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Marconi: Know Your Role

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It took me five years to realize that my place was not in the bays working on cars, but in my office working on my business.  It took me another 5 years of excuse-making to finally separate the technician-in-me from the business owner. When I started my business on October 1, 1980, I didn’t  fully understand my role as shop owner.  I thought my role was to be part of the technician’s team. Afterall, I had spent years honing my technical skills. 

Even after I put down my tools, every time there was a situation, such as losing a tech, a tech on vacation, being overbooked, or when we had a tough mechanical problem, I found myself being pulled back in the bays.  And each time this happened, my business would suffer a bit.

Once I learned my true role in business, the business grew more productive and more profitable.  Eventually, it became clear that in order to continue to grow my business, I had to hone a new set of skills. And that meant tearing away from the bays completely and head into my office, where I belonged.

Shop owners, you made the bold decision to become a business owner. You have an obligation to yourselves, your family, your employees, and to your community. You need to understand your role as a business owner, which means working on all the aspects of running and growing a successful business. For those technicians-turned business owners, this can be difficult. Shop owners who were never technicians, have an advantage, especially if they had a background in management or had prior business experience.

Now, to be fair, there are some shop owners that can play an active role in the mechanical side of the business, and their shops are profitable and successful.  But that is the exception, not the rule. Those shops have the right personnel in every key position, from management, office staff, technician’s team, and support staff.  It takes a very special group of employees, such as a family-structured business, to pull it off. From personal experience, and working as a business development coach, the owner of the business needs to be the leader of the company and working on all the facets that will make the business successful. That means putting down the tools.

Is there ever a time when it’s ok to go back into the bays?  For the most part, I would say no. Mostly because it’s an excuse and a crutch.   We are fooling ourselves to think that we are that good and that our business relies on our technical expertise to get the work done in the bays. If your business does rely on you being in the bays, you don’t have  a business that can run without you, which means you don’t have a sustainable business. Think about this, if the quarterback on a football team gets hurt and can’t finish the game, does the coach go running onto the field to take over that position?  Is the coach the “best” person to fill that position?  Don’t think this is a realistic analogy? Think again. It is!

There is one exception, and that’s the situation I call, “All hands, on deck.”  There are times, such as last year with COVID, when involvement of all team members is required in all positions. This, however, should be a short-term, interim plan, and never a long-term strategy.   

Another thing to consider is the dollar value of your business.  When the time comes for you to exit your business, it will need to be evaluated.  One of the first things that will be considered by a potential buyer, is how active is the shop owner with the day-to-day operations.  The truth is your business is worth more if you are not directly involved in the business.

Here’s the bottom line. You can’t lead your company from under the hood of a car. Nor can you lead your shop stuck in your office all day either.  You need to find that balance between being so far entrenched in the action and too far detached from the day-to-day operations. Too close to the action, and your perspective narrows to a point where you fail to see the other critical issues of running the business. Too far removed, and you don’t know what’s going on in your shop at all. This balance will allow you to enjoy your life, spend quality time with family and friends, and create a more profitable business. Remember, you are not just someone who happens to own a business. Accept your role as the business owner.

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