“Be Excellent to Each Other!”
-Bill S. Preston, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
That’s what it’s all about right? Supporting the people around you. That’s what Bill & Ted did in 1988. They were in a spot. They needed to graduate and they relied on one another and they got it done. Maybe a few bumps along the way, but they did it.
To get things done – to move forward – to have a profitable and productive business, relying on your peers is the most important tool a business owner will develop. These relationships and friendships will produce benefits for your shop – and for you personally – for years to come. In many industries, including the automobile aftermarket, a 20 group is a terrific peer-to-peer networking structure. The shop owners referenced here are members of the DRIVE TOP 20 group.
To have a productive program of networking, here are a few key elements that are crucial.
Everyone in the group must trust one another. Because they will be exchanging ideas that could be confidential, trust is imperative. Without the building blocks of trust, any peer-to-peer group won’t work. If this group is to function properly, all members will be exchanging ideas, talking about personnel issues, even sharing each other’s P&L and KPIs. To get the most out of the group, each member must hold these meetings and conversations in confidence. It’s the only way it will work. If trust isn’t part of each person’s reason for joining, the group will fall apart.
“The relationships you build is instrumental in trusting the person giving you the feedback.” – Daniel Antonelli of Antonelli’s Advanced Automotive, Grand Junction, CO
Structure and Rules
Ground rules need to be set. What are the qualifications to be a member? Do the members rotate in and out…a regular schedule of group calls and face-to-face meetings needs to be established. Is there an outside objective and neutral facilitator to keep topics, meetings and members on the right path? These are important initial questions that need to be addressed and solved.
Some groups will start organically. No structure or ground rules. This is a terrific start but for the group to grow, some organization is needed.
In addition to structure, be sure to set the guidelines. Is there a term limit for each member, the required level of participation…a group needs members eager to participate. Business owners who don’t speak up, don’t offer solutions and don’t participate in calls and meetings shouldn’t be part of a peer-to-peer group.
Social media platforms and networking groups are a natural pairing. For DRIVE, a technology and one-on-one business consultancy firm, the robust participation in the TOP 20 Facebook group is invaluable. This private platform is a daily check-in for many of the TOP 20 members…even a few times a day. The exchange of issues – both big and small – in an environment that all members know is confidential, is invaluable to developing the deep relationships needed for a successful group.
It’s easy to get stuck in your own view of things and your way of doing things in the shop. Maybe there’s a different and more productive procedure that you haven’t thought of. Being able to access a network of your peers is great for bringing new or fresh ideas to your business.
“I recommend to anyone that is serious about improving their shop, that they need to network and learn from others.” – Gabe Christian of Import Performance USA, Bend, OR
Transfer of Knowledge
Basically, this means, don’t keep it to yourself. If you have a proven process that has increased profits, why not tell your peers? The concept of sharing is what networking is, at its most successful. So if you discovered a great way to on-board a new employee, share it with your group.
“When we get to help another shop owner with an issue, it empowers and inspires us.” – Phil Webster of Webster Tire & Auto, Teutopolis, IL
While phone calls, emails and social media connections are great, having face-to-face meetings on a regular basis is key. It will elevate any group to a level of productivity and comradeship that otherwise will not be realized. A top 20 group should meet quarterly and in the auto aftermarket business, the meetings should take place at a member’s shop. Nothing can replace the experience of meeting the business owner’s you have talked to or have exchanged posts on Facebook.
“It’s fun and beneficial to travel and visit with other shops. It’s very valuable seeing their shops and using some of their ideas. And hopefully, helping them institute some of my own ideas to make their shops better. This situation is nearly impossible to replicate in any other way.” – Daniel Antonelli of Antonelli’s Advanced Automotive, Grand Junction, CO
The most successful shop has its own ups and downs. After all, that’s why you keep your eye on your KPIs…if you start to see an issue, that’s the time to address it and not ignore it. Being proactive is the sign of a first-rate shop owner. If you’re lucky enough to be a part of a group you know and trust, this is a great resource for those instances when you need a bit of encouragement. Are you making the right decision? If not, they’ll be straight with you and give their unvarnished opinion.
“Running a successful shop is hard work and having a team of shop owners to lean on when big issues arise is like the greatest and most supportive parent on your side. We push each other to make decisions we have been putting off.” – Phil Webster of Webster Tire & Auto, Teutopolis, IL
The tools of Marketing are ever evolving. New software, new platforms, new opportunities for a business owner. Your peer-to-peer group is the place where you can talk through if something is valuable…have other members used it and what did they think…have other members researched similar tools that they think are better? Your networking group is the place to talk through the benefits and costs of any new initiative.
If you don’t have access to a networking group, start your own. Start small with clear and simple objectives. Having a group of peers that you can talk to and maybe even vent a bit, will prove to be one of your most successful tools for a prosperous and enduring business.
“Networking for me has been without a doubt, the single most important thing that I do consistently that keeps me successful.” – Gabe Christian of Import Performance USA, Bend, OR
DRIVE article MOTOR AGE Magazine December 2019