Jim Saeli

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Jim Saeli owned a shop for 12 years. In this time, he became all too aware of the stress the career can bring.

“You wear your heart on your sleeve. You’re trying to do the best thing possible, but sometimes you and the customer don’t communicate in the same language,” Saeli says.

Now a seminar speaker for Management Success!, part of Saeili’s job is to help shop owners across the country reduce their levels of stress—a task that is easier said than done.

“Some guys do hold onto a grudge for a long period of time,” he says. “They think about that customer who ate their lunch.”

But Saeli says that once owners understand what causes the problems they’re having, they can develop techniques and procedures to minimize the stress those problems create.


If left untreated, how have you seen stress affect business?

Stress causes owners to not be in a good mood or frame of mind, leading them to make poor business decisions and mistakes, which cause problems throughout the shop. If stress continues over a long period of time, owners will have trouble finding good employees; they will loose the good employees they have, as well as good customers, and I have seen it go as far as the doors closing because of it.


What are the some root causes for the stress owners experience?

The first thing that pops into my head is communication and lack of communication; that would be the primary root cause. When you’re dealing with a business, you’re actually interacting with people, and it’s important to understand people. What causes them to become upset or create the problems that create the stress to begin with? Or it’s not truly knowing how to run your business. These guys have gotten lots of training on fixing cars, but no training on steps to actually run the business successfully. 


How should owners effectively communicate with customers in order to reduce stress?

Sometimes you and the customer don’t communicate in the same language, so they don’t fully understand what you’re talking about, which can create confusion.

You got a customer that you promised a vehicle [to] at a certain time, but you ran into problem. Then the customer gets upset when they come in.

You have to let them know up front that everything that you’re telling them is not set in stone.

You’re better off to under-promise and over-deliver. Say to the customer, “Hey listen, I can get the car done for you by noon. It’s going to be about $1,600.” You give yourself a little bit of a cushion there. Then if you end up doing the job for $1,550, and you get the car done three hours earlier than you said you would, the customer will be pleasantly surprised, instead of the other way around.


How about employee communication?

One of the things that’s overlooked with employees [is], from the get-go, telling them what you need and want, what’s expected of them as an employee in your garage. But if you don’t tell them to begin with, they’re going to do what they know, or what they’ve done at their last job.

A lot of the [owners], what they’re looking for is mini-me’s. They want somebody who is just like them. Unfortunately they don’t write down what those qualities are—basic ground rules and how you actually do things. You need to really explain that to the technicians, or even the service writer, so that they know how you want things done.


How does letting go of the daily operations and focusing on running the business help reduce stress?

You have guys that are so focused on handling everything going on day-to-day in the shop, they don’t have control of what’s going on in the business, or don’t know how to control it. It’s that lack of control that creates the confusion or the problems in the shop.

It relieves the stress if you have things in place.

The best way to do that is have others fix the cars, so you can put these systems in place and do the things you need to do to run the business. And that actually creates policy. You do a little bit of it at a time, [and] you start putting things in writing.

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