Top 7 driving school tips to survive and thrive during the slow months
If you follow my top 7 driving school tips, your school will not only survive the slow months, but it will also thrive. We all know that summertime is the “high season” in the driving school industry. It’s easy to rake in those sales when school is out and parents and kids flock to your driving school.
However, the key to long-term success is knowing how to survive and thrive during the other nine months of the year. The driving school business is very seasonal with peaks and valleys. Most driving schools generate 40%+ of their total sales during the summer rush. The reason for this is that parents want their teens to take driver’s ed when tests, projects, homework and after-school activities don’t compete for their time or attention.
So, what can a driving school owner do to help drive sales during the leaner and meaner months of September through May? If you follow my seven driving school tips below, you can turn the corner and not rely so heavily on your summers.
Driving school tips – #1
Reduce marketing spend when the fish
are not biting
Let’s face it. During the busy summer months, it’s easy to find new driving school customers. That’s because the pond is full and “the fish are biting.” As previously stated, the driving school business is very seasonal.
When we opened our first driving school, I used to market it 12 months a year. I figured that I always had to try to attract new driving school customers, even in the slow months. After a few years of trial and error, my thinking changed.
Why Reducing Ad Spend Makes Sense
My Marketing Director convinced me to “fish when the fish were biting.” We’d spend the majority of our marketing budget in March – June to capitalize on the seasonality of our business. Follow this theory to attract more driving school customers when and where they are willing to purchase your services.
In order to save money during the slower months, I suggest that you decrease your marketing expenses. In other words, increase your marketing expenses to “fish where and when the fish are biting.” Not only will your expenses be lower in the slow months, but you’ll get a higher return on investment (ROI) when you ramp up your marketing efforts in March – August.
The key is to identify where your consumers look for information about driving schools and know when they might be the most receptive to specific messages. Increase your marketing from early spring until late summer. Then, decrease your marketing efforts during the slower months to save money.
Driving school tips – #2
Conduct a fleet audit
Fleet maintenance is one of the most important aspects of operating a successful driving school. So, it’s especially critical to conduct a fleet audit after the busy summer months when vehicles have been running almost constantly.
The first step is to assess each and every vehicle in your fleet. Is it in need of scheduled maintenance or a tune-up? Does it need an alignment or new tires? Do all brake and operating systems work properly? If not, you may need to make an important decision.
Look at the interior and exterior of all vehicles
If a vehicle is in need of major repairs, should you spend a ton of money on it? Probably not. However, if an aging vehicle needs just minor repairs, you should decide to move ahead with them.
Don’t forget to look at the exteriors of your vehicles when conducting a fleet audit. Does it need a new wrap? Our cars are our best form of advertising, so it’s important that they always look great on the road. The slower months is also a great time to repair dents and dings. That way they will be ready to go when summertime strikes.
I don’t adhere to the policy of driving a car until the wheels fall off. If you’re spending a ton of money on repairs, it’s time to sell it. I really, really don’t recommend keeping a vehicle until it dies. It’s simply not safe and you’re putting your driving school at risk. If it doesn’t run right, keep it out of sight. Out with the old and in with the new.
The importance of back-up vehicles
On the other hand, it’s always a smart decision to have a back-up vehicle. My advice is to have one back-up vehicle for every 5-7 cars in your fleet. You never know when one may break down or be involved in a crash. Rather than sell or get rid of older vehicles, pay to get them in working order and use them as back-up or reserve vehicles.
Driving school tips – #3
Review each and every summer
After students head back to school, we’d conduct a very thorough analysis of the summer. Think of it as a postmortem review, so to speak. I like to refer to this important review as a “Start, Stop, or Continue” study.
What should we start doing next summer that we didn’t do this summer? Are there things that we should continue next summer that was successful this summer? What should we stop doing next summer that just didn’t work well at all this summer?
How to get feedback
In the past, I’ve held brainstorming sessions with my instructors and staff in September to come up with answers to these all-important questions. Without their input, I’m simply making assumptions. They are my eyes and ears, so I’d rely heavily on their input when I reviewed the successes and failures of my summer business.
As the business scaled, it became more difficult to conduct these in-person sessions. So, I moved to sending out post-summer surveys to all of my employees. You can easily create one on SurveyMonkey or GetFeedback. Be sure to send them to everyone including classroom teachers, in-car instructors, office personnel and your management team.
