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James Stanfill: Plan or Procrastinate – solve your future problems by planning

Published May 14, 2019

James Stanfill is the president of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association and the founder of A Better Bike Biz.

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There is a saying that I like to remind people about from time to time; it goes exactly like this: "Your lack of planning is not my emergency."

Some will ask why this matters, others might understand it. For many businesses there are seasons. Typically there's a time of year when it gets real busy, while another time it might be really slow. Knowing your business is priority number one. Anyone who is running a shop should be able to approximate within a few weeks when these seasonality cycles hit the business ... probably even in sunny San Diego.

Most of the folks working in the shop should be able to correlate that cash flows easy when it's busy and pennies need to be pinched when it's slow. If you're a business owner and you aren't sharing basic information with your staff, then you can't expect them to simply understand, nor should you be afraid to be honest with them. Most of the folks working in this industry aren't doing it to get rich quick, most do it because we love cycling and bicycles. Being able to make some money doing something we are passionate about is just a bonus.

I've spoken about it before but everything should be a conversation. Don't sit down with your staff and lecture them about the state of your business. Take the time to give them information that can empower them to do their jobs better for you. Share financial information that encourages them to feel like they are a part of the business.

In the service department the slow season is the time for training (the PBMA has purposefully positioned its Technical Workshops during what correlates to slow periods for our industry), shop refreshing, deep cleaning and hiring. This is the time to set your business up for future success.

Training is critically important. I am speculating but I imagine most mechanics (admittedly or not) enjoy a bit of formal training on the things they work on from day to day. I hear it a lot from mechanics who work in shops all over the country ... "mMy employer doesn't provide me with training," "I am looking for another job because ...". Both of these statements could be wrapped around many variations of words that don't matter. What matters is that many times the underlying element is the employee feeling under appreciated (could be you didn't say thank you, could be over $0.25 in pay, could be over a missed opportunity for training). While we aren't necessarily here to learn the entire human psyche, we should understand options and opportunities to keep a good person on our team.

Whenever I was put in charge, I was always hiring. If you walked in with a resume in hand I would likely even step aside and chat with you for a little bit. The best businesses are always hiring because we don't know when our next superstar employee is going to walk through the door. What we do know is that when we are looking for that next perfect fit and desperately in need, they don't seem to ever show up! Go ahead and calculate what the financial sacrifice would be to bring in the right person at the wrong time and then also calculate the upside when that person is there and you would have otherwise needed them.

For those who don't need new people (yet) how about finding ways to keep your current people on board? Bonuses are everyone's favorite go-to. As an employee I never once counted on a bonus. If it came it was great, but mostly they are there to encourage us workers into going that extra mile. Bonuses are great when you get them, but "I want training and I want you to pay for it, but I'm willing to work for it" reflects more incentive. We hear it often from the owner: "I can't afford to pay to send my employee(s) to training." I call bullshit on that every single time. Maybe you don't want to because you are afraid they will get better and then leave. That is understandable and yes it does happen, so make a deal. Offer to pay a part or all with conditions, if this employee stays for 3 years they owe you nothing back, if they leave within 1 year they owe it all back (garnish their last paycheck), if they leave between a year and two years ... you get the idea. For many mechanics this is agreeable. Nobody really wants to look for another job. It's a pain in the ass.

Retaining employees is far less costly than finding new ones. It's estimated that it will cost 6 to 9 months of wages (for the person you are hiring or replacing) to get a new employee up to the speed of the outgoing employee. Find the compromise with your mechanics and employees, talk to them so they know what's going on in the business and they understand where you are coming from and the challenges you as a team face.

For many shops, there is a week or two weeks per month where the weather just becomes perfect and the shop is inundated with repairs, often forcing the consumer to wait days or weeks to get their trusted bicycle back so they can ride it. Sometimes the catalyst is an actual event such as a major area ride, where everyone is dusting off their bicycle they last rode 360 days ago, and they need it in 5 days so they can do this one ride again.

What we often see is that this is when shops hire people. And I can tell you it's too late (unless you are 100% dependent on seasonal employees and those seasonal employees return year after year). Service turn around times are too long, staff is over worked, you are forced into paying overtime or you are trying to bring a new employee up to speed in the most chaotic time in your shops annual cycle — none are a recipe for success. You are in fact throwing your latest asset into the thickest of the mud, starting them off completely the wrong way!

If you are going to hire, do it when it's slow or in the worst case just prior to the start of your known busy season. Plan ahead, know what you need to be successful before it's too late, and make the moves you want to make when it isn't affecting the bulk of your business.

This article isn't just about hiring; it's about planning. If you know you're going to be busy, then plan for it, staff for it. If you know that your turn around time for most repairs gets blown out to a week or more, I'm sure we can fix that if you are willing. Imagine your shop has four work areas for mechanics. meaning four repairs can be done at any one time. Your business is open from 10 a.m to 6 p.m so you have 8 hours times 4 repair stands = 32 available hours (+ / - getting open, breaks, closing etc). What if you hired one or two people, or enlisted / rearranged your work schedule so that one or two mechanics either came in early or stayed later, expanding your available labor scheduling hours to meet peak demands. This could fix your turn around time and it could make your customers a lot happier ... it's an idea – take it or leave it but think about profitability and sustainability for your business.

They also say "planning makes perfect." I suppose there are many exceptions to that phrase but if done right planning can genuinely make your life, and that of those around you, much, much easier.

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