Part one

By Andy Savva |

Published:  25 August, 2020

In a two-part article, Andy considers how business planning is the source of success for any garage. First, he considers the role of a solid process

Recent turbulent and unprecedented events across the world have put all of us, especially those running garage businesses, under extreme stress and pain from losing family, friends and associates to this evil disease. My heart goes out to all of you who are suffering in your own situations. What’s for sure is no one is immune to this crisis; we are all in the chain somewhere.  
What this has highlighted for many of us is the critical importance of good detailed business planning. However, even if you had the best detailed business plan you would still have found it a struggle during COVID-19.
Planning is at the heart of good management. We all know that change initiatives in our non-business lives, such as re-decorating our homes or planning a holiday seem very natural and most people are very good at it. That said, in our garage businesses it may not be so straightforward and is challenging for most to be able properly plan.

As planning is such an important part of management, a thorough understanding of planning approaches and documentation is vital. In the latter part of my own career I have used three simple questions to guide me through the business planning process:

  •  Where am I now?
  •  Where do I want to be?
  •  How am I going to get there?   

What I have learnt over time can be summarised in the second question above – Where do I want to be? – which is why business planning is at the heart of leadership. Most people in any business are mainly involved with completing their daily and weekly tasks and usually prefer to follow someone who has a clear vision which has been effectively communicated.
They want to believe that ‘someone up there’ knows what he or she is trying to achieve for the organisation and that he or she is being broadly successful in getting there. In the modern world, the plan is the description of and rationale for the vision, and the basis for the communication.   
Leaders who pursue a clear vision believe in themselves and usually achieve a huge amount. They are able to create a team with a common purpose. This provides a rising above current difficulties and should at least go some way in dealing with the most extreme circumstances. Leadership cannot operate in a vacuum. If a leader tries to lead without understanding his or her situation, then he or she will usually be described as reckless or hopeless. The “where am I now?” question was the foundation for my plan. As well as knowing where I wanted to go, it was also vital to understand where I am coming from, why I am where I am, and what assets I have in my armoury.   
The “where am I now?”  stage of planning is one which often, in my experience visiting garages or meeting delegates at my business courses, does not get the proper level of attention, and is where it is often quite difficult to get people to be really open and honest.
Those involved often assume that they know their environment and that they understand aftermarket sector trends, but in practice people often find it difficult to see the wood for the trees without a formal process. It will often need careful questioning to establish the truth and to determine the main threats and opportunities. However, it is essential to be honest and to help that honesty by comparing your garage business frankly with your competition and contemporaries.
I never gave up on my vision – or dream just because of the time it may have taken to accomplish, the time would have passed anyway even if I did nothing!

Once I knew where I was and where I wanted to be, I moved on to the detailed task of deciding all the things that I had to do to achieve my vision or dream, which in fact was to open an independent garage and be a true alternative to a main dealer for BMW-Mini and the VAG range of vehicles. We would also to be passionate about everything we did as a business, be progressive, reliable, determined and trustworthy. Most importantly, we would deliver an honest value for money personal service with an integrity for complete peace of mind, with a team of extremely knowledgeable and capable people.  
Knowing what I wanted is what business planning is all about. It is fundamental to business success. The other important submission is that when you know what you want you will have a useful management tool to help you manage the process.

I had three attributes that helped me immensely. First, I knew about planning. My time at Loughborough University studying for my Automotive Retail Management Degree and the time spent at the Nissan manufacturing plant in Sunderland where I did my Lean training went a long way in laying the foundations towards my vision. Also, I believe the second attribute that I had was being a visionary. I had to be one, in order to turn a concept like mine of going head to head with a main dealer into reality. The third attribute was my passion and it was this ingredient that you cannot learn or buy off the shelf. You either have it or you don’t. My passion to succeed helped me jump over the most challenging hurdles that I had to face.
I looked long and hard at the marketplace and identified areas where my future business could be developed. Vehicle owners were willing to pay over £140 plus VAT per hour to have their servicing and repairs carried out by a main dealer even though in most cases the service and experience was sub-standard.  
I just worked through a logical process using some of my market intelligence and arrived at some solid conclusions one for instance, that customers would be happy to pay £100 plus VAT per hour for an exceptional service and a positive unmatched experience at an independent garage. However, I had to make sure we could provide everything that a main dealer in terms of physical characteristics but even more importantly to have the technical ability to deliver our promise of being a true alternative to a main dealer. Understanding my business, competitors and marketplace helped me develop a view of where I could go in the future with my plan. It enhanced my vision, and made it far easier for me to develop a strategy in realising my dream. Turning a strategy into an operating plan is not complex.

Immense value
Planning is a worthwhile exercise and there is immense value doing it well. Business plans will contribute to the success of your garage business. A business plan sets out where you are. It shows you where you are going. It identifies landmarks so that you can check your progress. And it helps you in steering around the inevitable obstacles. It can help you to shape your vision and make effective use of opportunities and resources such as people and equipment which are of course great importance in our repair sector.

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