Talking Shop: Peering into the Business Briefcase for Repair Shop Business Tips

Talking Shop: Peering into the Business Briefcase for Repair Shop Business Tips

These six business tips may provide your shop with some hints to improve your shop, sales and bottom line - without spending a lot of time or money in the process

With an ever-changing industry and today’s ultra-challenging economy, it’s not always easy to come up with new, innovative ideas for your business.

However, taking a look into this business briefcase may provide your shop with some hints to improve your shop, sales and bottom line — without spending a lot of time or money in the process.

Here are six easy-to follow files:

File #1- Who To Buy From?
In today’s highly competitive automotive service markets, independent shop owners must often decide whether to buy a replacement part from an aftermarket or original equipment (OE) source.

According to contributing editor Gary Goms, in some instances, the lower price and more tolerant warranty of aftermarket parts might be had only by accepting a sacrifice in performance and reliability. The OE part, on the other hand, might purportedly offer superior performance and reliability, but at the sacrifice of accepting a higher price and a less tolerant warranty policy.

For any progressive shop owner, “the difference between buying aftermarket and OE is often reflected in the number of parts warranties and comeback calls that must be absorbed by the shop’s bottom line,” Goms said.

“In general, most shop budgets will only accept a comeback rate of not more than 5% without affecting the shop’s overall profitability.”

As for choice, Goms explained that many independent nameplate specialists prefer OE parts because they’re competing directly with local dealerships on quality and price. As for circumstance, an independent general repair shop performing an electronics repair might be forced to buy an OE electronic part that isn’t available through aftermarket distribution, or he might be forced to use an aftermarket part on the basis of immediate availability.

“Regarding sourcing of aftermarket or OE parts, I tend to buy from a supplier with whom I have enough purchasing power to carry some warranty clout,” Goms said. “For aftermarket suppliers, I prefer staying with one or two jobbers while with OE, I buy from the nameplate supplier who provides the best counter and warranty service. The fact of the matter is, I rarely shop for price and I rarely change suppliers unless forced to do otherwise.”

File # 2 – Understanding Family Leave Options
Are you sure you’re up-to-date on family leave matters? This has become a hot topic everywhere in our
country as federal and state lawmakers push employers to provide leave benefits for their employees.

Whether you’re obligated to provide time off or simply wish to provide it to your employees as a
benefit, consider the following before implementing a time-off policy. Some of these considerations are legal requirements, while others just make good sense.

When considering a leave policy, be sure to check your state laws and any applicable federal regulations. If a local, state or federal statute covers the type of leave requested, you’re obligated to abide by the minimum requirements of that law.

Some employers provide only medical leave, while others provide sick leave and vacation leave. Many employers are moving toward a paid time off (PTO) policy. This type of policy combines sick and vacation leave into one policy. Once employees are eligible to take PTO, they may do so for whatever reason.

Depending on the type of employee, you may or may not want to provide time off. For example, many employers offer PTO only to full-time employees.

So how will your leave policy work? First you must decide how the leave benefits will accrue and whether the benefits will be renewable at the end of the year. In some states, employers may force employees to “use it or lose it,” meaning that if employees don’t take time off during the year, they are not able to carry it forward into the next year.

Other states will not allow employers to implement this sort of policy. In these states, employees must be allowed to carry forward any unused time off into proceeding years.

Regardless of what kind of leave policy you institute, make sure you implement it in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner. Remember, a good leave policy can go a long way in helping you attract and retain top employees.

File # 3 – Business Decisions: Go With Your Gut?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is still a yes, with caveats. In the business world, hard data is still king. Having a hunch might work for detectives, but most businesspeople still prefer black-and-white
numbers over nebulous feelings.

Yet recent research reveals that decisions based on gut feelings might be just as, if not more, reliable than those we deliberate for hours, days and even months. The bottom line: learn to trust yourself, it can be good for your business.
If the notion of making an intuitive decision about your business scares you, you’re not alone. Most people believe such decisions must be approached with logic and structure.

But experts suggest that your best decisions are the ones you make within the first two seconds of any circumstance, uncluttered by over-consideration and weighing of options. Call it pure thinking.

What’s frustrating about gut feelings is that they’re so hard to define. Remember that becoming an
intuitive thinker is a process. The more you do it, the better you become.

Try this if you like to look before you leap: Ask yourself an open-ended question daily. Write it on a 3×5 card at the beginning of each day. You’ll find yourself having flashes of insight throughout the day. Intuition comes when you least expect it — in the shower, driving home from work or while walking the dog. Like developing muscles, you can learn to develop your thinking muscles.

