Running a Shop Leadership How to Lead

Learning to be a True Shop Owner

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Perhaps the most difficult challenge for a mechanic who has become a shop owner is giving up control of day-to-day operations. Like many of us, the years of mechanical training never properly prepared us for the world of business. However, we eventually learn one undeniable fact; the skills of mechanics won’t really help you in the world of business. But even more important for a shop owner’s sanity is learning to let go.   

The life of a shop owner can be filled with issues and problems that have no beginning and no end. A shop owner doesn’t always have an 8 to 5 job. Holidays and vacations are sometimes an annoyance, an obstacle to all the things we need to get done. Take a sick day? Not usually. Just as a parent always has her child on her mind, we can never put our child, our business, out of our mind. We not only go the extra mile, but go to extremes to get the job done. 

My first ten years in business was a relentless marathon, where one day blended into the next. I remember in June of 1985, working through the night before my daughter’s Baptism, to finish all the work, so I could make it to the church on time. When my son had a Little League game on a Saturday, I would open the shop at 4 a.m., do as much work as I could and then leave for his game, only to return to the shop after the game to finish any undone repairs. One Christmas morning I got to the shop at 3 a.m., finished a brake job for a customer and returned home just in time to see my kids wake up and open their gifts. Crazy? I guess. But until you’ve walked in the work boots of a shop owner, you really can’t judge. 

This marathon we call running a shop will take its toll in the long run if change does not occur. Shop owners go through an evolution. The early stages, as I described above, involve a period when the entire world rests on our shoulders. This is a time when we forget about our own well-being and do whatever it takes to conquer any issue or problem that we encounter. It’s also a time when we undergo a great deal of mental stress. Day after day, year after year, we solve problems. We deal with rising insurance costs, bounced checks, comebacks, disgruntled employees, angry customers, the economy, changing technology and so much more. We rarely ask for help and do our best to find the answers to our problems. 

For me, it took a little over a decade, but after nearly going broke both financially and emotionally, I learned that in order to grow the business and to enjoy life, I needed help from others around me. To thrive, and not merely survive, takes a deep understanding in the mechanics of business and not just the mechanics of auto repair. I eventually learned that leadership is not a one-man band. We, as shop owners, don’t have to answer every phone call, diagnose every car or handle every business or customer issue. I needed to let go. 

When you start to let go, your view of the world around you begins to change. We learn to put our trust in others, mentor others, and we learn that letting go actually allows us to be more in control over life and our destiny. We begin to have vision, and hold not only ourselves accountable, but others around us, too.  

For shop owners who have evolved and have learned to let go, you know exactly what I am referring to. For shops owners new to the world of business or those still reacting to the fires each day, you may not totally see it, but trust me, what I speak of is true. You will go through an evolutionary process. You start out thinking you are the center of your universe, a lone star not affected by the forces around us. You will learn that you are not a lone star. Letting go is not losing control, letting go puts you in control. 

Life has a way of passing us by too quickly. Embrace your own transformation, learn from your experiences, bring out the best in the people around you, and continue to evolve. 

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