How to Lead Leadership

How I Work | Richie Sleezer

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When Richie Sleezer’s son started working in his Bohemia, N.Y., franchise shop, Lee Myles Transmissions & AutoCare, Sleezer quickly realized he needed to get out of his son’s way. With that in mind, he decided to step away from working every day in the shop and transitioned to working from his home office. Now he’s able to focus on the shop’s finances, marketing and procedures—and even a second business venture.

Have you ever watched the show American Chopper, about the custom motorcycle shop that’s owned by a father and son? You know how Senior’s always ranting and raving, throwing things and breaking doors? Well, I’m proud to say my son and I have never done that at our shop. But you do realize how much business can change family relationships, especially now that I’m training my son to replace me as the owner.

Every shop owner will say there’s no one who can do a better job than they can. But if you never give the person coming up the chance to develop, you’ll never know if they have the ability to run the shop better than you can. I knew I had solid people in the shop and I still had something to offer, but I needed to figure out how to break away.

This shop is my baby. I’ve been in the industry for more than 40 years, and I started my own business in 1993 with my partner, neighbor and best friend. We busted our butts working seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. But quite frankly, we were busy from the start. I’ve never had to put any of my own money into the business and last year we did more than $1 million. Now we’re up to two technicians, a rebuilder and an installer. I bought out my partner several years ago, but I brought him back as a manager in 2007. He and my son, Brian, work up front.

“When you’re in the shop, you get so wrapped up in everything that you forget there is another world besides the one you’re involved in right now.”
—Richie Sleezer, owner,
Lee Myles Transmissions & Auto Care

My son’s been coming to the shop since he was 10 years old. He ended up going to college for automotive management technology and he learned a lot of the skills I never did. I realized that he was ready to start the process of taking over and putting his own twist on what I’ve taught him throughout the years. I had a lot of concerns about stepping away from the business: What are the older customers going to think when they see this young guy behind the counter? Are the employees going to be okay with the youngest guy in the shop telling them what to do?

It’s been a solid year where I only show up on Wednesdays for payroll and things are running smoothly.

The first thing I do when I wake up is look at our shop management software. I’m always diagnosing things in my head. It’s a mentality of how a technician operates—always trying to fix things. But now it’s not about fixing cars anymore; it’s about business.

I’ve always worked by learning from my mistakes. By trying things out, you learn what’s not working, so you cut that out and try to ramp up what is working.

Now we’re finally writing down the procedures and processes. My son has been coming to the shop for so long that I’ve assumed he knows exactly what to do. But we never put it in writing. That’s the problem: You can have the right people, but if no one knows what to do, they won’t do anything.

Now we’re trying to educate Brian as much as possible about the things that he doesn’t see me do all of the time. I know we’ve got the right people, so once we get those procedures in place, you just get out of the way and let them do what you pay them to do.

I still review every single repair order that comes through. At the end of the night, all of the repair orders are dropped off at my house. I review them that night and send them back the next morning with any questions that I have. It was hard not to always interject and try to solve problems; I had to pull back a lot.

THE RIGHT PEOPLE: Richie Sleezer, fourth from left, says he has the right team at his shop. Now he’s just working on processes and procedures so he can “get out of the way.” Photo by JoAnne Henig

The past couple of years I’ve been trying to get involved in multi-family real estate. That’s forced me to figure out how to split my time better.

Working from home has really helped me focus because you can turn on the quiet. You don’t have the constant interruptions you do at the shop. Now I’m able to get more done in less time. For example, when I found out our printer was going to be out of town for a week—in the middle of a project we were working on for our coupons—I was able to take a few hours one morning and knock out all the work we had to get done.

After working with the printer, I have a marketing webinar from 1–2 p.m. and coaching for my real estate business from 4–5 p.m. I’m a junkie for webinars; I’m always trying to get as much education as I can get. I didn’t have a business background. It’s really just been fly by the seat of your pants. I’d been going to technical seminars for many years, but I never got the chance to go to management seminars because I was always in the shop.

Once I wasn’t in the shop every day, I started going to training and seminars. I don’t like to credit just one person; it’s a combination of listening to everyone’s advice and figuring out what works best for my shop.

Something we’ve implemented after attending these trainings is a discount oil change. Those have worked really well for our shop. Oil changes are something that people come in for a few times a year, so what better way to get them in the door? We also have a rewards program that gives back 3 percent to customers. Even if they just get charged for a diagnostic service or flat tire, I give them back 3 percent. But if it’s a $2,000 transmission job, that’s $60 off.

We also started learning more about our shop management software, Profit Boost. We were never trained on the software. Our managers were just thrown into it, and we realized we weren’t using it anywhere near its capacity. As we got into it, we figured out all the tremendous features of the system. I have to say, it is addicting. I can track everything the guys are doing at the shop.

For instance, I can see, in real time, that our office manager is making calls and emailing, and that Brian is in the office. If it weren’t for the fact that I can look at what’s going on without a camera in the shop, it would be a lot harder for me. This takes away a lot of the stress and anxiety of being gone.

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to think outside the box. When you’re in the shop, you get so wrapped up in everything that you forget there is another world besides the one you’re involved in right now.

Get help and training because the ones that go to trainings are usually the cream of the crop. Don’t be afraid of your weaknesses either. Chances are, no matter what you’re experiencing, someone else has gone through it or is going through it right now. Ultimately, you have to have a good foundation. That means the right people, the right processes in place and the right finances.

I’ve been extremely lucky to have what I have, but it’s been an evolving process.

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