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Building a Personal Training Guide
The core courses you need to go from shop owner to business leader.

When offered the business in 1972 from his dad, Jerry Holcom told his father, “Forget it.” He knew he had no idea how to run the shop—S&S Service Center in Kansas City, Mo.—and encouraged his father to sell it instead.

Ten years later, however, Holcom bought the business back. The reason why? During those in-between years, he had pursued educational opportunities.

“As a former technician that became an owner, one of the hardest things was to leave the technician part out of it and concentrate on running a business—being a businessman,” Holcom says. “You can’t afford to not do it. It’s just impossible.”

He took it upon himself to get the right education he needed to run his shop. He has since set the record for the most Automotive Management Institute (AMI) credits at over 750.

Holcom’s former problem is a common one in the industry, says Amy Mattinat, president of Auto Craftsmen in Montpelier, Vt., and an instructor with the Vermont Small Business Development Center.

“With most small business [owners], a large variety of them start because they’re really good at what they do,” Mattinat says. “They don’t get coaching in all the aspects of business that they need.”

But when coaching shop owners, she has them look at it this way: Just like your toolbox is filled with expensive equipment, you need to build a virtual toolbox of knowledge. And this doesn’t have to be done through expensive industry events.

In an effort to help other owners, Holcom and Mattinat offer their top five picks for the core types of classes to take and ways to get the training you need to become a better business leader.


The Avenues

Mattinat says the most important step any small business owner should take is utilizing his or her local Small Business Development Center. Most of the time, the resources are free and there is a lot of information available online.

“They have coaches and counselors who will sit down with you one on one and if they don’t have the answers, they find you the right consultant, which is a great resource that people just don’t know about,” she says.

Holcom says that Google is the best way to choose the right classes because of its accessibility. For management training, he says AMI is a group he would get involved with because of how the classes are organized.

Mattinat also says that AMI provides some great online courses, which solves the problem of the shop owner having to leave his or her business for training.

Both shop owners also agree that attending industry events and conferences are vital for the educational aspect, but also meeting shop owners who are willing to share their knowledge.


1) Financials and Numbers

A class on the financial side of business will help with understanding the intricacies of both gross and net profit, determining proper labor rates and parts margins, and learning how to mark up your parts.

These types of classes will also help you learn how to read daily reports and paperwork that help you track your business’s progress.

Holcom says it is key you also learn about KPIs—understanding them, how to set benchmarks, what is expected and knowing what to ask yourself in those regards. Are you hitting the right numbers? Do you know what’s expected? He claims AMI is good for this type of training and offers other outlets, such as podcasts, webinars, etc.

Mattinat echoes this by saying a management course in this area is crucial—the numbers are the steering wheel of your business, so if you don’t know your numbers, you can’t drive your car.


2) Sales

Learning the different methods of closing sales can prove helpful in the long run. It will help you with the phone shopper customer and in adapting to selling to different groups or generations—in particular, the millennial crowd.

But most importantly, it’ll teach you how to answer objections from customers, Holcom says. Learning this can aid in knowing how to execute add-on sales. If your customers come in for their brakes, and you find additional work, you can educate them and sell them on those repairs.


3) Marketing

Learning the ways of social media—such as Facebook, Google and Yelp—is needed in today’s Internet-heavy world, Holcom says.

From TV ads to billboards to Twitter, according to Holcom, marketing courses will help you catch up with Google’s constantly changing algorithm, which will cause your shop stand out.

It will also teach you the best way to contact a customer. After many marketing classes, Holcom realized he needed to begin texting customers updates about their cars, which he found incredibly successful.

He also hired someone to take care of his shop’s marketing since he knew he couldn’t do it by himself with how fast the market is changing.

Mattinat teaches courses in marketing and finds that no matter the type of business, marketing is marketing and plays a necessary role.


4) Leadership

Times are uncertain and you need to be able to lead people and help them feel secure. Show your staff some kind of a path to success, Holcom says.

Mattinat says that especially with today’s technician shortage, a management class is a way to help a leader understand how to communicate with his or her staff.

A good technician can knock on the door of where they want to work and get a job, she says. Owners spend so much time learning how to speak with customers and they should do the same for their employees.

But through leadership classes, Holcom was able to recognize a personal flaw that he continues to improve with more education—holding people accountable. Since that realization, he’s made it an objective to continue to work on it through education and self-discipline.


5) Customer Service

Holcom says that everybody knows that acquiring a new customer requires more money and time than keeping a current customer. You need to learn how to build trust and relationships.

“That’s our big mantra,” he says.  

But more importantly, it’s about the “wow” factor, he says. These classes will help you exceed expectations.

Holcom says that when customers come in, they expect their cars to be fixed right the first time and at a fair price. If you do just that, you are not exceeding their expectations.

Holcom personally greets each guest and every day will cast on his screen in the waiting area the names of everyone scheduled to come in for the day to make them feel important. It’s a trick that he came up with after attending multiple customer service classes.


Holcom's Top Classes

Jerry Holcom offers some of his favorite classes he’s taken within the past 3–4 years that he believes would be helpful for any shop owner.

Bob Greenwood: “Financial Strategies for Today”
Rick White: “The Financial Path to Profit”

Customer Service:
Bill Haas: “Customer Care & Communication”
Bob Cooper: “High Impact Customer Care Course”

Bogi Lateiner: “Marketing in the Digital Age”
Bill Haas: “Marketing to Generations X and Y”

Bill Haas: “Creating a Culture Where New Hires Succeed”
Cecil Bullard: “Successfully Managing Others”

Barry Barrett: “Getting Paid for Professional Services”
Jeremy O'Neal: “15 Seconds to YES”

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