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Monday, May 12, 2008

BIZ TIP: PLAN to Get Away!

BIZ TIP: PLAN to Get Away!

by Kelly Bennett, WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI) Business Development Instructor

In this fictional letter from a new shop owner to his former boss, Kelly Bennett discusses basic business principles that apply to the automotive repair industry.

PLAN to Get Away focuses on the role of advanced planning including pre-booking appointments when preparing for leisure time away from your business. Also, keep in mind that if you ever want to be an absentee owner, you’re going to have to find someone you trust to run the counter.

Dear Kelly:

OK, so now I have a service advisor and she is working out pretty good, but this business is really starting to get to me! It seems that I just start to get focused on one thing and then another thing falls apart. The worst thing is I have so little time for my wife and kids. My family is wondering if I love the business more than them! I just can’t seem to balance the two. It’s not my fault; the business just has so many demands that they just don’t understand.

- Erol

Dear Erol:

One thing I learned after a few years of running my own business was that it’s tough to run a business and enjoy life at the same time.

There are so many details and so many things to do. I used to go into the shop early in the morning and write a to-do list. I’d be busy all day long but when I looked at my to-do list at closing time, the only thing ticked off was me!

I used to tell people, “Ever since I started my business I only work half days.” When they looked surprised I’d add, “Well, 12 hours… that’s half a day, right? Sometimes I’d come to the clear realization that my business was interfering way too much with my family life. I’d have those “wake-up calls” when you just know something is out of whack and you have to take action. When I read the book “Family First” by Dr. Phil, it helped me put things into perspective and created a true desire to make major changes. But it isn’t easy.

I’ve come to realize that I wasn’t alone in this struggle. Almost everyone in our management group deals with the same issue. One guy told us he hadn’t had a holiday in 26 years! His son, who’s also in the business, told us he hadn’t taken a holiday in the 14 years he’d been working with his dad. What’s that all about! We would never treat an employee that way; why would we do it to our own kids? The son had even gotten married and couldn’t even take time off for a honeymoon. He just promised his wife, one day they would. I have often wondered if they ever got around to that. They dropped out of the group, saying they didn’t have time for management training.

One of the smartest things I ever did was to block off days to spend with my family. Now I block off spring break every year, because I hate to go to work when the weather’s turning nice and the kids are out of school. As soon as we know the dates for spring break, I start planning ahead, working to ensure I can take the time off and have the business running well without me.

I realized there were two main things I needed to do in order to get some time away from work. Once I started doing these things, I saw that they are great business practices, even if I’m not trying to work towards a holiday. Here is exactly what I did, and I’d encourage you to do the same.

Schedule Work Ahead

Focus as much energy as you can to fill your shop’s appointment schedule in advance. Dentists have been doing this successfully for years. And pre-booking is a natural fit for the auto repair industry – even more so than for dentistry. After all, we don’t need the customer in our shop, we just need their car. And our customers can drop off their car the night before, or we can have it towed in.

People can’t drop their teeth in the “night drop box” at the dentist’s office.

Booking my customers’ appointments in advance helped me book my own appointments in advance. And my highest- priority appointment was spring break. I want to keep that date. I knew it would be a lot easier for me to take the time off if I knew the shop was going to have a steady flow of business while I was gone. It was neat to watch the March schedule fill up.

Sometimes I’d start looking as early as December – a full three months ahead – and be thrilled to see more than 20 appointments already booked for March. By January it would be more than 30 appointments. By February, when I saw an average of seven or eight appointments for every working day in March, I knew the shop would do just fine while I was spending spring break with my family.

We try to leave 20% of the day unscheduled, reserved for jobs that take longer than we expect, and for the inevitable drop-ins.

This system has served us very well over the years. Booking the next appointment has allowed us to concentrate on maintenance work like timing belts, factory-recommended service work, and flushes. We can also pre-order a lot more parts because we know what we’re going to be doing in a given day, and on what type of vehicle. It has certainly reduced my stress, as I knew we had enough work booked to keep everyone busy. And, most importantly, it has evened out the peaks and valleys that played havoc with my bookkeeping.

Just as importantly, it offers true benefits for my customers as well. They can plan their days better. They can budget for the big jobs that they now know are coming. And because I’m so involved in their vehicle’s maintenance, I can ensure they’ll never have the kind of major breakdown that will leave them stranded somewhere.

When we pre-book appointments, we let the customer know it’s only written in pencil. We’re going to call them a week in advance to confirm it with them. And we also call the day before, just to remind them. This has been perceived by the customer as a very professional way to handle things. And, for the record, we’ve been tracking the results. More than 90 per cent of our customers keep their appointments each month. Pretty cool, eh? Booking the next appointment has not only improved my business, it’s improved my life!

Fly on Points

The second thing I do to prepare for time off is to rack up travel rewards. I found out which credit cards offered the best program (for my purposes it turned out to be the Alaska Air Lines Visa) and started charging everything I could for the business on that credit card. I paid my suppliers with that card, I paid my phone bills with that card, I even got a second card for personal purchases and started buying groceries with it. I asked every vendor I dealt with if they accept credit card payments, and used my card as much as I could. (Of course I never charged for things I wouldn’t be able to pay off in full when the bill was due. You don’t want to end up paying high interest rates!) When vacation time rolled around, I was ready!

Plan to take time off. You owe it to yourself and your family.

- Kelly

For more information on pre-booking appointments and advanced scheduling including a step-by-step explanation, more of the benefits, and a few testimonials from shop owners who have tried it, send an email request titled "WIN: PLAN to Get Away! Request" to Kelly Bennett at

Visit the WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI) to learn more about Kelly Bennett's Business Development Classes.

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