The independent tire and service industry is a fast-paced, competitive landscape. There’s a tremendous amount of consolidation going on and technology is advancing at breakneck speeds. The concept of “mom and pop” shops is now rare, and to be an independent shop means to be a leader in technology. Years ago, the conventional wisdom was that the big players had the money to be at the forefront. Now, it’s more feasible that a single or small chain operation is more flexible and likely to embrace change sooner than the larger players. Independent shops can now count being nimble as a major strength.
In an ideal world, in this landscape, here is how that advantage is supposed to look like:
- a clean, modern showroom,
- a brightly lit, clean shop,
- employees in sharp uniforms who are friendly,
- technology at everyone’s fingertips,
- all trying to make the customer’s experience better.
This is the cost of admission now in the industry. It’s not the high bar it was a decade ago. It’s expected. But something sometimes happens. It’s a kind of poison that creeps in. I don’t know where it comes from, its origin story, or how it takes hold, but everyone knows it’s happening after it’s too late.
Work isn’t fun anymore. It’s all about price. Sales people go from trusted advisors to pushing certain products. Like a slow-motion train wreck, we see it happening all around us. It’s hard to identify the transition, but once locked in to the price war and cutting expenses to the bone model, the business loses its competitive edge. Good employees leave and bad employees hang around... forever. Everyone just starts going through the motions. We start to rely on coupons to drive business instead of word-of-mouth. Groupon suddenly looks like a good idea. We let the business become... generic. It’s hard to focus on being different. It’s not easy making sure your customer experience is phenomenal. It’s really hard to make sure you hire the best employees your business can afford.
But none of that means we should take our eye off the ball. What really separates you from the competitor down the street are the people in your building. And oddly enough, it’s not the amount of knowledge on tires and cars they have. That part is very teachable and learnable. It’s the things you can’t teach. Do they care? Do they listen? Do they act like they want to make things right?
When was the last time a customer complained about an associate not knowing enough? When did a customer complain about how they were treated?
How do you find or hire this person is probably the question in your head. It’s hard, too, I have no easy answers. When you are interviewing a candidate, though, are you just asking them how long they have been in the business or are you asking them about the last time they dealt with an upset customer, or the last time they had a disagreement with a coworker? You can learn an awful lot about an employee’s attitude just by those two questions. And there’s plenty more questions to ask, just think back to some common issues surrounding the shop — the daily grind type instances. Ask potential employees what they have done in the past; just don’t ask “what would you do” since hypothetical questions return hypothetical answers. Ask only what they have done recently. Even if the job wasn’t automotive you can focus on customer treatment, co-worker treatment, how they viewed their boss, their bonuses... the list is nearly endless.
Remember, we hire what we can’t teach: attitude, drive, being on time for work. Once hired, teaching how a tire is made, or what a service description is, or how an alternator works — that’s the easy part. Hiring someone who will give the customer the best experience will allow you the room to charge a fair enough price so that you can reinvest in the business. That new tech who is very expensive but has a rapport with customers is worth every penny.
When in doubt about your business, look at the customer experience first. The outside appearance, the showroom, the first conversation with an employee. How the employees appear to customers, how employees drive in vehicles (safely and if they use protective items). Every one of these instances is a potential pain point for a customer, giving them an excuse as to why the price it too high or if it’s time to shop another place. In today’s world, the entry price to do tire and automotive work is high. It’s not the same as when grandpa started the business.