Analyze the feedback
Of all my driving school tips, this one piece of information may be the most important. After getting your feedback, analyze it thoroughly. Then, make informed decisions to improve your business next summer.
Repeat your successes and learn from your failures. If you do this every September, your summers will become more and more successful each passing year.
Andy Stanley, a famous communicator, author and pastor once said,
Experience doesn’t make you wiser. Evaluated experience makes you wiser.
Driving school tips – #4
Evaluate your infrastructure and operations
While you need to evaluate your expenses, you also need to evaluate how you do business. Analyze everything from how you handle filing (paper or digital files), how you communicate through emails (Gmail or Office 365), how you manage your passwords (in your head or with software like Keeper or Last Pass), and how your team collaborates (sticky notes or project management software like Trello.
Are you old school and proud of it? If so, then maybe it’s time to change. If you’re not utilizing technology to save time and money, you’re missing the boat. Your competitors probably are, which means they’re probably more profitable.
Once a year, go through your infrastructure, operations and systems to make sure you are using everything that’s available to help your staff accomplish critical tasks in the least amount of time. That leaves them more time to sell your services and grow your driving school!
Driving school tips – #5
Audit your expenses
You can easily control your expenses (and increase your bottom line!) by auditing each and every expense annually. My management team conducted an annual audit and saved the company thousands of dollars. Overtime, it really racks up!
When reviewing all of your vendors, it’s critical to ask, “If I got rid of this vendor, would my driving school still run efficiently?” If not, you still need to shop around for a more affordably priced competitor. Even better – maybe automation or helpful software can replace your costly vendor or employee entirely.
Too many driving schools are burning payroll dollars having employees complete administrative tasks such as data entry or scheduling that can easily be automated with software.
Where to start
Most driving schools use Quickbooks, so your profit/loss and vendor reports are a good place to start. Look at all of your vendors and anyone or anything that is involved in the profit/loss of your business. Sharpen your pencil and scale down your expenses by uncovering a cheaper solution or getting rid of it entirely if possible.
I started performing annual expense reviews in 2013 and the painstaking process has been highly instrumental in saving big time bucks. With lower expenses, we utilized the profits to increase our savings and open new locations.
Are you stuck in an expense rut? Do you pay bills through Auto Pay and never look at the nitty gritty of the numbers? If so, it’s time to make a change. Follow this and my other driving school tips to start driving success and long-term profitability.
It’s necessary to dig into the details of your expenses on an annual basis to make your school run more efficiently.
Driving school tips – #6
Train and audit your staff
During the busy summer months, it’s hard to find time to do anything other than focus on classes and drives. However, how do you spend your time from September through May? When things slow down, it’s a great time to focus on your staff, the driving force behind the success or failure of your driving school.
Ann M. Mulcahy, the former chairperson and CEO of Xerox, once stated,
Employees are a company’s greatest asset – they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.
Test your employees
So, how can you test how your driving school employees are doing? Ride along with your in-car instructors or observe a classroom session. The cream of the crop will become apparent. Your goal is to analyze your employees to see whom is dead weight and who is going above and beyond.
Go the extra mile
For your best team members send them to a convention, like the one sponsored by the Driving School Association of America. Cheaper alternatives can be online training classes with powerful online tools like Google Analytics and Google Adwords.
When your employees sharpen their skills, it translates into happier team members. Happier staff members are more inclined to stay with you and grow your business. As an owner, you’re only as good as the people who surround you.
Driving school tips – #7
Hold an annual planning meeting
The purpose of an annual planning meeting is to take a microscopic look at the current year. In the past, I’ve held our annual meetings in October with my top 2 key players and they last for 2-3 days, 8 hours per day. Are they exhausting? You bet! Are they worth it? Absolutely!
We huddled around a table and dissected our business. Literally. Our small group determined what worked, what didn’t work, and what needed improvement. We then developed our winning moves for the next year that propelled our business to success.
We also set sales and profit goals for the next year. As a group, we evaluated current employees and decided who to keep and who to let go before the end of the current year. We held the meetings in October so that when the new year rolled around, we weren’t planning, but executing our plan from day one.
In Review: Driving school tips for the slow months of the year
So, there you have it. Appreciate the busy summer months, but also make an action plan for the slower months.
- Reduce marketing spend
- Conduct a fleet audit
- Review your summer
- Evaluate your infrastructure and operations
- Audit your expenses
- Train and audit your staff
- Hold an annual planning meeting