April 5, 2017
Is your driving school ready for summer?
If you’re a driving school owner, you’re probably anticipating the upcoming summer months with both excitement and a bit of anxiety. That’s because you know the cash will start rolling in, but will it roll in at the rate you expect and need to carry your school during the leaner months?
So, the question is…are you REALLY, really ready for summer?
If you follow these five tips, your school will surely drive profits during the busiest time of the year. In fact, summertime is so critically important that it often makes or breaks many driving schools.
You can’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best. It takes a lot of pre-planning, analyzing your business, hiring staff, and seeing into the future – without the benefit of a fortune teller or magic 8-ball. Every driving school owner anxiously awaits summer because up to 80% of yearly profits usually come from 3-4 summer months.
I always use the analogy of a ski resort. Successful ones make a ton of money during snow season. When fresh powder is on the ground and the lifts are operating, ski resorts go full speed, but may lie dormant during warmer months.
The cyclical season of a driving school is the opposite. We thrive in the summertime. That’s because parents want their kids to take Drivers Ed when tests, projects, and after school activities aren’t competing for their time.
The time to start planning for summer is right now – in March and April. During the spring, I like to think of myself as a coach. This is the time when I recruit my team members, send them through training camp, tune-up my equipment, get the stadium in top-notch shape, and finalize my playbook.
In football terms, when the first regular season game rolls around, my team is not just ready to take the field, but we have high expectations for the perfect season. If I were an actual football coach of an NFL team, I would make reaching the Super Bowl my ultimate goal each and every year.
As a driving school owner, my ultimate goal is to have my smoothest and most profitable summer each and every year. Do you see the similarities here?
So, think of March and April as your pre-season. Like I said, I line up my team and determine who my starters are, as well as my back-up string. I huddle up, sharpen my pencil and start writing in my playbook. Plus, I make sure that my facilities look great and are ready to shine to an influx of new students and parents.
By August 1st, I usually know if my entire year will be profitable.
Without a successful summer, you may not survive the rest of the year. It sounds daunting, but it’s the truth. Summertime is EVERYTHING!
So where can you start? What can you do now to ensure your most profitable summer ever? It’s simple. Just follow my advice by going through these all-important steps.
1. Evaluate and Expand Your Team
During the off-season, every successful coach evaluates his team. Who are the strongest players? Who may be weak in one area, but great in another? What happens if your star quarterback or receiver gets hurt? Do you have a back-up contingency plan?
Every March and April, I look at my own driving school team. We may be operating smoothly now, but summer brings on a whole new set of challenges that require “What If” scenarios.
Because most of my driving schools profit is made in just 3-4 months for the entire year, I can’t rely on just my star players. I group all my employees into three buckets: Instructors, management team, and office personnel. I make sure that I cross-train everyone so that I can ask them to step into another role in case of illness or unexpected departure.
Plus, due to the sheer volume of students, I always expand my staff seasonally in the summertime. Because it often takes 6 – 10 weeks to get state certified, I hire summer instructors in March, at the latest. That way, they’ll be ready to go in June. This includes hiring extra classroom teachers AND in-car driving instructors.
In late-July and early August, it’s practically impossible to book in-car lessons. That translates into thousands of potential dollars lost – all due to the lack of pre-planning. Parents, urgent to have their child get his license before the start of school, call my office in complete frustration.
I see this happen time and time again every summer.
We haven’t always been perfect, but we’ve become much better at having driving availability in the summer over the years. Because I hire and train in the spring, we can usually handle the last-minute swell in demand.
I also use interns during the summertime. I send out an email to all my former parents in March and let them know that we will have intern positions in the summer. High School and college students that previously went through my program are excellent candidates for my summer intern program.
I also love to hire school bus drivers and teachers during the summer. They are off and love making some extra fun money in the summer. Plus, they can relate to and communicate with teens.
2. Evaluate and Prep Your Fleet
During the off-season, while coaches concentrate on the team, equipment managers use the time wisely to make sure all the equipment is in proper-working order.
In driving school terms, the springtime is the time to evaluate your fleet of cars. Do you have enough to meet increased demand in the summer months?
Have they all been properly maintained? Every March, I always focus on getting oil changes, tires checked and rotated, etc. Who wants to pull a car out of commission when it’s the busiest time of the year?
