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How to Overcome Your Next Roadblock

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SHOP STATS: Autobahn Automotive Location:  Sea Girt, N.J.  Owner: Dave McClung  Average Monthly Car Count: 168  Staff Size: 9 (1 owner, 1 service manager/advisor, 1 service advisor, 1 shop foreman, 4 technicians, 1 general service/quality control technician)  Number of Lifts/Bays:  Shop Size: 6,600 square feet  ARO: $900 Annual Revenue: $1,820,000 

Every business is bound to endure hardship. You may not go bankrupt or face closing your shop, but any successful business owner will tell you they’ve struggled at many points in their business journey in many ways—whether that be a botched marketing plan, an expansion attempt before the business was truly ready, or a major life event that affects the business.

Challenges like these can put a dent in the confidence and mental fortitude of any business owner. Yet, the key to recovery doesn’t hinge on the hurdles faced, but the steps taken to overcome those roadblocks. Dave McClung, owner of Autobahn Automotive in Sea Girt, N.J. shares how he overcame one of his biggest roadblocks to keep his business moving forward.

The Problem

For McClung, hardship came through no fault of his own. He was paralyzed from the waist down in December of 2004 after a tumor in his spinal cord popped while working at his shop in an unexpected and life altering turn of events.

The challenge for McClung, who ran the shop mostly on his own, was overcoming not only the physical, but the mental hurdles that came with the injury. For any shop owner or operator who’s gone through hardship, the challenge of clearing those mental hurdles is often the most pivotal to overcome, he says.

The Solutions

Start small.

McClung wasn’t going to recover from his injury overnight. It was going to take months and months of steady physical and mental progress before he could return to any sense of normalcy.He finds that a similar mindset should be applied in business. Recovering from a failed expansion or the wrong hire won’t get fixed overnight.

McClung recommends starting small. He first began working from his wheelchair, which caused him to move much slower and lose a lot of business. Slowly he was able to regain the ability to walk with the help of a walker. Soon enough his physical injury progressed to a limp and the business began to rebound.

Getting too caught up in the bigger picture is when the situation can feel overwhelming, he says. McClung took his push for progress day-by-day. Don’t think about what needs to get done by the end of the year, think about what can be completed today, he says. Starting with a few small tasks builds a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue on and handle the bigger tasks.

For McClung that meant getting back into the shop and working on whatever he was able to, starting with pulling engines and repairing cylinder heads. His nephew would set cars on the lift for him. If a two-hour job was now going to take eight hours because of his limitations, that’s what was going to happen. He wasn’t focused on the bigger picture. Focusing on the day-to-day helped him slowly rebuild his mental, emotional, and physical strength so he could later tackle larger issues.

Make a plan and go. 

At the time of the injury, McClung and his wife had just had their fifth child. His family depended on the business.

“I couldn’t let them down,” he says. “Nobody was going to do it for me. I needed to do it.”

McClung was back in the shop soon after the injury in order to keep the business afloat.

For many shop owners, it’s hard to get over that mental hurdle following a hardship and the constant questioning of future decisions that can come with it. McClung advises that shop owners focus on getting started and taking action, rather than feeling sorry for themselves, retreating from the day-today, or taking a conservative approach to the business. Just because an expansion fails, doesn’t mean it can’t be tried again.

But, the first step in this process is creating a plan, McClung says. Ask yourself, ‘What went wrong the first time? What can be changed to ensure it doesn’t happen again?’ Or, when overcoming something like a financial debt, ‘What is the time frame this might require?’

“If a shop has $100,000 debt, that could be an overwhelming and debilitating mental roadblock. But take a closer look at it. Break down what needs to be paid every year, month and day to pay off the debt. That will put it into a much better and less intimidating perspective,” McClung says.

The Aftermath

McClung’s injury happened in December 2004. By the end of 2005, McClung was walking again and the shop had regained its momentum. Through the process, McClung made sure to not feel bad for himself, or become timid. He knew those actions could cause greater hardship. Nobody expects to run into tough times, especially like something McClung encountered, so when it happens, it can crack the confidence of even the most motivated owners. The recovery process might be slow, McClung says, but pushing forward is a necessity.

The Takeaway

For McClung, failure only comes if you’ve given up, and “I’ve never given up on anything I’ve ever done,” he says. 

At the same time, he acknowledges there were some dark days. Those will happen. But hardship is going to happen for any business, whether it’s a botched expansion or a marketing plan that didn’t hit the mark. Getting over a mental roadblock and the fear that comes with encountering hardship is one of the hardest steps.

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