As I get older, I see a lot of things in life and business that seem to cycle around – it goes with the territory of being around an old guy that’s been around a long time, I guess. So now that you know I am old, I want to tell you about the one thing that cycles around that always got me and here it is. I talk to hundreds of dealers and every single one has this one recurring problem – and it isn’t just for dealers, every business has the problem, no matter who they are.
The problem is that they all have this one month each year that sucks. I got an email the other day from a service manager friend of mine that is really knocking the ball out of the park at his store. He was so proud of the performance, he went on and on about how well they were doing – and after telling me how great things have been going for the last 6 or 8 months, he tells me that his real challenge is “February.” It always sucks, he says.
I hear that all the time and whenever someone tells me that, they always follow it up with supporting documentation, (I call them excuses), but they feel better telling me the history and reasons why that particular month sucks, so I let them rant.
It might be December or January or February (those nasty winter months) or in the middle of the summer (it’s just so hot) or in the fall (back to school). “Everyone knows it sucks, it has always sucked, and it will always suck,” they say. It is what it is, they concede, and they just can’t seem to shake it, but somehow, they feel that if they come loaded with excuses to justify it, it makes it better. It doesn’t.
So, here’s the reason for this article. I am here to tell you that you don’t always have to have those one or two shitty months a year, you just don’t. My hope is that by sharing this story, it will help some of you at least understand why the shitty month exists and maybe, just maybe, it will help you get rid of it, once and for all.
Years in my past, as a service manager, December was always our “shitty month.” I bought into the excuses, I admit it. It was bad because of the holidays, the lack of snow birds, and the weather, but mostly it sucked because everybody knew that it would suck. December was always a bad month. It was always our “worst” month and we knew it. For my first 3 years of being the service manager there, I had accepted the “Curse of Shitty Decembers.” I listened to what everyone said and what the financial statements showed as factual data, and they were all right, December sucked, it was a “shitty month” and there was nothing we could do about it.
But on year 4, as December neared, I decided I was going to do something different. I was tired of low or no commission checks on January 10th and I was tired of being bored for the whole month of December because we were so slow. We rocked every other month, breaking record after record for sales, gross and net…except for December, so this year I decided to try to change our course. I made a plan. It was positive and aggressive. It was bold, even risky and it was a little bit (Ok, a lot) crazy.
Every other December, because we knew it would suck, we would do stupid things. We all would give up, grin and bear it and count down the days to January, when everything would be good again. We would cut back on everything. We stopped advertising. We stopped doing our weekly service sales meetings, we quit pushing work through the shop, we got lazy and depressed and weak and we tried to save ourselves into a profit (even though we knew that never works.) We did the opposite of what made us great the other 11 months. The result, not surprisingly, was that we got what we expected, a shitty month. Another shitty December.
So anyway, this one year, year 4, I decided to go a different direction. I spent more on advertising. I got more aggressive on offers. I had my customer service girls, (what they now call a BDC) call our previous customers and tell them about our December Service Specials Event. I had a “service sales” meeting every morning instead of once a week. We were going to maximize every single opportunity and if that meant we made less gross than normal, so be it – low gross, after all, is better than no gross. I told my guys that “all declined upsells” come to my desk because we were not going to let anyone walk. We were making deals. We were making chicken salad out of chicken shit! And I can honestly tell you it was the most fun I ever had.
We had overcome boredom. We had changed history. We had made things happen when everyone said nothing will happen in this “bad month” and the results showed it. Our gross WAS lower “percentage-wise” that’s true, but our sales dollars and net dollars were up and that’s all that really counts. December had become one of our best months and we all got one of our best commission checks ever. We made shit happen. We made history. We sailed in uncharted territory, we did what everyone else said couldn’t be done and we did what we had to do to win. It was a blast and it paid well too!
So, the moral of the story is simple. Don’t let the past dictate YOUR future. Don’t listen to the stories of the past or the excuse makers – they are non-believers, cowards and nay-sayers and they will convince you to give up if you listen to them. When the shitty months are in your future, step up, be a leader, rally and motivate and push your troops to do what hasn’t been done before. Chart a new course. Take risks, have a plan and don’t go down in history as the “leader that followed” the course and had another shitty February- be the one that broke the mold and won the game.
Here’s another spin. Think of how easy it is to be a star when you are comparing your performance this month to the previous shitty month last year. Records were meant to be broken – and you’ve proven you can do that. So, do it again.
The best way to sum up these types of months is fear, fear of not hitting forecast, fear of not breaking records, and a overall fear of failure! Of course as a service director the easier softer way is to just accept that this month is going to suck. What if you come out of the gate swinging and you don’t hit your nut? What will your bosses say? What will your team think? What if you poor tour blood, sweat, and tears into making something out of nothing this and you still don’t succeed?
I have to admit when that faithful month for us, that is February comes around I am guilty of planting the seed in everyone’s head that it’s going to be a horrible month. I did this because of the fear that we couldn’t make it a good month. History and financial statements have proven that February is going to suck.
After getting some advice this February, I did a few things different. Instead of trying to save my way to a profit we upped our game. We extended our marketing and advertising budget. (My bosses thought I was crazy for doing this by the way), we got more aggressive with coupons, we called customers with declined repairs and made them aware of the fantastic specials we were running and we did what we had to do to sell the. Like your December, our matrix sucked in every category, but we grossed 35k more than the previous February, we beat the all time record by 15k and instead of losing money we put up 19k in net profits. The advisors had good commission checks and every technician flagged over 40 hours each week.
I don’t feel I’m in a position to be giving anyone advice. Several people that work for me have been in the car business longer than I’ve been alive, but with that experience comes acceptance, and I decided will not accept a shitty month. I will no longer embrace the suck and throw in the towel just because history says we are going to have a bad month. I will not let out past dictate our future.
Thanks for the post.
Great thoughts, Jay! Thanks for sharing your experiences.