We’re halfway through the year, which is a great time to measure progress toward your shop’s annual goals. This year might be an outlier, however; many business owners didn’t set annual goals for 2021 because it was too uncertain of a time to be putting together year-long business plans.
Fortunately, the United States is in a much better place than it was six months ago. Coronavirus cases are down nearly 95% from their peak, masks are off, and people are anxious to get out of the house.
Those things are great for our health (and our sanity), but they aren’t filling up every auto repair shop’s bays. A shop’s car count still depends heavily on the local economic environment.
Different Realities Drive Different Strategies
Most urban areas are doing well. People are moving around even more than they were in 2019 – and they’re using their vehicles to do it. Offices, restaurants and retail establishments aren’t quite as busy as they were in 2019, but parking lots are far busier than they were in 2020. Those things are enough to keep many auto repair shops busy – but a vehicle shortage and a year’s worth of delayed vacations are also bringing people to repair shops, flooding short-staffed garages with more vehicles than they can handle.
In areas with fewer resources, however, economic activity remains depressed. Many towns in rural America were already suffering from outflows of money and people before 2020, resorting to measures like selling water systems to make ends meet. People in these areas are keeping vehicles parked at home to keep costs down. That’s hurting shop revenue, keeping them from hiring or making new investments.
So what’s the best strategy for your shop for the rest of 2021? That will obviously depend many things – one of these is your area’s economic climate. If your area faces a tough economic climate, you may need to shift strategies more aggressively to stay profitable. Meanwhile, a bustling shop comes with its own set of challenges. It’s difficult to keep employee morale high and meet customer expectations when a long line of work starts taking over the calendar.
The strategy will be different depending on how busy you are. But the focus is the same.
Busy or Not, the Same Things Matter
Whether you’re trying to figure out how to get customers into your shop or how to get them to leave you alone until you’re up a few technicians, positioning yourself for success requires understanding these three groups.
Know Your Customers
Why do customers come to your shop? It’s easy to assume they come in because they need a vehicle repaired – but unless you’re the only shop in the area, that’s not the full story.
Different customers probably choose your shop for different reasons. For some, your shop is the closest or easiest option. Others may say it’s the most affordable. Still others may trust your shop (or an employee in your shop) to give them an honest opinion of what needs to be done.
When you understand why customers come to your shop, you can make sure they’re getting whatever it is they value most out of the relationship. It’s hard to provide great service (the key to continued long-term success) without understanding that most-valued trait.
Even if you’re flooded with customers, you need to know what customers value – because, if you can’t provide them with anything else, you want to make sure they always get that one thing. If you really disappoint a customer, they might not care how busy you were. And if you disappoint enough of them, you’ll soon find yourself with far more spare time than you ever wanted.
Know Your Employees
Workplace cultures have a feedback loop. Ideally, it’s a positive one, where employees have learned to trust and respect one another over time. During a bad week, employees can lean on those relationships to motivate them towards success.
But when things go south, it can seem like every interaction makes things worse. Small disagreements can turn into petty and aggressive behavior, killing productivity and morale. That’s when employees start assuming the worst possible reason for every uncertainty.
Negative feedback loops are especially dangerous when the shop is “unsteady” – when things are too quiet or too busy. When things are quieter than they should be, employees want to know what changes you’re planning to get business back. When you’re too busy, employees want to know when things are going to calm down so they can get back to their lives.
In either case, it helps to project a sense of calm and to provide some insight on how you plan to smooth out the workload going forward. If employees don’t like what they’re hearing (or if they don’t hear anything), they may assume the worst and try to find employment elsewhere. And whenever you can, contribute to a positive feedback loop by making the shop a great place to be.
Know Your Community
The word “community” casts an intentionally wide net. It includes other businesses, schools, churches, local governments and even competitors in your area. It’s also the source of your customers and employees. Each positive interaction you have with community members will have a small impact on your shop’s reputation – and over time, the support you earn from your community can be a vital element of surviving tough weeks, months and years.
If you’re trying to get customers in the door, sponsoring or participating in events with opportunities for face-to-face interaction (like festivals or sports tournaments) can help! Sponsoring free events at your own shop, such as training new drivers to ensure vehicle safety, can also build goodwill.
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you attract the best customers to your shop, call us at 855-294-6397 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.