Columns come from lots of places. Sometimes something happens that is so upsetting or so compelling I have to write about it just to get through it or past it. Other times something happens and there is an obvious lesson that I feel is important for both of us to consider, important enough to share. There are other times when there is something funny going on funny as in peculiar, not as in “Ha! Ha!”
And, still others when a thought comes to mind that really needs to be explored further, something that suggests consideration by more than just one guy sitting in a small shop in Southern California, something with deeper meaning or greater implications for us all.
This is one of those “further consideration” columns that started with a “twofer” taking a customer home in their own vehicle in order to verify a drivability problem. Unlike some other shop owners I know, I relish the opportunity to pick up and deliver customers. It gives me a few uninterrupted minutes to ask questions, do informal market research and further strengthen relationships that can always stand to be strengthened further.
This time the conversation swirled around the now infamous multi-million dollar AIG bonuses being distributed in the middle of our current economic crisis and the depth and breadth of the crisis itself. This particular client’s perspective was especially interesting because he had survived the Great Depression and remembered how nothing was the same during or after, as it had been before.
I was driving back to the shop alone and lost in thought when it occurred to me that nothing we have experienced over the past few decades could have adequately prepared us for the economic tsunami washing over our country, culture and this industry today. Nothing we experience today or tomorrow is likely to remind us of yesterday. And, yet…
And, yet, with only one exception , and in dealing with multiple suppliers of every size, shape and form, I can’t think of one element of our relationship that has changed at all. Sure, prices have spiraled and fuel surcharges have come, and in some rare instances gone, training has been offered and delivered, but with rare exception it’s been business as usual during the most unusual of times.
As a business owner I can understand the pressure, both internal and external, to have things remain as normal as seemingly possible. The people inside your company need to perceive a very real sense of strength, calm and stability, and, your clients need the confidence that comes with “knowing” things are going to be O.K. even when everyone understands that no one can really “know” that.
I recognize that most of you are working diligently to ensure there are no distractions, no disruptions, no real damages, caused by the current crisis.
I get it! And I want you to understand that I understand and appreciate that this is not just commendable under the present circumstances it is downright incredible!
But, how can our relationship remain unchanged while everything around us is either changing or about to change? Can we or should we ignore what is going on down the block or around the corner when it can and most certainly will affect all of us? Should we continue as if it isn’t happening?
I can’t ignore the economic challenges my clients are facing as job security in Southern California remains anything but secure. I can’t go on as if my customers aren’t paralyzed with fear as their friends and neighbors fall victim to the second and third waves of layoffs and foreclosures, as the investment banking crisis deepens and continues.
Or, at least, I couldn’t. So months ago I wrote a personal letter to all of our customers acknowledging the difficulties we were apt to confront as this “new” economy continued to unfold. In it, I suggested that together we could and would not only survive the current economic crisis, but that we would come out of it better and stronger for having gone through it.
Frankly, I’d love to know what you are doing to protect yourself and me from the economic storm raging outside our doors. Working together, we just might be able to do it better, faster, more effectively or more efficiently.
It isn’t reasonable to ignore it. Who can?
Statistics suggest that everyone reading this magazine either knows someone, or knows of someone, who has been laid off, or is about to be laid off. And, it’s just as likely that everyone reading this magazine either knows someone, or knows of someone, who has lost a house or is in danger of losing one.
Wouldn’t this be a great time, perhaps, even the best time, to reach out? Isn’t now the best possible time to communicate with your customers and clients: to build bridges and strengthen relationships?
Or is it going to be “business as usual,” even when there is nothing “usual” about the business climate or conditions confronting each of us, nothing “usual” about your business or mine?
Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at email@example.com.