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  Management Feature

Attitude Is Everything

Posted 5/17/2010
By Cecil Bullard, AAM

Put defeatist mentalities behind you and say "hello" to a newer way of thinking that leads to better sales and profits.

Put defeatist mentalities behind you and say "hello" to a newer way of thinking that leads to better sales and profits.No one can deny the fact that it is more difficult to be successful in the automotive service industry under current economic conditions. The business of maintaining and repairing vehicles has changed and no rational person can believe that business as usual will deliver the desired result.

Owners and managers lament the fact that they cannot put together two or three weeks of positive results, let alone several months. The hope of a summer where business returns to its previous pattern is the dream of many a weary shop owner. Many believe good times are gone, and there is no way to succeed in the current marketplace. "If I reduce expenses I can make it until the economy picks up" has become an industry mantra.

The attitude of "I'm just going to hold on until things get better and see if I can make it through," is not the same as "I am going to do what is necessary to succeed." This type of thinking ultimately leads to failure. You cannot save your way to success. I am not saying you shouldn't be smart about how you spend money and where you put your energies but once you have lost faith in your ability to be successful, you cannot inspire your staff and soon the attitude of impending failure becomes a plague in your business. Staff members no longer go the extra mile for you or the customer. Customers feel the difference even if they cannot put their finger on just what it is and they react differently to someone who is going through the motions than they do to someone who is confident of success.

To further prove this point, I would like to tell you about a company I recently started working with. A marketing company convinced them to sell free oil changes and they bought into the plan. I don't like free anything but this was done before I started with them and they sold 200 cards in their community with six free oil changes (and additional discounts) on each card. The owner was distraught to the point that it was making him physically ill because he was giving away a lot of free oil changes and not making any additional sales. As I watched the service adviser deal with a "free oil change customer," it soon became apparent what the problem was. When he saw the free coupon he instantly became discouraged and his attitude changed from one of "How can I help you?" to one of "Let's get this over with."

In the previous month, they had an average repair order of just under $40 per vehicle on these customers. I talked with the service adviser about his attitude and how he was poisoning the opportunity before he had a chance. I asked him to give each customer a mental hug instead of a two-by-four upside the head and we agreed he would do everything in his power to make them comfortable. The next month, their average repair order on these "free oil change customers" went up to $419, an increase of 10 times.

We did nothing more than change the attitude of the service adviser and got amazing results. Attitude is everything, and it is virtually impossible to have a positive attitude if you are just holding on.

While some companies will spend their time trying to do the same old thing only harder or just trying to hang on, other companies will be taking advantage of every tool available to them. While I write this article, I am on the plane returning from the ASA Missouri/Kansas VISION Show in Overland Park, Kan. I am happy to report that the story of "I can't get ahead" is not the only story I heard. There was one company that is adding five to eight stores this year and not letting the news of a poor economy stop them from pursuing their dreams. Many shop owners and managers left the conference with a renewed sense of purpose and a more positive attitude regarding their future.

My experience and intuition says there is a great opportunity for the shop owner who is willing to follow the proper steps that will lead them through the business minefields to claim the prize they seek. I am currently working with several shop owners who are having great success. I have met several shop owners who continue to grow during these tough economic times, and I am going to attempt to let you know why I believe they are able to succeed where many others are struggling.

    They have leadership. They have an owner or general manager who has a vision for what they want from the business and is able to clearly translate that vision to the staff and create a sense of team and ownership.

    They have help. They recognize the value of a mentor or coach who can see things from a different perspective and help them remain clear and focused.

    They understand their business financially and run the business as a business.

    They have set their labor rate and pricing according to what they need to reach their goals. They then gained the expertise to create the value for their clients to allow them to charge what they need to succeed and have consistently happy clients.

    They have set their employee pay and expenses within a financial framework based on sound business principles. They know what they can afford and what they must charge to afford it.

    They have set goals and have a plan to achieve these goals.

    They consistently monitor performance for all members of the team and deliver regular positive feedback.

    They have developed a plan to recognize, discuss, evaluate and overcome challenges.

    They have consistent management. They monitor performance and take the necessary steps to change their results. They do not allow poor performance or behavior to continue. They reward for good performance and have developed a sense of personal and team accomplishment.

    They have developed the belief in themselves and their staff that they can and will succeed.

    They do not make or accept excuses for not hitting their goals. When the business is not performing to expectations, they do not place blame - they take the steps to determine why and put their energies into going over, through, under, or around the obstacle.

    They have a focused marketing plan that takes advantage of every technology to deliver the right message to the right people.

    They do the things necessary to be successful rather than get buried in the reasons that they cannot.

    They have honed their business processes to guarantee consistent and exceptional service to their clients. They monitor their performance and are continually imagining ways to improve on what they do and on the customers' experience.

    They do the easy stuff. They set future appointments, ask for referrals and call back every customer to guarantee their complete satisfaction.

    They stay focused and motivated, allowing nothing to get in their way.

    They remember that it has to be fun and everyone has to win.

While some companies will spend their time trying to do the same old thing only harder or just trying to hang on, other companies will be taking advantage of every tool available to them. Which company will yours be?

Editor's note: This article is one of several management articles that are being contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit

Cecil Bullard, AAM

Cecil Bullard, AAM, is a third-generation technician, owner, teacher and consultant with more than 30 years of experience. He is a well-known industry speaker, teacher and mentor, currently helping automotive service businesses reach their goals.

Bullard has run some of the most successful independent shops in the United States (one which ranked in the Top 10 by Motor Age magazine for three years in a row). He is co-founder of QuickTrac Software and (a company with a new approach to Internet-based teaching and training). To contact Bullard, e-mail him at


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