The foundations of success

Andy considers the fundamental pillars of success for an independent workshop

Running a successful independent garage business can be difficult, but once the foundations that underpin any successful business are in place it becomes much easier. But what are these foundations?

I have read plenty of literature on this subject and while every guru has their own solution they are generally based on similar principles. My Atomic Success program considers these fundamental topics:

The Vision (Planning)

Measuring Performance


The order is deliberate, success depends on the strength of The Vision, and the plans to achieve it. Financial stability is next – you need to know your numbers. As a business grows it needs to create order, in the form of systems and processes. Measuring the performance of your business is vital, because what gets measured gets managed, and what gets managed gets mastered. Finally, without customers even the best business will fail, so it is essential to have a marketing strategy that attracts and retains the right sort of customers.

Why should you bother building solid foundations?
The very survival of your business could depend on it… The office for National Statistics produces data on the 5-Year survival rates for businesses, the latest data shows that less than 40% of businesses born in 2015 had survived to 2020, see Figure 1.

Figure 1

The Business Vision

What exactly is it? It is a planning tool that outlines where you would like your business to be in 10 years’ time. Or, when it is time to retire, when you plan to pass that business on to somebody else, either by selling it or handing it down.

The vision is the long-term goal or the best possible version of the business and you use the vision to help set your goals. If your vision is your 10-year plan, your goals are how you will achieve your ten-year plan.

You set 3-year goals, which are interim steps of how you’re going to achieve your Vision. This allows you to break the big, audacious vision into a detailed 1-year Plan. This is then broken down into what must be done in the next 90 days, to what needs to be done this week, right down to the to-do list.

Without a vision, goal setting becomes really difficult, if not impossible, which is possibly why people simply don’t do it.

It is just too abstract without a Vision...

Successful businesses use their vision to communicate ‘Why’ they do what they do. Building a business where everyone knows the Vision, and what part they are required to play in achieving on a daily, weekly, yearly or 3-year planning cycle, builds a culture of open communication reporting and team spirit.


Why do you need to know your numbers? The best example I can give is probably the TV program Dragon’s Den. Have you ever seen a really good pitch? The business owners get up there, they seem to have a great product and they know all the technical details about it. They’ve done all the research on the market and the Dragons look like they are about to give make an offer. Yet, they seem to come unstuck when the Dragons start asking simple questions about their numbers. This has always struck me as being somewhat peculiar because surely everybody knows these basic figures that the dragons ask for, however, it appears not all business people know their numbers.

Identify the financial numbers you should be tracking…
This requires you to examine your business and look at what’s important to you and your current situation. Unfortunately, without knowing your exact circumstances it is impossible to tell you what numbers you should be tracking.

As a start, you should at least track:

1. Profit
2. Turnover
3. Sales (Number of Sales & Average Sales Value)

4. Expenses (Cost of Doing Business) 5. Parts Margin
6. Cash Reserve

Building Systems

What is a system? Systems are the operating manual for your business.

The aim of a system is to get the same result every time, no matter who does the work

Why do we need systems? The primary reason for building systems is so your staff know what to do and how to do it. A system makes it easier for the business to scale.

Employees do the same thing as the business owner would have been doing previously, to the same standard within a fixed framework.

Creating systems is a great training opportunity in itself for you and your staff to look at ways of improving your current processes and implementing new systems or improving existing ones. It also provides is the opportunity for in- house training.

Somebody who doesn’t do the job as often can then learn from the person who is probably more expert in that role – an ideal training opportunity. What’s more, it is free in terms of your time, and probably improves the effectiveness of the process being taught.

Measuring Performance

How is performance measured in business? Key Performance Indicators, sometimes known as KPIs, are used to measure the performance of your business. You need to identify the key areas within the business and see how they are performing using comparators. Typical comparators are:

Industry norms

The average performance within the independent automotive industry

Previous data from the business

Comparing last year, or the last quarter, to current performance

Once you start measuring anything within your business, you start to manage the outcomes, once you start managing outcomes you begin to master that aspect of the business.

Garage Management Systems provide data that can be used as KPI’s. The six financial numbers are also great starting points for measuring business performance.

