‘Navigation’ is the best word to describe this year. Covid-19 and its accompanying restrictions have challenged our business and customers on a professional and personal level. Like so many Melbournians, we’ve steered our way through lockdowns, curfews, mask-wearing, constant sanitisation and learned to adapt our business model to keep ourselves, our mechanics and customers safe.
Rules and regulations dominated our workshop
Adapting to the constantly changing rules was a definite challenge. Every day we read so many emails in an effort to stay abreast of the regulations. Sometimes it was confusing. Could people enter the office or workshop? What repairs were considered ‘emergency’ or ‘critical’? Trying to work out what we were allowed to do, and what would put people at risk or incur fines, was difficult. The continual updates from the VACC interpreting the government rules were, at times, baffling. The change was constant.
How do we keep our doors open?
Obviously, from a business and financial perspective, it was important to keep the workshop open. But, more importantly, we recognised very early on that we had an obligation to stay open for the sake of our mechanics and customers.
Not knowing was the hardest aspect to navigate at the beginning. Like so many people, we didn’t know how long we would be living with restrictions. The covid-19 lockdown was so difficult for everyone, but we wanted to continue to help our customers by keeping the workshop running and being available, not just to fix cars, but to talk and share the experience with our community.
In hindsight, we struggled most with the lack of interaction brought about by Stage Four restrictions. Contactless delivery was tough – on us and our clients. We like to talk to people and build relationships with our customers. The joy of our service, of simple human interaction, was taken away during that period.
Updating our Customers
Communication was the key to keeping our business running. We added a Covid-update page to our website and posted on Facebook every time there was a change in restrictions. Speaking to people on the phone was also important, particularly as Stage Four was longer than any of us initially expected. We contacted people who were due to get their vehicles serviced and explained the situation, listening to their stories and helping where we could in the event of an emergency. Could we have done more? Possibly. But we navigated the ups and downs as best we could with the information we were given at the time.
The Threat of Covid-19
As business owners, we had a responsibility to keep our workplace and employees safe. It was imperative that we manage potential transmission, mask wearing and sanitation to avoid the invisible threat of the virus. During the months of lockdown, people expressed their views and experiences differently. While it was important to us to respect people’s opinions, we were conscious of the need to maintain stringent health controls to protect our staff, customers and business.
Other than the risk of falling ill, there was an additional overriding threat hanging over all our heads. From an industry perspective, we struggled with what we were allowed to do when it came to fixing vehicles. Just as people were dobbing in their neighbours for having people visit at home, word on the street was that businesses were reporting others for potentially ‘doing the wrong thing’. We certainly didn’t want to break any rules but it was tough, at times, to know what repairs were considered ‘critical’ or ‘essential’. And we were so wary of the threat of fines if we did, inadvertently, get it wrong. Constantly checking government regulations and VACC recommendations were the only way to stay on top of our role during the pandemic.
In our view, maintaining your car service schedule is vital for so many reasons. As a result, when services were banned, we did spend time lobbying and writing to MP’s to demand re-instigation of the right to service cars. Luckily, Stage Four did come to an end, and we were quickly able to resume business as close to ‘normal’ as possible.
This year has been filled with ups and downs. We’ve had good days and bad but, overall, it could have been a hundred times worse. There were times when we had no cars in the bays and it was hard to stay motivated, but we all managed to get through it in one way or another. Communication and support have been a vital part of this experience. Our government did try to assist businesses. Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but they tried, which is a positive aspect of this year. Talking to our clients, and sharing stories with other business owners has also been a huge plus. There’s a lot to be said for communities banding together in difficult times.
For us, navigating 2020 was all about perspective. Running a business is a seasonal experience, particularly in regard to economics, and we are aware that we are lucky to have enjoyed a long Summer of prosperity. But Autumn had to come. In March when the pandemic hit us properly, we ‘shed our leaves’. We reduced our expenses, where possible, and looked at what was important to help us get through the uncertain months that lay ahead. During the Winter of restrictions, we held on, practised gratitude and looked ahead. Now that Spring is here, it’s the perfect time to evaluate the lessons we have learned during 2020 and prepare for future bumps in the road.
Thank you to our customers, old and new, for sharing your experiences with us. We are so very thankful for your support and understanding during this year. We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Cheers to 2021 being amazing for you all!