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Know Your Role

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Many of this industry’s leaders worked their way to the top from entry-level shop positions. For years, they swept floors, wrenched on cars and did all of the other day-to-day work that keeps a repair center in business. After paying their dues, they took on the responsibility of running the shop, or saved up enough cash to launch their own repair business. But, all too often, those owners don’t step back from the daily grind—they continue to be directly involved in the repair process, preventing them from focusing on larger business improvements. Sound familiar?  

You’ll notice a recurring theme in this issue—one that we’ll continue to drive home in future Ratchet+Wrench stories. It’s this: shops run at their peak when operators are working on rather than in their businesses. A shop operator who budgets, tracks cash flow, monitors productivity, leads staff and focuses on constant improvement is going to run a better business than an operator who spends each day under a hood. That’s a reality. But it’s not easy to get to that point.

Paul Eilenberger, the subject of this month’s cover story, “The Road to Profitability,”knows this well. His profit margins at Eilenberger’s Automotive in Overland Park, Kan., were minimal or nonexistent for years while he spent his days doing the work of a mechanic and service writer. With a consultant’s coaching, he gradually stepped out of those positions and began working as a true owner—concentrating on improving the shop’s average repair order, bumping up his labor rate, retooling the repair process, and making other changes to get his shop out of its rut.

Today, Eilenberger’s $1-million-a-year shop maintains a profit margin between 15 and 20 percent. The big boost has allowed him to invest in other business improvements, such as equipment and staff.

In some shops, a leadership partnership helps ensure that someone is paying attention to the big picture. In our feature story, “Opposites Attract,” on Terry Wynter Auto Service Center in Fort Myers, Fla., we look at husband-and-wife owners Terry and Kay Wynter, who split the duties of working on and in the business. Terry is directly involved in vehicle repairs, overseeing operations on the shop floor, while Kay handles the finances, marketing and administrative duties. Together, the partners have built a $2.4-million-a-year operation that repairs 600 vehicles a month.

“It’s one of those things, that if it were just me, we wouldn’t be successful,” Terry says. “And if it were just Kay, we wouldn’t be successful. We’re successful together.”

The bottom line is that shop leadership needs to pay attention to the business at large to be successful. It’s a message we hear from successful shop operators all the time.

And as you’re thinking about ways to work on your business, you can look to our Toolbox section for areas to improve. This month, we show you how to track your shop’s hours per repair order to maximize productivity (“Keeping Score”) and how to manage online reviews to bring in more customers (“Finding Your Customers’ Online Pulse”). You’ll also find advice for balancing  your many duties at the shop with life outside of work, both from columnist B.J. Lee in Shop Smarts and from shop owner Steve Neiffer in Repair Life.

If you’d like to share how you work on your business, send me an email. You might find yourself in the pages of Ratchet+Wrench

Jake Weyer

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