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Effective Networking

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Whether you’re a small operation or a multi-facility company, there are many options for service managers to get involved in professional networks. From national consulting firms to local industry organizations, it’s best to find the one that fits your personality and your needs.

Many professional groups offer different features for their members, but most tend to focus on finance, business operations, leadership and management, as well as individual issues of members.

Tony Simoneau of Buerkle Honda in St. Paul, Minn., has been involved in the the MADA Council for three years now and sits on the board. The council is just one of many associations and organizations focused on fixed operations that allows both individual organizations to improve while also improving the industry as a whole.

 

Deciding if it’s a right fit for you is about commitment level. Are you willing to go to the meetings? Are you willing to help other shops, let them help you? A lot of it comes down to whether you will be receptive to help. Getting the most out of the experience should be the goal for every member and for the process to be effective, it’s really about being open.

There are also different levels at which you can be involved; for example, you could just attend the meetings and be involved in the council or we’ve got associate members that sponsor some of our activities and help get the word out.

 

When ending an in-person meeting, many service directors seem excited to head back to their business, armed with new tools for improvement. But change takes time. Growth and change go hand in hand and employees can be resistant. That’s why getting employee buy-in is key; you need them to understand your vision and get them on-board with making any changes you learn during the meetings. I would suggest having short one-on-one and whole staff meetings on a weekly basis. This allows you to address specific needs of that employee and make sure you’re both on the same page as far as how the new change affects their specific daily role. On the flip side, keeping the staff, as a whole, updated on the development of plans is crucial in helping them see the overall scope of your vision.

Often with change, employees need to learn new skills or procedures. Make sure the new systems are thoroughly taught and explained to the employees.

 

For us on this council, one of the biggest focuses we have is bringing young people into our industry. It’s a collaboration between us as dealers, industry members, vendors and folks in the technical schools to spread the word. The benefit is that because you’re connected with a lot of these schools now, you’re seen as supporting them and they’re more willing to look at you as an employer.

One of our big things that’s grown is our NITRO Acts, which is a summer camp for kids in the junior high age. This year we had five of them in June. What the kids do is work with people at the tech schools and build a remote control-type car. They paint the body and get a little exposure to our industry. Once kids are in high school, they’ve already made up their mind and the issue with high school is that counselors aren’t pushing kids to go to the trades, they’re pushing college. We’re trying to get younger kids hands on before it’s ingrained in their heads.

 

We meet once per quarter and there are other subcommittees that might meet more frequently, as there are needs. We also host other events, like a Toolbox Talk, where we have a speaker come in and discuss a certain issue or some new technology. We have lobbyists and we try to get our voice out there. Ultimately, we’re trying to be the voice of the dealership, and more specifically, fixed ops. Before this council, there had been no prior advocate to do this for dealerships.

 

One of our current initiatives was to get support for and pass House file 740, which is focused on strengthening our franchise laws for dealerships. One of the problems we have on the dealership is getting paid fairly for warranty; it’s a struggle with the current laws. They’re almost 40 years old. The change that has come up in the last 40 years is an issue that’s similar to working with insurance companies where they frequently reject warranty claims. We’re trying to get the playing field more even. Every time they have a recall, the labor drops, the parts price drops. Service departments make less money trying to fix these cars. The hoops they try to make these dealerships jump through are pretty labor intensive.

We recently went to the capitol and had appointments with all of our legislators and senators. We lobbied for this bill. Some had heard of it, others were weren't sure about it. After meeting with us, they had a better understanding of it and we go a lot more support. Getting some of this stuff enacted and making our industry better has a huge impact.

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