From The CEO - May - 2016

Transmission Impossible

Over the past thirty years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of business owners and seeing, firsthand, how they run their shops. These shops run the gamut from wildly successful to barely making ends meet. And sadly, there are those I’ve met only to learn that, a few years later, they closed their doors and went out of business.

I love exploring new business ideas and one thing I’ve learned is that good business strategies generally aren’t unique to a particular business type. That is, a business strategy that works for a convenience store will generally work for a gardening service or a flower store… or even a transmission shop.

Think about the businesses you frequent and the complaints you’ve had about some of them. Does the list look something like this? They’re rude, their hours are inconvenient, their return policy is unreasonable, their product is lousy, there’s no parking, no one answers the phone when I call, they don’t return my calls, they’re too expensive (for what you get; low value)… and the list goes on.

None of these issues are exclusive to any particular business type and
they’re things that cause you — and others — to take your business elsewhere. When you’re looking at another business — a restaurant for example — you can immediately spot problems the owner should fix. But that’s rarely the case when we look at our own businesses.

One of my favorite TV shows is Restaurant Impossible, starring Chef Robert Irvine. In every episode, Irvine visits a failing restaurant and attempts to turn it around in two days, with a budget of $10,000.

Each episode starts out pretty much the same; he interviews the owners and staff, inspects the kitchen, orders a dozen items off the menu, and watches the staff work during a business day. This is the assessment period.

Now, I’m not an expert on running a restaurant but as I watch the show, the failings are obvious! Somehow the owner of the restaurant just can’t see the problems; he’s too close to the situation and his ego won’t allow him to accept the fact that he’s wrong.

In one particular episode, the owner of an Italian restaurant claimed he served the best pizza in town. Irvine thought differently (and so did the restaurant’s employees, BTW). The owner stood his ground, so Irvine set up a taste test for people on the street. He served three pizzas: one from the restaurant in question; one from a popular, competing Italian restaurant in town; and finally, a frozen pizza from a grocery store.

The results were predictable: the competitor’s restaurant placed 1st, the frozen pizza 2nd, while the troubled restaurant came in last. You’d think that level of unbiased response would be enough to convince the owner that there was something he needed to change, but when he watched the video and heard the comments, he stood his ground: “They’re wrong. My pizza’s the best.”

We can see the same problem with failing transmission shops: They won’t accept the evidence, even though it’s obvious to everyone else. Their failure is the result of wrong thinking on the part of the shop’s owner.

One of the things we discovered when we began the What’s Working study back in 2006 was that, in every instance where a shop was struggling, there’d be a successful shop right down the street or just across town. So all the excuses that their failure was because of the economy or the lousy neighborhood just melted away. It was possible to make money with that economy and in that neighborhood; they were just doing it wrong.

We’re entering a new phase in this industry where the greatest challenge is finding qualified technicians. What we’re discovering is that finding a good quality, experienced technician is all but impossible: Those guys have jobs, and they aren’t looking for something new.

Some shop owners will give up and resort to buying remanufactured units, and turn their once-successful transmission repair shops into off-the shelf stores. Others will recognize that they need to make a change. They’ll learn how to develop and train the staff they need, proving that it can be done.

Kinda makes you wonder: If there was a show called Transmission Impossible, would we find the same resistance from shop’s owners? And would those problems seem obvious to people outside the industry? Either way, that’s a show I’d watch!