Marketing Strategy

The final foundation piece is marketing. This is how we find, win, and keep our customers. Every business needs to sell its goods and services in order to generate cash. Garages are no exception. Gone are the days of placing an advert or listing in the phone directory and waiting for the phone to ring (have you noticed that fewer garages are called A1 Garage Services now, for that very reason).

You need a Marketing Strategy, a method of reaching your ideal customer with a message from your business explaining how you solve their problem. This requires you to identify your ideal customer, where they hang out, and what problem you solve for them.

Once you have this information you can plan how you will reach your ideal customers. If you measure the results, you can refine this process until you have a reliable, repeatable customer attraction and retention process.

The number of channels and the ease at which you can reach your best prospects is what I call the Marketing Paradox. It has never been easier for businesses to place themselves in front of their ideal prospects, the same is true of your competitors. Everyone is competing for your ideal customer’s attention, not just your competitors but everyone.

Your digital marketing has to attract, capture and hold their attention long enough to make an impression. No easy task.

Want to find out more?
Andy’s ‘Atomic Success’ program helps garage owners become more successful in business, providing the support and tools required to make incremental gains that lead to massive results.

Want to take back control of your business? Join the Garage Owners Network and take advantage of the FREE video training.

Book Review: Automotive Technician Training Theory – Second Edition

In many ways, it is amazing that this book exists. Cramming virtually every facet of automotive technical theory concisely into a single textbook is a virtually impossible task. Yet, possessing considerable clout as automotive practitioners, consultants, educators and writers, both authors of Automotive Technician Training Theory have risen to the challenge and succeeded.

To focus the content, Denton and Pells include all of the information that students need to pass Levels 1, 2 and 3 qualifications in Light Vehicle Maintenance and Repair. The authors strive hard to make a sizable 570pp textbook as undaunting and accessible as possible but without patronising their readers. Health and Safety information, details about how the motor industry works (including vital information about how to communicate face-to-face with customers – a skill that many Gen Zs may find essential) kick-start the book. More general advice about workshop skills and vehicle maintenance are followed by chapters that probe the theoretical intricacies of combustion engines, electrical systems, suspension/ steering/brakes, transmissions and advanced diagnostics. All- new sections on high-voltage and ADAS systems update the book successfully.

This Second Edition continues its predecessor’s approach to blended online learning. Yet, obtaining full benefit requires admittance to the IMI eLearning system. While most colleges have access, readers who are unprepared to shoulder the additional costs can utilise the free additional resources on This website boasts additional activities to support the book, from learning hints, activity sheets, puzzles and quizzes. However, we feel that this part of the blended learning experience requires updating and making more user-friendly to match the high standard set by the textbook.

Information is well- presented and concise. The use of images and diagrams are excellent. The 2022 Second Edition includes new sections on high- voltage and ADAS.

It is fortunate that pictures tell a thousand words, because illustrations, press images and real-world workshop pics are well-used to create an uncluttered layout. The writing is clear, concise and both authors’ styles blend well. While intended to cover the basic theory, some topics go into considerable detail (such as the workings of Bosch’s e-clutch), which makes the title useful for those with more advanced knowledge.

Yet, while the textbook succeeds in its aims, it could have updated the First Edition more comprehensively. Being ultra-critical, no details feature about EFB batteries and LED headlights, which have been common fitments for at least five years. Additionally, some tech examples are relatively old-fashioned, such as three pages dedicated to the Ford CTX CVT from 1987, or deep discussion of the Volkswagen Group’s DSG6 but no mention of the more popular DSG7 DCT. While it is likely that these updates will follow in future editions, we should remember that this book’s core audience is students. Therefore, the content must reflect course and exam contents and the hardware present within a typical educational establishment.

Verdict: We are confident in our hearty recommendation. The Automotive Technician Training Theory’s Second Edition is useful for not just students cramming for their exams but also professionals wanting to re-cap their knowledge. Additionally, it acts as an ideal precedent to Tom Denton’s other six books, aimed towards technicians who are focussed on furthering their professional development.