Ah, the holiday season. You know, the time when people — I refuse to call them customers — enter your dealership looking for accessories and other items to give as gifts to themselves or others.
You will grow old; you can grow rich
I feel rich.
I met my wife, Theresa, while working at a Harley dealer show 16 years ago (she worked for The Motor Co. at the time) and she’s been the highlight of my life ever since. You might feel rich because you’re living with the ones you love. But for many, feeling rich includes some level of financial stability: enough money to put the kids through college, live in a nice home with a cool man-cave, own several vehicles (I prefer one for each day of the week), take the vacations you want, when you want, and be able to retire, secure that you have enough liquid assets to see you through ‘til dust do you part.
This industry can be the place to make those dreams come true, even if you’re working in parts or service right now. I’ve met lots of men and women who started small, applied themselves, weren’t afraid to take on new challenges and grew to become company owners -- all in as little as 10 to 15 years.
If you had told me that when I was in my 20s and working as a mechanic, I would have thought you were smoking something that’s now legal in a few states. But today I can tell you with complete confidence that the road to riches is pretty basic: Master each job responsibility given to you, grow your interpersonal and management skills, and learn all areas of the business you’re in.
I started in the business working as a mechanic, and I was content at that job. I didn’t strive to make personal connections with my customers, to expand my knowledge of the business or to get the attention of owners and managers that might result in being promoted. But I did one thing right: I had a daily drive to do a better job than the day before and never repeat my mistakes. That can turn a commonplace tech into a great one. But just being a great technician will not pave the road to riches.
I did a brief stint as a service manager and then took a job at MMI as a technical trainer when it was a micro-sized school graduating fewer than 200 students a year. MMI was the turning point, but I didn’t know it then. MMI taught me how to work with a wide variety of personalities, how to communicate effectively and even how to write articles as I do today. During my 16 years at MMI, I met a lot of people who became lifelong friends. Many became managers and owners, and those relationships were essential to me starting my own company and enjoying the best years of my motorcycle industry career. That was all accomplished without a plan, so just imagine what you could do with a little preparation.
Social and sales skills
The biggest difference between those who grow rich and those who simply grow old boils down to two attributes: social skills and management capabilities. For many techs and parts pros, the idea of developing social skills is uncomfortable. But if you don’t, you won’t grow your clientele or develop your network of contacts and, as a result, very few opportunities will come your way.
I’ve met hundreds of excellent technicians and parts pros who don’t like serving their customers and, worse yet, annoy their co-workers with their abrasive personalities. If that’s you, there is no one to blame but yourself for the low ceiling of your earnings potential.
Just as important is the ability to manage others. That’s not easy. I loved being an MMI technical trainer. I sometimes hated being the director of training. I could get an engine to run smoothly, but I learned there’s no number of policies and procedures that will keep people doing the same for long. People are the most unpredictable things on the planet, and that’s never going to change.
So if you want to ‘get rich,’ first master your current duties. And if you’re a tech, at some point transfer to a service advisor position to hone your social and sales skills. When the opportunity arrives, take on the service or parts manager position.
At some point, you’ll need to sell motorcycles. You simply cannot run a dealership effectively if you can’t sell vehicles. The goal in all this is to prepare for the general manager position. As a GM, you’ll have many of the same challenges as the owner but without your financial assets on the line.
During this time, attend management, business and sales training. The more, the better, so you’re exposed to multiple business and management strategies and an abundance of personalities. Go to the DX National Retail Conference at the 2014 Dealer Expo on Dec. 4 in Chicago.
All of this will put you in prime position to do an internal buyout of your dealership, or at the least help you make an excellent business plan that you can submit to your bank or a private investor.
You can get rich in this business. I was lucky; I happened to be in the right place at the right time with no plan to take advantage of that opportunity, and it worked because my daily drive pushed me through. You can do so much better with a plan, some persistence and a little patience. Then you’ll discover that 10 years goes by in a blink.
MMI, the Official Technical School of the 2014 DX National Retail Conference, will be hosting half-day training sessions Dec. 4 in Chicago. Register for free at www.dealerexpo.com
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