By Jim Callahan.
For years, I was always puzzled by the fact that the best automatic transmission mechanic I ever knew ultimately went bankrupt, and the least talented auto mechanic to ever pick up a tool, drove a new Cadillac every year and retired a wealthy man.
Herb and Charley plied their trade years ago, but the moral of this story is as applicable to today’s convenience store operators as any of the brilliant theories put forth by business author and speaker Tom Peters.
You see, Cadillac Charley shared an innate skill with every successful business owner whom I’ve ever met. But more on that in a minute.
Herb’s total understanding and mastery of the automatic transmission became almost legendary in our small section of upstate New York. You could envision him moving from his smaller shop to a bigger one, with customers waiting in line. Later Herb seemed destined to operate even a larger building with 10 repair bays, employing other talented mechanics.
No one could fault his work or work ethic, for he turned out great work, but as the trite saying goes: “you are only as strong as your weakest link” and unfortunately, while his quality of work was important to him, collecting the money to pay the bills was not. Alas, it proved his downfall. Sure he was a nice, talented guy, but Herb was proof that you still have to earn money and pay the bills if you want to remain in business.
Conversely, Charley’s lack of automotive skills was soundly trumped by his complete understanding of his customers and his ability to oversee his business from top to bottom. As a part-time employee at Charley’s Sunoco, I once asked him why he insisted that we vacuum out and wipe down every car that came into the shop. He replied that customers equated a clean car to a job well done because, while they could not see inside a valve job or an oil change, all could see the vastly improved appearance of the vehicle that was returned to them.
So smart and so simple.
While talent and hard work are important, there are a few intangible traits that successful owners and operators possess.
Savvy owners have the ability to hang on to and control money. Remember, especially as an owner or manager that, you must master the art of holding on to money and resist the urge to spend it. Having what seems to be “plenty of money” in the checking account is, quite often an illusion, in that there are inventory bills to pay, payroll every week, Uncle Sam wants his myriad of taxes paid or else. Don’t forget to have some put away for contingencies and make it grow each and every month.
Also, commit to ways to let your customers know that the work you do and the products you sell are what they need. Also, let them know that you appreciate their business.
Always keep those stores super clean. Today’s customers expect and demand it.
Don’t think about expanding your operation until you are able to control what you already have.
If you don’t realize it now, it’s always more important to work smarter than harder.
Finally, like Charley, enjoy the journey and always kept a great attitude and winning smile. Easy to do, especially when you’re driving a Cadillac.
Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on CSDecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at [email protected].