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How I Work >> Wayne Watson

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Wayne Watson learned things the hard way. He owned his first shop at 24, and while his youthful enthusiasm may have helped lessen the stress, the fact remained: He didn’t know much about running his own business. “It was something where I really had to learn as I went. It’s do or die; you either learn a lot—and quickly—or you’re not going to be in business anymore,” he says.

Now 44, Watson has not only steered Auto Works Automotive Service Center, located in Woodbury, Minn., for the past 20 years, but he’s also become a mentor in his community. He teaches at his alma mater in Minneapolis, mentors fellow shop owners, and coaches his employees. Education and teaching have become a focal point for Watson’s daily life.

The one thing about this business that really attracted me to it was that every day is different. My dad works for UPS and has for 44 years. A job like that, you’re driving the same streets, doing the same thing every day. That has no attraction to me. Every day I show up at a repair facility, it’s going to be different—different customers, different issues. I love that about it.

I normally get up at about 5:30 a.m., and on a typical day when I’m teaching, the first thing is to get mentally prepared. For me that means exercise, whether it’s running or biking or something like that. I just need 30 minutes to an hour to get myself going.

The classes I speak at are usually in the afternoon, so I’ll go into the shop first thing in the morning. One thing I identified in my life early on is that I’m most effective in the morning. Between eight o’clock and noon, I can get a lot done, I can stay focused, and I can take on some pretty heavy challenges. In the afternoon, my energy kind of dies off, and I’m not as motived. In the morning, I’ll typically go through yesterday’s repairs and see what happened. Depending on the day, it can take anywhere from an hour to two or three hours. It’s a lot of monitoring
and analyzing.

My day-to-day role has really changed over the last 12 months. My focus changed much more to working on the business rather than in the business. I do a lot of budgeting, forecasting and analyzing on a day-to-day basis, some marketing, too. We have a lot of Internet traffic, and I manage all of that. Mainly, I’m more of a manager these days, and that includes coaching my employees and doing the necessary little things that go with running a business.

I try to get a lot of that type of work done in the first couple hours, and then my morning usually leads to two different areas: my employees, then back to the computer.

The first thing is talking with the staff. There may be some areas that we need to improve on, there may be some areas they’re doing really well on.

I do a fair amount of hands-on teaching and motivating. I’d like to do more. The challenge is that when it gets busy, which we’re typically very busy, it’s hard to stop your staff in the day and pull them aside to give them those teaching moments. You have to respect what they have going on and let them stay focused on what they are doing. Some times you have to get kind of creative. Looking for those windows of opportunity and taking advantage of them is the biggest thing.

When you think of teaching your staff, you think of sitting down with them one-on-one, but that’s not often the case. We have an instant messaging system that runs through our network here, and everyone has a computer nearby. So a lot of times, teaching might involve sending instant messages or emails or something like that. Then they can look at those when they have the time and respond back or come talk with me. There are a lot of different avenues you can use for teaching; it doesn’t have to be just sitting down one-on-one.

I spend a fair amount of time after that back on the computer, going over our Internet traffic and the social networking aspects of our business. That pretty much brings me up to lunchtime.

The afternoons I try to keep open for different projects, like employee reviews, or I try to spend some time out at the front counter or talking with the employees out in the shop. Being that I started out as a mechanic, I just try to chat with them about what they’re doing and be there for them to bounce different things off me. Maybe they’re trying to figure something out on a vehicle. I really try to spend time keeping a pulse on my business and what’s going on.

If there are some projects that need to be done, the afternoon is good for that. For the past several years, I’ve worked with some other shop owners in my area, in terms of going to their facilities and working with them a couple hours a week here or there on some different things, kind of behind the scenes. It’s kind of like mentoring. I just try to lend my experience to whatever issues they may have at the time.

Some people probably think it’s a little weird that I’d help out and teach people who are considered my competitors. And, yeah, I guess it is a little, but it’s all in how you look at it. My philosophy is that it’s my purpose to help people achieve their full potential. I look at it that way, and also in working with these other shops, I’ve learned a lot, too. It’s helped us be better as a shop. It ends up being a two-way street. Again, it’s all in how you look at it.

I do a lot of that in the afternoon, and that’s also when I usually speak at Dunwoody College of Technology. Dunwoody is a technical college in Minneapolis, and it’s where I first learned the trade.

I had never really given much thought to teaching in that setting before, but a couple years ago, through the alumni program, they reached out to me. They came and looked at my shop and talked with us. While they were there, I was talking to them about an experience I had as a student that still stuck out to me: It was a shop owner who came in and spoke with us about what it took to run your own shop and what you needed to be successful. The tips in that talk were things I’ve used ever since, like dealing with customers and running the business aspects of a shop.

When talking with the people from Dunwoody about it all, I told them if there was ever a time they wanted me to do the same, I’d be happy to. They called not much after that saying they’d like me to speak to a class about quality control in shops.

I used to be scared to death to speak in front of people, but I’ve gotten comfortable with it and learned a few things over the years. It’s one of those things I’ve kind of acquired a taste for now; you just have to keep doing it to
get comfortable.

I usually speak for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the class set up. I’ve been doing a handful of classes each semester—maybe three or so, on average—for the past two years. My whole talk is based around the quality cycle. It’s a combination of things I put together from some different books I’ve read and seminars I’ve been a part of and life lessons.

After class, I’m back at the shop. There are always two really busy times of day at a shop: when people drop off vehicles in the morning, and when they pick them up between five and six at night.

I generally leave around six when we close. My wife and I have younger kids—four of them—ages 8 to 20. We had an 8-year-old in hockey, and they get one or two nights off a week. Other than that, you’re at a practice or a game or a tournament every night. When I’m not at work, I’m at home doing family things. Then it’s just on to the next day and something new.

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