Bill Gates understood he ran the idea called Microsoft. He could probably sell computers and software better than most of his sales staff. But he at some point realized his role was broader. Would they lose some sales because he wasn’t “behind the counter”? Yes. However, would they lose the idea of what Microsoft stood for if he didn’t do the work of the boss? You bet.
There comes a time in every startup where a major change needs to take place. A new direction unfolds and either the company embraces it, or it withers on the vine. Maybe the company grew very fast and needs to expand and move its physical location. Maybe car count has grown to a point where the owner can’t be the face behind the counter anymore and talk to every customer. Maybe that employee who “got you here” is the one holding you back because they don’t like where the business is going. That moment could be a lot of different situations. What they all have in common is a push for change.
Sometimes it’s a baby step or a tiptoe. Sometimes it’s a giant leap. Occasionally, it zips by you at such a great speed you might miss it. As owners, there’s a certain psychology that tells you change is risking everything you have, and what you have right now isn’t so bad. So the risk outweighs the benefits and we stay the same. It’s funny, when you didn’t have much more than a few tires in inventory and one employee, you took a lot of chances that paid off. You’ve gotten this far, so your instincts are good. But now with a balance sheet, and some positive equity, that success can be paralyzing.
Bill Gates started the world’s largest software company. First he built computers, then he wrote code, then he sold computers. He became president, CEO. When he recognized that Microsoft would do better with a new visionary, he stepped down and onto the sidelines.
Are you the owner of a startup tire and automotive shop that has grown over the years? I bet you used to be the one who sold the tickets. Or maybe you worked on the vehicles. Have you grown with the company? Changed your role? Successful companies need a full-time president. Someone who is looking toward the future and making plans one, three and five years out. A small business doing a million or more in sales requires someone be on the lookout for what is to come. Ten employees or more might depend on you to do that exact job. An entire neighborhood or two depends on you to keep their cars going so they can get to work and drop their kids off at the 35 activities they enrolled them in.
If you are at the counter every day or under a car, you are not planning for the future. And your employees should be scared.
How do you do it? How do you shift? How do you get away from the counter or the service bays? First, you must understand that by not doing it, you are putting a tombstone on your business. By sacrificing the future for now (sales) the company will be ill-prepared to deal with the future, and ultimately, lose the game. It’s a fact.
There must be someone you trust. If you are still selling, you are probably the best salesperson. No one is as good as you, that is why you are still doing it. The reason no one is as good as you, is because they haven’t had the chance(s) to do it.
The trust factor comes in trusting that someone cares as much as you do. They care about the other employees, they care about the customers, they care about the business. If someone else cares about the business, you can move away from the counter (or the toolbox) and even if you are nervous, if you give it a few months you will see the world is not ending. As a matter of fact, the world is opening up around you with new opportunities as you begin to focus on a side of the business that has been neglected for a long time.
If you don’t have anyone you trust, and it’s been several years since you started, there’s a gut-wrenching moment of truth coming. Why have you not surrounded yourself with the best your market has to offer? Or had you at one point and they left?
In any case, it’s time to start searching again for that person. Over the last few years, companies have focused on the consumer side (how you look, how you advertise, customer experience, etc.).
We are entering a disruptive shift for the next few years ahead in the tire and automotive repair industry. Companies are going to have to get their affairs in order and focus on the business side. Improve margins, fight the squeeze, solidify balance sheets.
This takes time. And it takes a president. ■
Dennis McCarron is executive director of Dealer Strategic Planning Inc., a company that manages multiple tire dealer 20 Groups in the U.S. (www.dsp-20group.com). To contact McCarron, email him at [email protected].
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