The best businesses are always looking for ways to improve and grow. But continuing to grow your business once it’s established is not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. To take your business to the next level it can be helpful to look at businesses like your own that have already been through those growing pains and are willing to share suggestions and their own experience. Ed Cardiello, Sr., is one of those helpful business owners. He has consistently grown Ed's Auto Service & Towing— “Team Ed’s”—for 25 years.
My wife, Yvonne, and I started our business as a repair shop in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, with nothing more than a toolbox, a wealth of mechanical knowledge, and a landlord willing to float the first month’s rent. When we decided we should get into towing, we bought a heavy-duty wrecker and carrier. We operated out of a couple of rented buildings and even then, our motto was “Do the job right the first time.” Your best advertising comes from happy customers.
While we would still be classified as a small business, that business has certainly grown since those first seeds were planted. Now we have a fleet of ten trucks, mostly Jerr-Dan, as well as auxiliary and complementary equipment like skid steers, a mini excavator, and support and service vehicles. We provide light and heavy vehicle repair and bodywork as well as towing services, and all this is based in a complex of four buildings. Our ten employees are well-trained and really care about customer satisfaction, and our tow operators are certified and ready to roll, 24/7.
At our industry’s annual convention in Baltimore, surrounded by colleagues, other professionals, and amazing equipment, I asked myself, “Could I explain to someone why I’ve been able to consistently and profitably grow my operation?” Of course, I could rattle off the history of the company, year by year, and I could repeat some of my personal opinions. But if I really had to boil it all down and explain it simply, what would I say?
I spent some time jotting down notes, trying to keep my responses to those questions short and sweet. And when I went through that exercise, I realized that I could indeed identify three keys to the successful growth of many enterprises, including my own.
THIRST FOR SUCCESS
First, like all the best coaches tell their players, you have to want it. You must be driven to accomplish your goals, and that drive comes from inside. You need to be ready to do what it takes to grow. You are not content with the status quo.
But that drive inside you has to be more than a desire to make money or to be seen as successful by others. That thirst to succeed must include a commitment to actually do the work. To be a master of your craft. We’ve all heard the old saying that you’re only as good as your last job. Instinctively, we know this is true. You can’t let up—each job must be as important to you as the ten before it—and the ten after it. And even though you might have the best employees, as I do, you still have to be the one “steering the ship.” Your team will take their lead from you. If you let up, they will let up.
THE RIGHT TEAM IS CRITIAL TO YOUR SUCCESS
On a football team, the quarterback might be the leader on offense, but if he has no wide receiver or tight end to pass to, or running back to hand off to, it’s going to be a long game. Like that quarterback, you need the right teammates on the field with you, a team that understands your approach to the game and is willing to buy into it 100%. Everyone says, “your people are your most important asset.” But how many walk the walk?
If your team is your most important asset, you have to invest in it. Not all shops may be able to do this to the extent we do, but we provide our employees with a full benefits package that includes insurance, uniforms, training, paid holidays, sick leave, paid vacations, and more. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of training, including ongoing training. Our wages are competitive, and we treat our people right. We treat them like professionals, we give them the best possible equipment to work with, and we communicate our expectations clearly.
I think our results have been proof that our approach works.
Of course, before you invest in an employee, you must be careful and insightful in the hiring and firing process. You can’t be casual about this responsibility. Specific skills can be taught to just about anyone, but when we’re hiring, we look for people who are by nature courteous, hardworking, and honest. The investment comes after we’ve found the right person. Each member of the team is your representative in the community, and their actions will be considered a reflection of your own values. The company’s reputation is on the line every time they go out on a job.
The importance of having the right team in place extends to your vendors and suppliers. You need companies that care as much about your reputation as you do and are as driven to deliver results.
You can’t grow your business without help—and you depend upon your entire team for that help.
THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
A friend of mine told me a story about tools, from back in the days when you didn’t need a computer to work on a car. A young man he knew showed him his first car. He was obviously proud of it, though it was far from new. My friend asked to see his toolbox. Without a second thought, the young man popped his trunk to show my friend… a hammer and a screwdriver. My friend recommended that the young man never get too far from a real mechanic.
The point, of course, is that any craftsman depends on his tools to do a quality job. You are not likely to fix a car with a hammer and a screwdriver, and you’re not likely to grow your business unless you have equipment that you can depend on 24/7.
When I started my own business, I had already managed a large towing company and was familiar with the equipment and manufacturers available. If you are looking at ways to increase your business, that means that you have some years of experience behind you, as well. You know that when equipment goes down, you not only have the expense of the repair but are losing jobs with every hour that passes.
For that reason, I acquire equipment that I know, from experience, will meet my demands and even exceed my expectations. An equipment failure should be rare, not a routine matter. And when equipment does break down, I expect the manufacturer to go above and beyond the call of duty to get me back on the road. I expect them to stand behind their equipment, and to deliver service that meets and exceeds the promises in their marketing material. They should listen to their customers and that input should inform their updates and new products. Speaking for myself, for more than 25 years that manufacturer/partner has been primarily Jerr-Dan, but whoever you choose to play that role in your own business should meet these basic standards.
THIRST, TEAM, AND TOOLS ARE JUST THE BEGINNING
Obviously, we all know there are additional details that need attention if you want to increase business and profit. Your pricing has to hit the sweet spot that is both competitive and profitable. You need to keep a close eye on expenses. You should really be an active part of your community. You must be flexible in your planning; for example, we are doing more accident clean-up and less light-duty towing than we used to, and it has paid off for us. The list goes on and on.
But from a big picture point of view, “thirst, team, and tools” have been the three key foundational elements of my business growth. Of course, I can only speak from my own experience and observation, but I am confident that thirst for success, building the right team, and depending on the right tools are all vitally important elements of any growing operation.