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Finding the Right Business Coach

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More than 30 years into his career in the automotive repair industry, Bryan Stasch has come to a conclusion about healing what ails the average service center: “You can fix any shop in the country,” he says, “but you can’t fix every owner.”

For a shop to truly make the changes necessary to be successful, the shop operator has to have the correct mindset to allow change to take place, he says. Change starts and ends with the person in charge.

Sometimes, shop owners need a bit of a push in the right direction—more often, they need an aggressive shove in a whole new direction.

“You can go through all the life-changing training you want, but it all comes back to being able to implement these changes in your business,” he says.

It all comes down to the owner, Stasch adds, and it can all come down to that owner receiving the right coaching.

Stasch, a former general manager of a 10-facility repair operation, is a vice president with the Automotive Training Institute (ATI), tasked, in part, with aligning many of ATI’s 1,200 or so clients with its 21 coaches.

Finding that right match between coach and shop owner is absolutely crucial, says Gary Gunn, founder and president of Turnaround Tour. Gunn has worked with shop owners as a business coach since 1979, and he says that relationship between coach and shop owner can just as easily lead to failure as it does to success.

Matching yourself to the right business coach can seem daunting, but Gunn and Stasch say the process is simpler than you might think. They helped Ratchet+Wrench outline a two-part process to picking the coach that best suits you and your business.

An Important Concept

Gunn says to get one thing straight from the onset: You are the one paying for the coach’ services; they are coming in to work for you.

That being said, finding a coach should be treated the same way as you would handle hiring any other employee.

“Don’t let a coach or company sell you their services,” he says. “You need to be controlling the process. You need to be interviewing them.”

To do that, you need to fully understand your own business and yourself as a leader, and then use that information to determine whether a coach’s methods, philosophies and personality match up.

Part One: Internal Review

Just like any hiring process, choosing a business coach should start with a self-evaluation of your company and yourself as the leader of it, Stasch says.

Ask yourself these questions:

How do you define your business? Look at it in terms of the overall business model—the size of your facility, how many employees you have, what type of services you offer, what type of vehicles you service, etc.

What is the state of your business? Be honest with yourself, Gunn says. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and how that affects output. Know the ins and outs of your business’s health.

What’s the end goal? Stasch and Gunn both say it’s critical to have an end vision in mind for your business. Know what you want to get out of your shop, and know where you want to take it.

How do you characterize your personality? “It’s simple, but it’s absolutely crucial to really understand what makes you tick,” Gunn says.

What is your leadership style? This is different than the previous question. Stasch says to determine whether you are a more direct, authoritative leader or a strategist when making business decisions and interacting with employees.

How do you learn best? Gunn says to evaluate yourself as a learner: What environments do you learn best in? What teaching methods are most effective for you?

Are you willing to travel? The majority of coaches make in-shop visits, but some also hold events and group meetings outside your area. Determine your commitment level, Gunn says.

What’s your budget? Cost shouldn’t be the most important factor, both coaches say, but it’ll ultimately play a role.

Part Two: Interviewing the Coach

The foundational business practices of a successful shop can be universal, Stasch says. But how they’re achieved, implemented and maintained is different in every shop.

Simply put: There’s no true one-size-fits-all solution.

“If someone promises you a silver bullet to fix your business, then run,” Gunn says with a laugh.

True change is a process, often a lengthy one. You need the right person to help you through that transition.

There are a number of crucial elements to evaluate in each coach before entering into a working relationship:

1. Personality. This is of the utmost importance, Stasch says, but that doesn’t mean the coach should have a similar personality to yours, but rather that he or she needs to have a personality you can match up well with. They need to be someone you’re willing to listen to, and who’s willing to listen to you, he says.

2. Leadership Style. Are they direct or more analytical in their approach? Are they going to push you into action or make you take a step back and evaluate? Again, this doesn’t need to match your own style; in fact, Stasch usually matches up clients and coaches who are opposites in this area. It helps to create a balance, he says.

3. Business Principles and Overall Philosophy. The coach’s concepts of customer service, efficiency, work ethic, etc. must align with yours, Gunn says. And their overall principles need to mesh with your goal for your business.

4. Walk the Talk. The coach can’t be all talk, Gunn says. They should act and operate in accordance with the principles and philosophies they try to instill in you.

5. Industry Knowledge and Area of Expertise. It seems obvious enough, but Stasch says many make the mistake of hiring coaches that use blanket principles that cover all industries, rather than focusing on the niche of auto repair centers. Find someone who knows this industry inside and out, he says. And, Gunn says, having someone with an entrepreneurial background helps them relate to your own challenges as a business owner.

6. Coaching Experience. How many clients do they have? What type of shops do they normally work with? Stasch says that you’ll benefit greatly from a coach who has worked with shops across the map in terms of scale and location, and can demonstrate how changes have worked in other businesses.

7. Teaching Style. Playing off how you best learn, find out the coach’s teaching methods.

8. Accountability. How does the coach hold you accountable to your changes? This can be one of the most important elements of making change work in your business and keeping you on track. Are there clear methods for checking results? Is there regular evaluation?

9. Graduation. A coach should be teaching you how to run the business better—on your own. They shouldn’t be holding your hand and doing everything for you, Gunn says, forcing you to rely solely on them for success. That’s not sustainable long term. There should be a clear plan to your autonomy. Basically, when do you graduate?

10. Accessibility. Is the coach available when you need him or her? Can you call with regular questions? How often will you meet in person? These are all very important questions, Stasch says.

11. Access to Other Clients. It’s unlikely you’ll be your coach’s only client, so, Gunn says, it would be to your advantage to be able to network with his or her other clients.

12. Contract and Cost. Like dating, Gunn says, it can take a while to know for sure if you find the one. He advises not being trapped in a long-term contract. Stasch has his clients go through a handful of initial meetings with a coach before finalizing the assignment. In terms of cost, Gunn says to be absolutely clear on what that money gets you—and for how long. 

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