From The CEO - March - 2019

Teach an Old Dog

Last year, ATRA conducted a survey of both consumers and shop owners across the USA and Canada. For the industry survey, we were looking for the differences that set successful shops apart. We were surprised to learn that the behavior of highly successful shop owners wasn’t that different from the less-successful ones. Of course, the devil’s in the details and you can infer a lot from the data, but there were two key points that stood out.

One was that successful shops focused on customer referrals. Their advertising often depended on nothing but word-of-mouth. When we tied the results of the consumer survey to those from the industry survey, that became clearer. The successful shops turned their customers into evangelists, sharing their experiences with their family and friends.

The other bit of data was a bit more elusive. We asked the shop owners their age, and then separated them into two groups: the most successful and the least. The results are in the chart.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think much of it; both age groups seem close so you might disregard what’s buried in the chart. But take a closer look: As you can see, there are five age groups, each having a ten-year span among the participants. I added a date below each series of columns, which turns this simple chart into something meaningful.

Those dates represent approximately what year the participants most likely entered the transmission industry. Considering the range of ages, it’s an approximation with maybe a couple years each way.

One vital point is that every participant was experiencing the same industry. The vehicles that come into one shop aren’t much different from those coming into another. The economy is what it is and the people they see are pretty much the same as those everyone else sees.

The first group, those that started their careers around 2008, have very little representation. They’re young shop owners so you’d expect that. But they’re all successful. When we get to the next group, we see a huge disparity between successful and non-successful shops. They’re a little older and there are more of them.

When we get to the third, around 50 years old, we see a switch where there are more unsuccessful shops than successful ones. That difference widens further as we get to the older participants.

Everyone in this survey works in the same industry, with the same or similar constraints, yet the younger crowd struggles less and has a greater level of success compared with their peers in their same age group. The data would suggest that, as we get older, we’re less able to cope with our changing industry. People who are relatively new to the industry don’t compare today with “the good ol’ days,” and they see the industry as it is, not as it was or how it’s changed.

I can understand this. Heck, if I want to read an article on my computer I’ll print it. And I like talking to people next to me (or in the same car) rather than texting them. The important thing is that, if you’re in that older group and are struggling in this industry, chances are it’s your perception of the industry rather than what the industry really is. As with every other survey we’ve conducted, the shop owner sets the pace and delivers the results, through leadership and planning.

Most importantly, the results confirm that every age group can be successful in this business. You just have to learn how to serve today’s market.

I’ll be presenting the full survey results at select ATRA seminars. Look for the class in the seminar schedule; I hope to see you there.