The majority of the correspondence I put out in the name of GDL is intentionally made to look like it was not published or re-released by myself. This is an attempt to wean customers off the need to speak and deal with me directly and to be comfortable doing business with the staff I have employed. This allows me to focus on growing the business. Unfortunately, as the company continues to grow I can no longer be all things to all people. For many clients, this has been a difficult transition and in some cases, we have lost valuable clients as the personal relationship with myself was what attached them to GDL in the early days.
However, this is different. This is direct from me as the director of GDL, this is my experience of 2023 complete with its battles both victorious and our less favorable moments. I have written this intending to be as transparent as possible.
Wrapping up a year and starting a new one is the typical time for both individuals and corporations to evaluate the years past, the wins, and the defeats. From there we start setting goals and ambitious dreams for the year. GDL is no different aside from some of the thinking around this only happens at the start of the year. One or two goals are scribbled down on a napkin in some second-rate club over an overcooked steak. This is not how GDL does this, rather we find some mediocre food establishments monthly and outline up to ten goals monthly, always with the larger twelve-month ambitious goal in mind.
Here we give our database an inside look at what we faced in 2023, with all the dirty laundry.
Firstly the challenges and lessons learnt.
A decade-long battle on the personal front with an anxiety condition continued in 2023 with some positive developments. My mental battles fortunately don’t come with depression in the traditional sense which makes it easier to tackle as I am not miserable about situations perceived or reality. Anxiety manifests itself in the form of panic, the sensation one gets when you miss a step in the dark and your body surges with adrenaline, only it lasts for hours. My reading and media consumption on this topic suggest most entrepreneurs suffer from some sort of mental disorder and those who are successful on a global scale often display personality disorders in the form of psychopathic or narcissistic disorders.
Developments on this front have seen huge improvements after committing to physical exercise in the form of actually bothering to turn up to the gym three times a week. This task has been a huge challenge even after seeing the benefits of reduced need for medication.
On a personal level, I have faced the challenges of running GDL throughout 2023 along with the untimely but not entirely unexpected passing of both my grandfathers in the same year. In January 2023 a trip to Adelaide was made to attend and farewell my father’s father, a military funeral followed by a lengthy Presbyterian service in a stone chapel lacking air conditioning. Later in the year, an opportunity was available to visit my mother’s father before he passed. This meant several trips to Canberra to say goodbyes, have a funeral and burial as well as opportunities to catch up with family. Both men were elderly and had diagnoses before passing, allowing the family to process the situation and loss making the situation easier to process. The passing of family members creates a strange humbling experience that can only be identified by those who are failure with it. It is something I am all too familiar with due to my mother’s passing a few years back.
The single greatest challenge facing the entire automotive industry is a skills shortage. There are many theories as to why this is the case including salaries, schools driving teenagers into university educations, and an emerging workforce that simply is not willing to put in the hard work to achieve a qualification. All of these ring some truth but no one cause is solely to blame.
It is my personal opinion that the primary cause for this is a direct result of the technology age we live in. Young people are used to a “have it now” mentality. You want to watch a movie, download and watch, you want something to eat, uber eats and it arrives. Unfortunately, the is no app to fast-track an apprenticeship. It is four years of hard work for a minimal wage and no matter how you cut it, you can not sidestep or expedite experience. The young people of today entering the workforce have never experienced what it is to wait and work for something of worth. The concept of delayed gratification is alien to them and they simply are not willing to see it out. Throughout the lifetime of GDL, we have started sixteen individuals in an apprenticeship. Only one has completed it with GDL and one other left and completed it with a dealership, Five are still employed with GDL. The remaining nine all started and left the trade, in most cases just before the one-year anniversary.
The above figures may surprise you as far as the volume of young people employed at GDL. This was a deliberate attempt to combat the skills shortage which has proven unsuccessful. Finding staff of any skill level in 2021 was extraordinarily difficult. The reasoning was put down to Covid and the mass exodus of foreign employees due to the workforce being laid off or put on Jobkeeper. The strategy taken on in 2023 was to employ and train young people to GDLs standards, this strategy has so far proven unsuccessful based on the attrition rate.
One of the great success stories of 2023 is the growth and expansion of our Hornsby location which I will address later but the mistake I made in 2023 was to focus so heavily on the Hornsby store that the Warriewood branch was somewhat neglected. This resulted in an eroding culture in the Warriewood team and the GDL standards were not met. Several staff were not suitable for the roles they were in and an attitude of doing the bare minimum, entitlement, and arrogance set in. A problem that seems to be consistent with young people we have employed living in Sydney affluent suburbs which have a reputation for producing problematic adolescents at the best of times. This has done significant damage to the brand and reputation of the company with all metrics for the Warriewood store taking a significant drive when the industry is reporting steady growth post covid. This demonstrated a change was urgently needed which we have begun implementing in the last quarter of 2023. A super disappointing situation to be in given that the branch is a fifteen-year-old store with over six thousand names in the database but for most of the 2024 year was propped up by the Hornsby branch and its success.
A new experienced branch manager has commenced at Warriewood, problematic and toxic staff have been moved on, some staff relocated to the Hornsby store for training and new staff started in late 2023 at our Warriewood branch. It is anticipated that this turnaround may take the best part of 2024 to get back to where it should be.
