February 13, 2017
Is it time to expand your driving school?
Your current driving school is a success, so you’re thinking about expansion and possibly opening one or two more locations.
Is this a good idea? It all depends.
When I opened my very first driving school eight years ago, I was pumped up and ready to hit the road to success. However, as I quickly discovered, it wasn’t going to be an easy journey. My road was filled with speed bumps, red lights and even a bit of misguidance.
Fast forward to the present. I was able to overcome the obstacles along my way. My three driving schools are thriving. If I can do it, you can too.
All you have to do is learn from my past experience and follow my advice. Believe me. I made mistakes along the way, but I also learned from them and made necessary adjustments.
So, if you want to expand your own driving school, keep reading on for “The Drive Scout Guide to an Expanding Driving School”.
As a member of the Entrepreneur Organization, I have had the unique opportunity to talk about business expansion with some of the most successful businessmen and movers and shakers in the country.
Entrepreneur Organization (EO) is the only peer-to-peer global network that brings together entrepreneurs like you and me. I attend chapter meetings frequently and recently had the opportunity to meet with Verne Hernish, one of the top 10 business consultants in the USA and author of “Rockefeller Habits” and “Scaling Up.”
As the founder of Entrepreneur Organization, Verne is as smart as a whip when it comes to the pros and cons of business expansion. In fact, he has spent more than 30 years educating entrepreneurial teams and even worked with Steve Jobs.
According to this revered expert, the two biggest things that businesses need to consider before expansion are leadership development and a scalable infrastructure. I couldn’t agree more. But, I would also add in customer research and competitive analysis.
Let’s look at all four to see if it’s time to expand your driving school.
Your driving school expansion dreams might have an incredible marketing plan or a stunning new website, but without good leadership, your business can’t expand successfully.
Let’s face it. You simply can’t do it all.
That’s why it’s so very important to have the best team in place before you open the doors to a new location.
How do you currently develop your leaders?
Do you have training manuals and Standard Operating Procedures? If not, you’re not being consistent, which is a critical component to consider before expansion.
When I opened my first driving school, I was obsessed with every detail of the business. My mindset was that if I wanted things done right, I had to do them myself.
To be honest, that worked for about a year. After 15-hour days, sleep deprivation, and a spouse who continually complained that I wasn’t ever present at home, I came to the conclusion that I had to hire a team. I had to find the right people, train them properly and completely, and then step back to see the fruits of my labor.
I now have a team of experts that I trust 100% to make the right decisions. And a happy wife!
So, how do you start building your own leadership team? Network, network, network! You’re not going to find exactly the right person by simply running a help wanted ad in a local print or online resource. Join your Chamber of Commerce and attend meetings. It’s completely true that 85% of all jobs are filled via networking.
Be prepared to pay for top quality leaders.
The best things in life are free, right? Well, not when it comes to attracting and retaining the best leaders.
In order to get the right qualified people, you’ll have to compensate them fairly and competitively. After all, a well-paid leader will be happier, more productive and efficient, and better able to engage and inspire their direct reports. Plus, they will be less likely to search a better paying opportunity – perhaps at your competition!
You’re only as good as the leaders around you, so pay up to get the best.
Once you have the right leadership team in place, make sure they’re all onboard with your Standard Operating Procedures. Consistency is king, especially when it’s time to expand your driving school. Create a company structure and enforce it so your leaders always know who is responsible for what.
Once, that’s done, you’re ready to expand, right? Not so fast.
When I opened my first driving school, my systems and processes worked. Yes, I was organized and motivated. You know – a place for everything, and everything in its place.
That quickly changed as my business began to grow.
I quickly discovered that my core areas of business had to change, expand, and evolve along with my growing business.
Back in the early days, we used Dropbox for storage of all our digital files. This resource worked well for one location. For three? Not so much. We switched to Sharepoint. Check out this post to learn more about how the right software can help your driving school.
Here’s another example how I had to adapt to growth. When I opened my second driving school, my books were set-up to reflect overall sales, expenses, etc. That worked for one school, but not for two.
Until I separated my books entirely for each location, I had no clear picture of how each individual location was performing.
Do you see where I’m going?
Scaling my business for growth and expansion was no easy feat. Most driving schools remain small because they’re not scalable. Before expanding, you have to delve deep into your internal structure to prepare for growth.
Starting a new business wasn’t easy, right? Taking a leap to the next level is even harder. Without proper preparation to scale your infrastructure, it’s like driving in the dark. Without headlights and a compass.
Pro tip: Itemize all expenses and revenue for each and every location.
You have an expert leadership team in place, plus your infrastructure is scalable for growth.
It’s time to expand your driving school, right? Almost, but not quite.
You still have more homework to do before expanding. The next step is to study the competitive landscape of potential new locations.
If your current driving school is successful, congratulations. You are doing something right. No, I take that back. You are doing MOST things right!
You have driven down the road to success. It took a lot of sweat, energy and resources to get where you are now. So, I give you major credit for coming so far. You are a successful business owner and are hungry for a new level of success.
Before even considering opening a new location, I would highly suggest that you conduct some market research.
Hugely successful corporations like Coca-Cola and McDonalds spend hundreds of millions of dollars on market research.
But you don’t have to. As a small business owner with a bit of business and computer savviness, you can conduct your own marketing research.
Do you currently know all about your customers? How do they find out about your driving school? Word of mouth? Google search? Recommendation from friends? You need to know this information.
How far are they willing to travel to send their child to a quality driving school? 5, 7, or 10 miles? When considering opening a new school, it’s critically important to know your customer and their consumer behavior. Assumptions will NOT work. You need hard data when making the decision when and where to open a new school.
So, how do you uncover this information from your customers? The easiest way is to send them a survey after they have completed your Driver’s Ed program.
My marketing manager designed a survey that we send out once per month via Constant Contact, every month of the year.
We ask questions like…
- How did you hear about us?
- When choosing a driving school, what it the most important factor?
- Overall, how pleased were you with our services?
- How likely is it that you would recommend our driving school to a friend?
- What is the maximum distance that you would travel to a driving school?
- Do you have any suggestions for improvement?
She then compiles the answers into a report that is sent to my leadership team once per month. That way, we always know who our customer is, how she finds us, and what influences her purchase.
We then use this data to support decisions in every corner of our business, from marketing to operations and everything in between.
It’s also critically important to study the competition before deciding to expand your driving school.
The best tool to study your competition is a software program called SpyFu. For a monthly cost of $79, we can take the temperature of our competition.
Enter any domain and see every place they show up on Google.
You can also discover what lucrative words your competition is using and add them to your website or PPC campaigns. In fact, you can improve your driving school’s Google ranking by tapping into your competitors’ keywords.
So, you have taken all of the steps above and you’re ready to expand.
Now, it’s finally time to research potential locations and markets. If you’re interested in a particular area of town, be sure to study nearby high schools.
Do they offer Driver’s Ed in school? If so, this might not be the best area for expansion. Also, look at the demographics and income of households in the area. You can usually find this information on the city’s Chamber of Commerce website.
Look for areas that match your existing customer base, but competition is non-existent or limited.
Ready to expand your driving school?
Go for it, but remember this. It’s important to plan for growth as carefully as you did when you started your driving school.
Early profitability isn’t a green light for reckless expansion.
Are you looking for software to help you expand?