Sustaining 'Entrepreneurial Seizure'

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In The E Myth, one of the most important business books of our time, author Michael Gerber coined the phrase “entrepreneurial seizure.”

It clearly and accurately describes the delusional fog you enter into just before you hock the family jewelry, take your life savings and whatever you can borrow from friends and family, pull the trigger and open your own automotive service business on borrowed money, a prayer and the earnest belief everything will turn out OK.

It’s what happens when the fuzzy logic of dreams and desires crushes the reality of planning and preparation: when the belief that anyone could do a better job than “that clown in the office” takes precedence over the reality that running a business—any business—takes more than just having your name on the building and a key to the front door.

Entrepreneurial seizures are a part of this nation’s economic heritage, as old as the notion of free enterprise itself. It is how industries and economies are born and sustain themselves: the young and not-so-young taking over from old and established. But, it presupposes there will always be a contingent of “young, and not-so-young” patiently awaiting the opportunity to do just that.

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This issue of Ratchet is features the stories of a couple of young shop owners who have survived the trauma of their own entrepreneurial seizures. I think you will enjoy meeting them and hearing their stories. But, there is another story hidden beneath those shared here: a darker story, a story of attrition.

In order for our industry to sustain itself and survive, there must be a host of technicians, managers and service writers from which the next wave of new shop owners can be drawn. A powerful argument can be made that this is no longer the case: that there aren’t enough young people entering the trade to sustain the repair community or the service segment of the Aftermarket.

This is not something new. It was the central theme of a “State of the Industry” message I presented to the Equipment & Tool Institute at their Annual Meeting in 1984, and the threat of that shortage is just as real today as it was then. 

Over the past 28 years, we’ve watched school districts across the nation emasculate their vocational education programs. We’ve watched the critical shortage of skilled technicians blossom. And, we’ve done little or nothing as individuals or as an industry to intercede.

We haven’t offered the programs, schools or teachers the support they both want and need. And, in all fairness, the educational establishment hasn’t done a very good job of engaging or mobilizing the industry.

There is an obvious disconnect between the educational component of vocational training and the largest single segment of the industry for which these kids are being trained: a disconnect that fails to take into consideration the harsh realities of running a small (traditional) independent repair shop.

We are preparing kids for entry-level positions in an industry with no clear, universally accepted definition of what entry-level actually means, or a sufficient understanding of the work environment into which these kids will be thrust. Shop owners are not prepared to engage (translate: help complete their training) these kids, nor does their curriculum adequately reflect the true nature of a production shop’s work environment and the infinite number of different tasks they will need to confront at any given moment on any given day.

And, what about classroom training in service sales or shop management? How many hours of training are available in either?

The answer seems clear: re-examine the relationship that exists between technical education and the practical application of that knowledge. The good news is we can REPAAIR this!

We can Reach out to the dedicated professionals entrusted with the education of that next generation of entrepreneurs. We can Engage them in a dialogue designed to improve their current reality and ours. We can Participate in Advisory Groups and Internship Programs. We can Adopt a local program and Adapt Best Practices in our classrooms and service bays. We can become Involved to ensure everything we do is Relevant, that the education we offer the future of our industry leads to success in both the classroom and in our service bays.

We are still a nation on wheels. But, the wheels will surely come off if we fail to invest in the future. We will fail if we are unable or unwilling to make a significant commitment to that future, to education, training and the next generation of new owners.

And, if we fail, stories about young, dynamic, innovative, successful shop owners will become all the more rare. If we fail, there will be no one to buy you out, no one to fund your retirement, and no one to take this industry into the future.


Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi, Calif. He is a longtime industry educator, trade journalist, author and seminar facilitator. Contact him at mschneider@ratchetandwrench.com.

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