Mitch Schneider: The Sixth Day...

Mitch Schneider: The Sixth Day…

Recently, I received an e-mail that went straight to the heart of a question I've been struggling with for years: What do you do about the Sixth Day - Saturday? Is your shop open for business that day?

I’m a happy guy! Words I’ll bet some of you never thought you’d find at the beginning of one of my columns! But, here they are…and, why? Because, at the end of “So…What’s On The Menu?” — my June column — I asked you to share your thoughts and feelings about loss-leader advertising and marketing with me, along with any other industry issues you found equally challenging and/or difficult — and you did!

In fact, the very first e-mail I received went straight to the heart of a question I’ve been struggling with for years: What do you do about the Sixth Day — Saturday?

Had the question been posed differently, I may have been able to squeak by with a more superficial answer. But, the e-mail was sincere and thoughtfully written and I considered a response that was anything less, an insult, especially since the author referenced an article I wrote a number of years ago that chronicled our decision to abandon a six-day work week and the impact — or, lack of impact — it had on our business. (More about that later.)

Up until we took that great leap of faith and chose not to come in on Saturdays, working six days a week wasn’t a consideration. Our family’s history is deeply rooted in the service station business where working a six-day week was all we knew. In fact, our first service station in California was a large, 24-hour, freeway unit where working nights or Saturdays was no more of a problem for us than working Sundays or Mondays or any other day, for that matter.

It wasn’t optional. It was mandated by the lease agreement! So, why think about it?

Even if it hadn’t been mandated, thinking about it was a luxury we could not afford. Opening a new business on borrowed capital forces one to become an instant pragmatist. You do what you have to do to survive. And, if that means working longer hours, or more days, well, you get the picture.

In fact, I’ll bet there are more than a few of you who know exactly what I’m talking about and, not because someone else told you about it either!

When the time came for us to leave Santa Monica to open an independent automotive service facility that did not dispense fuel and was not associated with a major oil company, we continued working Monday through Saturday out of habit and out of fear more than anything else. The subject of remaining open never came up. Besides, it was another new business that needed that supplemental revenue to service the note…or, so we thought.

So, we did what we thought we had to do.

Sure, there were missed dance recitals and soccer games when the kids were little, opportunities sacrificed Saturday after Saturday at the altar of Our Lady of the Satisfied Customer, a goddess whose appetite was insatiable when it came to taking anything and everything you and I were willing and able to offer.

I can’t tell you what I did or who I did it for. I can’t even tell you if I made any money or, if I did how much. But, I can describe in painful detail what it felt like to have another kid’s father tell me about the goal my son scored while I was busy working at the shop.

I can’t tell you who — out of all of all the people who came — appreciated our being there for them on Saturday. But, I can tell you exactly what disappointment looks like on the face of a little girl who really wanted her daddy to see her dance or play the piano while Daddy was busy changing oil or installing an upper radiator hose on a vehicle he would never work on again, for a motorist he would never see again.

And, I can tell you just how much more exhausting it is to work five-and-a-half or six 12-hour days than it is to work five 12-hour days. Trust me, the difference between 60 and 72 is more than 12!

I’m not going to pretend I enjoyed it; I endured it. And, while we may have only worked “half-days” every other Saturday — 12-hour half-days if you worked with my dad — on most Saturdays it was 12 hours too many.

So, what seems like a lifetime ago, I went to my father and told him that I no longer cared about the consequences, I had worked my last Saturday! I didn’t care if cost us our business; I wasn’t going to allow it to cost something far more valuable — priceless time with my family.

Sacrificing Saturdays did not come without cost, however. We “lost” more than $50,000 in gross revenue that first year by closing Saturdays. But…

But, our net profit for both the last year we were open and the first year we were not was within $15 of each other! And, what seemed like an absolutely impossible anomaly sparked a search for knowledge and information that continues to this day, because I knew that if I could only understand how you could sacrifice 11% of your gross revenue and still retain virtually the same net profit — you could ultimately increase both volume and profits dramatically, which is exactly what we have done!

Now, a lifetime later, the temptation to open six days a week has returned and is significant. The current economy is crying out for dramatic and decisive action. My children are grown. I have, or at least should have, the management and leadership skills necessary to ensure those Saturdays are profitable. I am no longer a technician working for his business, I am a business owner endlessly trying to find new and better ways to have his business work for him, work for everyone here. And yet, I can’t or won’t walk down that road again — at least, not yet.