Imagine if a coach had to pull his quarterback out of the Super Bowl because his chin strap broke and another wasn’t readily available?
To maximize profit potential during the busy summer months, all driving schools should study and analyze their fleet utilization ratio.
Ask yourself this question. Are all my cars being used for lessons as much and as frequently as possible?
Most driving schools use each vehicle for three sessions per day, five days per week. Some even let the instructors drive the cars home that night after lessons. This is madness!
- PRO TIP – Imagine how much more successful your driving school could be if each vehicle was used for five sessions per day, seven days per week. This one adjustment means that each car would be used for 35 sessions, instead of 15!
Is this an unreasonable expectation? NOPE! Once we started using scheduling software for our fleet, our vehicle optimization ratio began to soar.
Back when I started, if a vehicle had to be taken out of commission due to an accident, I literally had to manually shuffle sessions on a whiteboard. This was time-consuming and kept me from doing what I do best – selling my schools and providing great customer service. With scheduling software, one click is all it takes to rearrange my entire fleet and sessions.
One more thing I do to gear up my fleet before the summer is to develop a different kind of contingency plan. Due to the sheer volume of drives we do in June-August, it’s almost a certainty that one or more cars will be out of commission at some time.
I always designate one back-up vehicle for every 6-7 on the road. When I need to make a last-minute vehicle switch, one is ready to go. Zoom, zoom.
3. Spit Shine Your Facility
From June-August, we have more parents pass through our doors than the rest of the year combined. These are paying parents that have lots of friends.
You want them to recommend your driving school, so you want it to look its best in the summer. While we don’t exactly spit shine it, we do an annual deep cleaning every spring.
This includes cleaning those dusty blinds and baseboards, climbing a ladder to dust off ceiling fan blinds, and clearing out those dust bunnies behind computers, furniture and bookshelves. Every crack and crevice is cleaned so that our facility is ready to shine in the summer.
In addition to our annual deep cleaning, we also perform an annual shopping trip to make sure we are fully stocked on supplies for the summer.
Yes, we buy a boatload of toilet paper, paper towels and such in April. Who wants to send someone out for a TP run in June when the phones are ringing off the hook?
Trust me. This simple step is well worth it. Stock up now.
4. Fish When the Fish Are Biting
For years, my Marketing Manager always wanted me to subscribe to the adage of “Fish when the fish are biting.” However, I always thought that we should advertise when sales were the slowest.
We literally wasted thousands of marketing dollars in September, October, January and February. I’m now a convert.
You can market your driving school in the fall or winter, but you can’t force students to take Drivers Ed when they’re swamped with schoolwork and after school activities. Now, we focus 70% of our marketing efforts in the profitable summertime months.
Once we built the summer-focused marketing campaign, the customers came. In droves. We added a late afternoon class during the week to meet increased demand. We added seats to each class.
In other words, we maximized our profit potential by marketing in the summer, when the fish were biting, so to speak. You should too because you’ll get more bang for your marketing budget.
5. Manage Your Cash Flow and Finances
Of all my advice, this zinger is the most important.
How tempting is it to give yourself a nice bonus or buy a new car when the cash starts rolling in during the summer?
I admit it. Been there, done that. But I don’t anymore.
Years of experience has taught me that the great times are just that – great. The lean times, though? They can be a harsh dose of reality. Think about how many lottery winners pocketed millions in a windfall, only to declare bankruptcy several years later. It happens in the world of driving schools, too. All the time.
If June is like Christmas, then January is like – well, January! It’s bleak, cold, and the cash flow comes to a sudden stop. The same thing happens in August when parents are focused on back-to-school shopping and teens ready for another year of high school.
While you may have been rolling in the dough in June and July, you might wring your hands, scratch your head, and wonder if you can make payroll in January and September. Don’t be THAT owner that spends his summer windfall without planning for the leaner months.
Instead of buying that new car, stash the summer cash. Use it to meet payroll in the fall. Wait until the end of the year before determining your overall annual success.
With a little advance financial planning and effective cash flow management, you won’t have to struggle to make payroll in the fourth quarter. Save your money. Get through the end of the year. Then, determine what to do with any extra money in the bank.
So, that’s it. My five cents worth – or five steps to a successful summer.
So, go ahead and start making those plans now. I guarantee you that a little prep work will go a long way to ensuring your most profitable summer ever. Then, just buckle up and enjoy the ride!