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When Helping Isn't Helping

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Being an auto repair shop owner can be challenging at times, especially when you wear too many hats. I know as the owner you are called upon lots of times for many things. Your business will run like clockwork if you set it up correctly and stick to your guns. I know from firsthand experience as a master technician that when I opened my first shop many years ago, the concept of not working on cars was difficult for me, but in time, it made a lot of sense.

I can remember going to an automotive management training seminar more than 20 years ago that was taught by the late Jim Hunt (founder of Educational Seminars Institute and a really great guy). He said, “Take your toolbox home, you’re not going to need it anymore.” That was frightening to me. What would I do? I have to fix cars, right? Not if you want to fix your business, Hunt said. I had to take my pick: business or cars! He was spot on.

The other day, I was working in the shop and we were very busy. My service advisor came out to the shop and started replacing a battery in a customer’s car. The first thing that came to my mind was, who is taking care of the counter and phones? There were no customers in the office at that time, but there certainly were things for him to be doing, like estimating, ordering parts, answering the phone if it rings, etc. It is his job to do his job and do it to the best of his ability.

Photo by Ron Villanueva

He is a pretty good technician, but was not hired as one. Right away I asked him what he was doing. He said, “I know you’re busy, so I was just going to change this battery real quick so you don’t have to deal with it.” I told him that I would take care of it. Later I discussed it with him, went over his job description and the importance of his position.

When you don’t stay focused on your position, you get out of control, things get missed, customers don’t get the service they deserve and the business loses money. Trying to wear too many hats never works and should be avoided at all costs.

There will be times when you will be put in a position where you need to work in the shop, write service, etc. I recently lost my diagnostic technician, so I needed to work in the shop until I could find someone qualified to fill the position. But the key here is to try to find balance between working in the business and running the business. If you focus too much on one area, the other one fails, and in my book failing is not an option. If you must spend 100 percent of your time in the shop, then you need a manager that can manage 100 percent of the time.

Remember, sometimes helping is actually hindering the process, so know your role and stick to it.

B.J. Lee has worked in the automotive repair industry for more than 30 years. He is an industry consultant and trainer for and owner of Stellar Performance Inc. in 29 Palms, Calif.

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