Perhaps, that is why I found that first e-mail and the hard questions it asked so compelling. It is certainly why I’m sharing my response with you right now because there are probably far more logical and compelling reasons to stay open than there are to close.

First and foremost, there is Paranoia — The argument that by chasing convenience (your customer’s, not yours) and opening on the weekends you allow your customers to remain loyal rather than seek out a competitor. Or, the argument that in the face of an unexpected crisis your customers will seek out “emergency” alternatives (a competitor, the dealer, a McTune & Lube, a retailer, et al) if you are not open; ultimately abandoning you, which is certainly possible.

There is Greed — It is reasonable to assume that even if you were only open half-days — 8 o’clock to 12 or 1 p.m. — you might still make half-revenues. And, half-revenues for a shop like ours could mean substantial increases in both gross sales — 50 Saturdays x $1,500 to $2,000+ = $75,000 to $100,000+ — and in bottom-line profit, that is almost irresistible.

There is Fear — Just consider the Economy: capital “E.”

I don’t know about where you are, but it seems the higher the crest of wave, the deeper its trough. Southern California led the country in economic excess and now leads it in economic collapse. For many shops staying open more than five days or eight hours per day is no longer an option. It is an economic necessity.

However, there is also Frustration — Saturdays are just plain awful!

Unless you own or are located next door to a jobber store or warehouse, parts are always going to be an issue. So, the car that comes in on Saturday, that the customer needs for the family vacation on Sunday, with a job for which there are no parts will have to be reassembled late Saturday afternoon so it can come back to be disassembled again when the parts are actually available!

Time will always be a problem. It always was! That’s how half-day Saturdays become 12-hour Saturdays. You tell me how you just close the hood and walk away from a “good” customer’s car just because it’s time to go home! Additionally, having “good” customers come in on a Saturday will always be a problem! I don’t know about you, but the majority of people we saw on Saturdays — and, yes, this is impolite and may be an exaggeration — were price-shoppers, flakes and crazies — none of whom you would want to build a future on.

We have considered opening on Saturdays for all of the above reasons, but we have consistently resisted those urges. We are a small shop: three techs, a porter, a writer, an office person and me. Our productivity numbers average in the high 90s (and better) and that reflects a fairly high concentration of driveability. Our average repair order is well above the national average. Reflecting on what is considered “normal” for our industry, that isn’t bad!

But, all that takes its toll. And, that toll is exhaustion…

When Friday rolls around and we have finally “cleared the lot,” we’re all pretty much “toast.” Another day or half-day of work is not all that appealing. Add the logistical problems of who works when, overtime, kids, family life and the need to have a life in general — a meaningful and spiritually rewarding life — and, working more than five days a week doesn’t look so good.

I’ve looked at different “models” to see how others have done it. I’ve thought about having two separate shifts: one that works Monday through Friday, eight hours a day; and, a second smaller crew, working Friday through Monday, 10 hours a day. But, my head starts to hurt when I try to work it all out in a world cluttered with endless variables and not the two-dimensional, concrete world of paper and thought where the theoretical always seems to look better than it ultimately turns out to be.

There is another, less obvious reason for not opening on Saturdays: I just plain don’t want to and I refuse to ask anyone here to do anything I am unwilling to do myself.  

I shared all of this with the author of that first e-mail. He said he would share it with a number of his colleagues and he did. They shared their thoughts and feelings about Saturdays with me. Now, I’m sharing this with you soliciting your thoughts and feelings once more.

In the end, choosing to remain closed on the sixth day is not about resisting the urge to grow your business. We certainly want to continue growing ours.

It’s not about hard work or even about working on the sixth day. I’m at the shop for at least a couple of hours taking care of the dogs, working on my own cars or doing paperwork just about every Saturday.

The sixth day is all about time… The time I need, we need, you need, just about everyone needs to recover from the stress and anxiety, the worry and the caring, that is so much a part of what we do Monday through Friday. It’s about the two consecutive days off each of us needs and should have to unwind, relax and detox; the time we need to get back on track and remember why we are doing all this in the first place: why we are doing this to ourselves, and for whom.

 

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