Facing a tough hiring decision?
Make sure you are focusing your energy in the right place, and that means defining exactly what you want the end result to be. Be clear about what you want. Don’t just say, “I want to hire a technician.” Say, “I want to hire a technician who gets along well with the team, is a good leader and has a proven track record.”
By defining the desired result beforehand, you can enter the personnel hunt with a clear vision of the type of person you want. That will save valuable time in the hiring process, and give you a better chance of finding the right person sooner.

File #4 – Beef Up Your Website
On the web, content is king. If you want people to visit, stick around and come back to your website, give them a good reason to do so.

Web users operate in “Internet time,” in other words, fast. They don’t linger over web pages as they would a newspaper or magazine page. Web users seek substance over style and usefulness over flash. They want to get what they want quickly.

People want a direct path to the content they are looking for. That means making useful content easy for them to find.

• Users should know immediately why they should stick around and what’s in it for them. Instead of relying strictly on fancy graphics and animations, which often slow visitors down, use meaningful headlines, subheads, menus and links. Make headlines and links clearly understandable, not necessarily clever.

• Put “About Us” information — a description of your repair shop — right on the home page if
possible. Users will look for this to help determine the authority and legitimacy of your content.

• Providing navigational buttons to the site’s major sections at the bottom or edge of internal pages helps people stay oriented. An internal search engine lets them home in on what they are after from the get-go.

• Keep important information out front — business hours, location, phone numbers and e-mail. Make use of product logos to show what you sell. And if you offer online coupons, make sure site visitors see that on your home page.

• Text must be accurate, complete and interesting. Check for spelling and grammatical errors, broken links and other mistakes that can undermine your credibility.

• Don’t swipe content you see elsewhere and repurpose it for your site, whether it’s text, photos, illustrations or video. Get permission. This is especially important if your site is a commercial one, reducing the likelihood of lawsuits.

• If you don’t have the time or in-house talent to create content, farm the job out to a freelance writer, independent site developer, web design shop, interactive agency or an advertising or public relations agency.

• Periodically re-evaluate the quality of your content. Make sure the information is still current, accurate and complete. Also test links, both internal and external, to ensure they’re still working.

File # 5 – Dealing with Change

Change is something none of us truly like. We are creatures of habit, we are born skeptics with more than a dose of cynicism. But change is inevitable, to any degree, and these tips will help you deal with change:

• Attitude. Change is everywhere. Don’t lament the passing of the good old days; they won’t be back. Be willing to move ahead and make a positive presence in your life.

• Balance. Keep a sense of variety in your life. Balance the often-harsh demands of business with hobbies and enjoyable recreation.

• Challenge. You can look at change as an obstacle or challenge. When you see change as a series of exciting challenges, you become a master and leader of change.

• Data. Information is power. Learn how to collect, analyze and use data and to master your changing workplace.

• Enthusiasm. You can’t always put a happy face on change. But it’s the enthusiastic people who make change work. Stay positive, and those around you will embrace change.

• Fear. Recognize the causes of fear during changing times: lack of specialized knowledge, ambiguous rules and directions and trepidation over venturing into unknown territory. Face these fears and resolve to move on.

• Habits. With change, old traditions and habits are swept aside in favor of new ones. Look and listen for the habits, etiquette and behavior that mark your “new” working conditions and adjust accordingly.

• Ingenuity. Innovation and flexibility are crucial during times of change, especially when it comes to solving problems. Become that innovator.

• Listening. Soak up everything that people around you say. Listen for the subtle expectations of employees, and react positively.

• Mistakes. You’ll make mistakes during times of change, lots of them. Don’t be afraid of mistakes — learn from them.

• Opportunities. Change brings opportunities to ambitious people. Look for ways to boost business and try new ideas.

• Quality. Change is vitally connected with that commitment to improving processes, products and customer service. Foster quality in your everyday work; those around you will notice and will stay committed.

File # 6 – Affordable Advertising

Small businesses face periodic times of slow cash flow with precious little money to spend for advertising. Here’s how you clear the hurdles and not spend a fortune doing it.

• Write a press release. It will cost you only the time it takes you to write it and the charge for faxing or mailing your release to your local news outlets. If you’ve just started your business, that should be the main news item. If your business has been around for years, you’ll have to be a bit more creative: special offers, tire or service tips, new technology or products, business anniversary, new employees — anything you can think of that will help keep your name out there.

• Get involved online. This is as cheap as your advertising options are going to get. Online community websites often have sections for businesses to list their services, with categories ranging from automotive services, to beauty shops, to pizza shops.

Check into online forums on sites that relate to your business. While you may not be able to advertise on such sites, you may be able to offer advice and include your business e-mail address or link to your website.

• Consider alternatives. Look into advertising with local alternative or independent (weekly) newspapers, or the local high school or college newspaper. Their space rates are usually lower than regular newspapers.

• Don’t forget community events like county fairs where you can display your products or sponsor an event. Be sure to participate in nearby car shows, which cost very little even if you award inexpensive trophies or dashboard plaques.

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