As the company expands rather rapidly so does the level of what we deem unreasonable and hot-headed people. Three separate clients took GDL down the path of legal disputes in 2023, of those three only one had a legitimate claim which was for a faulty part. A situation that is all too common in our industry and easily resolved without the need for dragging someone through court. The other two were lengthy battles that contributed highly to stress and a mental health situation I already struggled with. In both cases these disputes were finalised and found in favor of GDL, however, this did not stop one of those two from reacting to the court order by offering up abuse followed by a death threat. The joys of owning a small business
The overarching battle most small businesses are still battling with is the knock-on effect of COVID-19. Lockdown hit six months after we opened the Hornsby store. GDL had taken on significant debt to open that branch and had commitments to repay that debt despite the lockdown. GDL made a promise to its people that at no point would their jobs be in jeopardy as a result of Covid, to deliver on this promise additional funds were required which were sourced putting the business in further debt. This was later eased with the introduction of job jobkeeper and job saver but didn’t fully cover the gap promised to our team members. The thinking was that if we looked after our staff, they in turn would look after the company, unfortunately, we did not see that become a reality and the majority of the people we protected throughout the lockdown have since moved on from GDL.
After the easing of lockdowns, the auto industry continued to struggle as motor vehicles that were returning to service centers had traveled very little distances throughout the lockdown so cars required little to no maintenance for the first twelve months after the lockdown lifted. This means the auto industry is only just now starting to return to a degree of normality which was then stifled by the hikes in interest rates which resulted in customers’ reluctance to spend again. Both of these economic hurdles have hurt GDLs cash flow resulting in delays in clearing the debts.
The victories of the year are many.
The key success is overall the gross revenue targets for both stores combined were met. This was done by the Hornsby exceeding expectations whilst the Warriewood store was struggling.
This has allowed us to employ additional staff and in October 20233 open the adjoining site at the Hornsby branch. this doubled the infrastructure allowing Hornsby to go from a five-bay workshop to a ten-bay workshop.
Our Hornsby store manager has shown huge potential and has developed his customer service, leadership, and operation skills with the aid of a leadership and strategy coach we have engaged with. Brandon has held the captains’ chair so to speak for a few years now however the results for 2023 are close to doubling the gross sales of the year before. The goal for 2024 is to double with the new infrastructure in place.
The staff challenges mentioned earlier were addressed very late in the year with the options to employ foreigners looking for residency visas in Australia. This has allowed us to employ several staff from different nationalities with large amounts of experience, directly combating the attrition and poor work ethic we are combating from locally sourced adolescents.
BNI (Business Networking International) has been a key part of both my personal support network and a source of clients, referrals, and revenue. in 2023 $200K worth of revenue can be attributed directly to our membership of this networking organisation in the past twelve months. Much of this is a result of GDL being a key sponsor to a district awards event hosted at Dee Why RSL early in 2023.
Our social media and in particular our YouTube channel has not only become an unexpected success but is now generating a small income on its own simply based on the volume of people viewing our content. This was an unexpected benefit as it was solely intended to be a source of credibility, primarily around our Jeep and Land Rover Expertise.
A partnership with Col Crawford Jeep has allowed us to cater to the Jeep community with both parts and diagnostic works. The relationship has been beneficial in a number of aspects, primarily our Jeep owners get a bit of a queue jump if they come through GDL. This relationship has continued to grow after a sit down with the big wigs at Col Crawford later in the year to discuss the future developments of our arrangement including the possibility of partnering in a way that offers GDL clients a financial perk if purchasing a vehicle from Col Crawford in exchange for some cross marketing. Something that will be unpacked in more detail early in 2024.
Staying on the Jeep theme, our key supplier of used parts for our Jeep clients is based in Melbourne. Discussions have commenced with this company around the prospects of partnering and opening a Melbourne based branch. This led to the commencement of a road train arrangement that allows us to transport Jeeps from Victoria to our Hornsby site on a fortnightly basis.
As for the goals of 2024. What is GDL Striving for?
Our primary focus for the first quarter is to get warriewood back on track. From there apart from some ambitious revenue targets including the figures we would like to see from BNI we have plans to continue to grow with the intention to expand in the forms of – used car sales, Jeep parts and accessories, the possibility of the Melbourne store opening. All of these will require staff to join the team, both to oversee these new ventures and to allow the Hornsby store to reach its targets. One of the early roles needed to be filled is our Hornsby store Workshop controller, a task I am currently doing which is preventing myself from being able to focus on the development of the company. Some promising interviews have already taken place in the new year and I’m hopeful to have the position filled tentatively.
I intend to sponsor the BNI awards event in 2024, I am in talks with Pittwater uniting Church to sponsor the annual Christmas Carols event in December 2024 as well as exploring a charity/ fundraising variety bash in the name of GDL.
Overall I feel 2023 was exceptionally challenging but we were moving in the right direction. Its a cliche but to use the word excited it is most accurate. The dream for GDL is day by day becoming a reality. Often it’s difficult to see when you’re living in the trenches so to speak but 2024, the people we are working with and our ambitions goals are something that really gets me excited.
I am looking forward to doing business with you in 2024.
Happy new year.