Courting Your Peers
Every business owner has a person or two who can take on various tasks, and perhaps even solve some daunting problems. That could be the "cement guy" or "window guy," or it could be "the IT guy," or even "the guy at City Hall." When it comes to quick lube matters, the operator is most likely that go-to person.
But that’s not always the case, and that’s OK.
This is where peer collaboration can come into play, and it isn't just a bunch of other operators who meet on the golf course. There are professional organizations that can serve as an alliance for business.
These are groups and organizations where serious business leaders take their business very seriously for the common good.
Brian Faulkenberry, executive conference moderator at NCM Associates. explains that such groups can help quick lube operators with both common challenges most businesses may face, as well as the unique challenges that may seem far less expected.
NCM Associates, which started its first "20 Group" in 1947 with a group of folks who owned Ford Dealerships, now has dedicated consultants that can help businesses in the automotive sector expand through the concept of shared collaboration.
Even in the era of the Internet and social media, where the solution to all of life's problems may seem to be little more than a mouse click or a swipe away, many shop owners may not realize the advantages that networking with other business owners can provide.
Too often, the challenge with many problems is not knowing who to ask when Google and Facebook don't seem to have the answer. In many cases, business owners may pick up the phone and call one of the aforementioned guys – yet even if they can solve the problem, they may not have the actual answer.
At the same time networking today isn't just about shaking hands when you meet other business leaders at a conference, or the golf course. Networking has really become something of an art, something that needs to be worked, and most importantly it needs to be with the right people.
The challenge is how to meet with the right people that can bring the business forward.
"Peer collaboration is certainly the cornerstone of the concept of peer collaboration," says Faulkenberry. "Without it many shop owners may feel like they're operating in a vacuum."
It might seem easy to just scroll through contacts on the smartphone or twirl through the rolodex, but as noted peer collaboration is more than just knowing "a guy." The peer group is also more than networking. It is about shared ideas that come from more than like-minded people.
In other words, it is a forum of ideas and thinkers.
"A peer group is in essence a quasi-board of directors for a small business," adds Faulkenberry. "Everyone involved has a particular skill set, as well as experience in their particular industry."
Members of the peer group can then leverage that various expertise that another has, but it still goes well beyond just that. It can open the door to new opportunities.
"By being part of the group meetings and ongoing discussions, it can help a business owner grow," says Faulkenberry. "It is a forum where each member can bring up the challenges that they might be facing. Some members may have faced that challenge or issue before and have different solutions."
In addition, members can often address issues before they become serious challenges. This can include everything from zoning laws, changes to the tax code or how to implement a mobile app into the business.
"Maybe someone in the group is thinking of buying a quick lube or expanding to a second or third shop, while someone in the group is versed in mergers and acquisitions and can offer advice on whether now is the right time to make such a move," Faulkenberry notes as an example.
In addition to a commitment of time, there is an investment—and membership in a group can range from $200 to $1,000 per month. In addition, all travel and meeting costs are the responsibility of peer group members.
Members need to be committed as well.
"You have to give and take," says Faulkenberry. "But you absolutely need to be committed. You have to accept that it is an investment. It can be $10 to $15,000 a year, which can be a lot of money for a small business owner. But the whole idea is that you can get a return in increased business over what you invested."
Joining a peer group should absolutely never be seen as the end, it is the beginning—and it should also be ongoing. Business owners don't join a peer or collaboration group just to solve one problem or to address a single challenge, and instead it is something that is meant to continue so as to grow and expand.
What happens at the meetings also shouldn't stay at the meetings.
"A peer group brings accountability and it is up to you to implement that into your business," suggests Faulkenberry. "Our groups also share financial information to the other members. That can help you determine if you're trailing from the group average. It is a way to understand monthly expenses, cost of goods, and even annual revenue. It is up to you to do something about that."
In other words, it is more than just having a group of people to call when you have a specific issue to address.
"The common goal of our groups is to make each other better," Faulkenberry says.
This type of peer collaboration is dependent on engaging. Those who treat it like a visit to the dentist and seek to get back to the office are likely wasting their time and money. It isn't something that should be looked at as taking time out of the day, but information and strategies that are put back into the business.
"The bottom line is that there is no magic to group collaboration," explains Faulkenberry. "You get out of a peer group what you put in. If you come in with the attitude that you'll ask the hard questions and give honest feedback you'll get a lot out of it."