The reasons that collaboration outperforms ­individual decision-making may include the following:

Improved Problem Diagnosis. It often takes an objective outsider to help you understand that you are looking at a situation incorrectly. Indeed, many business owners attempt to treat a symptom and never identify the root cause that truly needs attention. By discussing your business issues with others, you will gain clarity on the problems themselves.

Better Inputs. By interacting with others, you gain access to more complete information and knowledge regarding the problem at hand. Simply having access to more diverse views, alternatives or data helps improve ­decision-making.

Stronger Building Blocks. Through the natural processes that arise in groups, a “brainstorm” mentality takes place where ideas are shaped, molded and improved with each successive interaction. Not only are the ideas better, but your self-assurance in them rises as the energy builds around those with the best chance of ­succeeding.

Enhanced Understanding. Believe it or not, just the simple exercise of explaining your challenges to others brings value to the process. As you articulate your concerns, ­assumptions and potential solutions out loud, you will find yourself better ­understanding your own beliefs on the issue at hand. Just by hearing yourself talk and listening to what you hear, you will find that new light is shed on a problem and your decision-making improves.

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Greater Confidence. As you work with others and see consistency of the feedback or the consensus that is reached, you will have greater confidence in the decisions that you make.  This reassurance can be very liberating and enable you to execute better, knowing with greater certainty that you are making a good decision.
So, now you know why collaboration is important, but how do you find the right business groups for you?

We will discuss options for broadening your ­decision-making inputs in Part 2 of this article in the September 2010 issue of Shop Owner

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Collaboration at Work: Louden Motorcar Services

“As an independent auto repair shop owner, we are sometimes our own worst enemies. The fact that we are called
‘independent’ is a double-edged sword. This brings up the old adage ‘no man is an island.’ We all need help and the male species is the last to ask for any.”
—Steve Louden, Louden Motorcar Services

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Our success at Louden Motorcar Services has come from our interaction with other shop owners by belonging to associations, such as the Automotive Service ­Association (ASA).

Over the past 33 years, we have networked with dozens of other successful shop owners in order to improve our own operation.

Another venue that has proven to be an asset is belonging to the BOSCH Authorized Service Center network, where life-long business and social friendships have been formed.

Another fantastic networking group is our “20 Group” that we formed 15+ years ago. Our group is the first actual national 20 Group of independent shop owners moderated by NCM and Associates in Kansas City. NCM actually started the 20 Group concept for new car dealers in the 1940s, so they are considered the grand-daddy of automotive 20 Groups.

Our members share monthly financial data and meet twice a year for very in-depth meetings. A real benefit is…tell me something can’t be done and I will show you someone doing it.

The group’s main objective is incremental improvement over time. If you don’t want to improve, don’t join one. Belonging to such a group has been the best investment and ROI I can recall. It is like having 19 successful shop owners on your company’s board of directors.

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~ Louden is president of Louden ­Motorcar Services in Dallas, and long-time ImportCar advisory board member.

 

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