Craig Young Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

Craig Young will never forget the Sunday he called his management team in to discuss how Young Truck Sales Inc. would survive. After extremely strong sales in 1998 and 1999, the truck dealership market was heading for a crash. On that Sunday, Young and his team hammered out a plan that would allow the company to weather the storm. The plan included wage cuts — 5 percent for hourly workers, 10 percent for management staff and 15 percent for the owners. It was a risky move, because none of Young’s competitors had made cuts yet. Many of those dealers aren’t around anymore, and Young says his company wouldn’t be, either, if he hadn’t acted when he did. Young’s ability to see market changes coming and having the guts to make the necessary, tough changes have led Young Truck Sales through the lean times to 2006 revenue of $34 million. Smart Business spoke with Young about how to bring out hidden talents in your employees.

Focus on what makes you successful. You need to remember why you’re getting into the business. For me, I want to have a decent living and all that, but really, it is to serve our customers. Don’t lose focus on that.

It’s easy to get sidetracked in operational details or spending too much time looking at the financials. But what you’re really there for is to serve your customer base, whoever it is, and to make those people successful and yourselves successful.

As you grow, it’s easy to get sidetracked and not do that.

That’s where my cousin helps me get back on track. My cousin, Bob Young, is my partner. We have very different styles. I tend to be a bit more goal-oriented, he’s more customer focused. It gives us a nice balance. He reins me in, and I drag him forward.

HOW TO REACH: Young Truck Sales Inc., (800) 362-0495 or www.youngtrucks.com

Show your employees the importance of communication. I’m hard-pressed to come up with any problems we’ve had with customers that didn’t revolve around communications. It’s the hardest thing to do right.

In trying to get managers, employees and myself better at communicating, I find ways to show the cost of poor communications on an individual basis. One story was about a guy who was working on his boat. He went to the parts department to pick up the parts he’d asked for. But they didn’t tell him the rest of the story, like the other parts he’d need, so he broke down in the middle of the lake.

Just try to provide some examples to make them stop and say, ‘Yeah, that sucks when it happens. I don’t want to do that to our customers.’

I can’t think of anything harder in a business than keeping communications going.

Communications are really what it’s all about. Besides having meetings, I try to wander through our dealerships every day. It just helps me keep the feel for what’s going on and say good morning to all our mechanics and parts people.

Don’t try to cover up a bad decision. A bad decision can have at least two causes. If it’s a bad decision that’s made for the right reasons, you can live with those. We try to sit down and go through what happened to cause that decision. Every single time, it comes down to poor communications.

A lot of times when things go bad, people’s natural reaction is to cover it up and hope the problem will go away. That never works; at least it never worked for me. When a bad decision is made, you have to find out why and learn from it.

Occasionally, a bad decision is made by someone who is looking to enrich themselves personally at the expense of somebody else, or out of mean-spiritedness even. That’s the time

when I have to sit back and say, ‘Is this the right person for our company?’ That doesn’t happen often, thankfully.

Think before hitting the ‘send’ button. I use e-mail a fair amount, but that’s a very dangerous tool. Particularly when I’m angry, I’ve learned for whatever I write, don’t send it for at least a couple hours.

It’s too easy to say the wrong thing and hit the send button, and then it’s too late. Still, it’s an excellent tool to keep constant communication. It’s a great sword but it’s a sharp one.

Allow employees to take ownership of their ideas. I always encourage managers to come up with new ideas or products or opportunities. When they do, they’re given control of it, it becomes their baby to foster and help grow.

The latest example of this is a project with UPS Freight. The service manager at my Volvo store found out about it and said, ‘I think we should go after this business.’ We talked about how we could do it, it looked feasible, so we said, ‘Let’s go for it.’

He set up meetings and landed that business. He runs it all; he hired the guys to do the work. He’s taken total ownership of it, and it has become a very successful program for us. It’s given us three years of solid work, and in our business — which is very cyclical — that’s welcome.

Also, it gives the managers the opportunity to become entrepreneurs. So if they have that within them, they don’t have to take the total risk to do it. Plus, it keeps them from leaving to do it on their own, too.

Not all managers have that, and that’s OK — it’s not a requirement to be a manager. But those that do have it, I want them to be able to exercise it, and bring those qualities into their daily job.