Donna M. Wagner: Pivoting for success in an auto repair shop
By Donna M. Wagner
It is easy to get caught in the day-to-day activity of running a repair shop.
Between customers, employees and keeping the shop ticking, it can be hard to step back and look at what is happening in your marketplace.
Many businesses take time for yearly strategic planning sessions and that is excellent! But when we hit a year like 2020 that has been strife with tariff issues (remember those?) and a pandemic, it may be necessary to quickly adjust our businesses to accommodate customers and adjust to market changes.
What is a pivot?
Pivoting is making a major change to your primary business. The change could be made to product or service offerings, target market, style of execution or messaging.
How to know when to pivot?
Pivot indicators include:
- A major change to the marketplace or economy. Right now, COVID is in your face with safety mandates, consumer fears and high unemployment. Other market changes include:
- A change in consumer attitude. Outside of COVID, what are your customers concerned about? Your shop’s ability to service hybrid or electric vehicles or newer vehicles with ADAS systems?
- A change to your target market demographics. Has the local population increased or decreased? Did a new business move in? Did your town become a sleeper community for a larger city?
- Change in vehicle mix. Have you noticed a change in vehicle mix? The better question is, what does research say about your target market vehicle mix and how does it compare to the vehicles you service?
- Highly competitive market. Have new competitors entered your market? Do consumers view your business as having a different market position than your competitors?
- A plateau in your business. Is revenue stagnant? Does the average age of the vehicles you service continue to get older?
- Struggling with a piece of your business such as employee retention, finding good technicians, profitability, brand awareness.
One of the many repair shop owners I have spoken with recently is Dwayne Myers at Dynamic Automotive with 4 locations in Maryland. In reviewing his website, it was evident that Dwayne had made several pivots to his business over the years which he confirmed during our conversation.
Dwayne’s most recent pivots were in response to COVID. Dynamic Automotive modified work processes to accommodate the state’s mandate on social distancing and to alleviate customer concerns about the pandemic. The shop was disinfected, implemented PPE policies, eliminated touch points in the waiting room, added touchless service, held virtual meetings, separated shops (no co-mingling of personnel between shops) and modified service at one shop to protect an at-risk employee.
With consumers going online for pretty much everything, geocaching was added to the marketing mix which broadened the business’s reach to new customers. Many of the events that Dynamic Automotive sponsored were cancelled leaving a big gap in their marketing plan. He could have saved those marketing dollars but instead, wanted to maintain awareness in his market area. The funds were shifted to other sponsorships that closely aligned with their “Where customers become friends” tagline and “Power of Gratitude Program.”
I noted on Dwayne’s website that he did not call out the usual automotive services. Instead, services listed in the main menu include hybrid, off-road, fleet service, towing and warranty. According to Dwayne, hybrid was added in response to “hybrid” being a high searched keyword. Customers believed they had to go to the dealer for hybrid services. Although Dynamic already had the services, the website and marketing messages were changed to create better customer awareness of hybrid services.
Off-road services are a recent addition. As a Jeep owner and understanding the demand for off-road customization, one of Dwayne’s employees created a business plan for customizing off-road vehicles. Dwayne backed it with marketing support and a ribbon-cutting event. This service is an extension to Dynamic’s existing services while reaching into a new target market.
Fleet services required a change in selling the service. Unlike consumers, fleet service business does not walk in the door. Dynamic employees researched businesses that were a good fit, outlined customized services and set appointments to meet prospective employees. This pivot worked by adding a target market while keeping with its core competencies of servicing vehicles and marketing. What differed were the marketing tactics to attract the business.
One of Dynamic’s biggest pivots was in the area of developing and keeping talent. Dynamic Automotive had always been active with local automotive programs and schools. But it wasn’t until they worked with local Workforce Development folks and received a grant from the state of Maryland to develop an apprenticeship program that they saw a real change in their ability to find, hire and keep the “right” technicians.
Throughout our conversation, Dwayne mentioned his business coach which he described as a true pivot in 2 ways:
- The actual hiring of a coach which his peers questioned. Dwayne has found that a coach brings an outside perspective and experience resulting in improvements to processes and the overall business.
- Transforming employee reviews. Reviews now are based on goal-setting and encourages Dynamic Automotive’s employees to write their own career paths. This in turn has allowed the business to grow by adding locations and services.
Why Dynamic Automotive’s pivots work:
- Alignment with the business’s core competency of automotive repairs and maintenance (adding fleet service and off-road customization)
- Response to market changes (using geocaching to find new customers)
- Address consumer wants, needs and concerns. (calling out hybrid services to create awareness of a service already offered and keep customers from leaving for the dealer).
- Improve existing processes and solve problems (how to develop and find new talent)
- Alignment with values and mission (sponsoring events that aligned with Dynamic’s “Where customers become friends” tagline and their “Power of Gratitude Program”).
When considering a pivot, think about the cost of not pivoting or the lost opportunity. An excellent example is how Dynamic shifted its marketing dollars to maintain awareness during the pandemic. Not only did they maintain awareness, but they attracted new customers.
This article outlines one business’s successful pivots and hopefully are thought starters for your own business. Here is your challenge:
- review the list of pivot indicators
- identify areas in your business where pivoting will have a positive impact
- determine the opportunity cost of not pivoting
- create the plan and implement
I would enjoy hearing about your successes. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donna M. Wagner’s career spans marketing, public relations, sales and training. She is a member of the Auto Care Association Education Committee and SEMA Professional Restylers Organization, has served on the Auto Care Association Board of Directors, Category Management Association Higher Education Council, Automotive Public Relations Council and other various industry organizations. She holds an MAAP (Master Automotive Aftermarket Professional) from the University of the Aftermarket, MBA-marketing from Bowling Green State University and a BS in Computer Science from University of Mount Union.