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SHOP STATS: Tony's Brake & Alignment  Location: LOUISVILLE, KY.  Operator: Robert Ohlmann Average Monthly Car Count: 400  Staff Size: 15  Shop Size: 13,600 square feet; Annual Revenue:$2.1

In a span of four months, Robert Ohlmann’s father passed away from leukemia, leaving behind his auto repair business, Tony’s Brake & Alignment, in Louisville, Ky. Ohlmann transitioned from service advisor to manager quickly, uncomfortably, and without guidance.

I was 26 years old at the time and I became manager of the shop,” Ohlmann says. “We had a shop doing $2.2 million the year before and we had 21 employees at the time.”

His father, an independent worker, kept business advice to himself.

“We were left without our leader [and] left without a plan of who was going to take over,” Ohlmann says. “Being the son and next in line, I assumed that role. I think that role was put on me; I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Two years later, in 2008, the recession occurred, ripping fleet business from plumbers and electricians right out of the shop’s hands. The shop lost $1 million in sales. It was the business’s lowest point, Ohlmann recalls.

“I decided [that] I didn’t know what I was doing,” Ohlmann says. “I was working longer hours and shop morale was down; I really started at the point of looking to get out of the business.”

In 2014, Ohlmann connected with shop owner Dave Justice, whose story of struggle particularly spoke to him. He needed a mentor, and Justice provided the guidance for which he had been searching.

Today, Ohlmann manages a staff of 15, producing an annual revenue of $2.1 million. It took a while to find his footing, but today he abides by guidance—whether it’s 20 Groups or coaches. Through the help of others, Ohlmann was able to organize his shop and become a leader for the business and his staff. Ohlmann shares how he found light in the darkness and is able to lead his team today from a distance.

 

As told to Kiley Wellendorf

 

I’ve completely taken myself out of day-to-day operations. I start my day off upstairs in my office, which is different than what I’ve done in the past. I used to make sure everyone was here and also greet everyone in the morning, then come upstairs to get started. Since realizing that I do some of my best work in the morning, I try to make a habit of starting work early before everyone gets here. Even though I still have the urge to be nosy and wander around the shop, I try to focus. Of course you get those texts and calls throughout the day, but I try to make a point to focus on my work in the morning.

When I got involved with Elite coaching, one of the goals I had for myself was to not be as involved with the business on the front end. That really took time getting used to, and I still am trying to get used to it today. I used to work as a service advisor at the shop, so when you try to step away, there are customers that still seek you out even though it’s not in your role anymore. I’ve hired three great service advisors who now take care of meeting and greeting customers.

One of the changes that I made to my business was designating days of the week to certain duties that I want to focus on at the shop. Now I have a day of the week that I focus on a certain thing that I want to work on instead of working on everything at once.

 

On Monday, I work on reports in the morning from the previous week. Then, on Tuesday, I do my quality control, so I pull work orders and make sure they didn’t have any comebacks. I check reports to make sure my service advisors are capturing all of the information, and check to make sure customers’ contact information is being inputted into our system.

 

I believe that everyone in the shop gets along really well and that’s helped the business. We have zero drama in the shop and it’s really common for the guys to talk outside of the business. We don’t have meetings in our shop yet, but that’s something that I want to focus on in the future.

In the past, I was in the process of hiring a new service advisor and I had my two service advisors take him out to lunch, and he actually called me to let me know that he wanted the job—they had made that big of an impact on him. I think that says a lot about our culture and everything that we have going on in the shop. I would say that we have a crew here that really cares about one another.

I made a lot of adjustments to my shop because I quickly realized that yelling and screaming at my employees wasn’t getting me anywhere. I’ve learned how to handle situations and really take into account how to manage different employees. I’ve done a better job of taking a step back and taking a moment to myself whenever something comes up in the shop. How you approach your employees can really set the tone for how the conversation will go, I’ve learned.

I want my employees to be happy with where they work. In some of my classes, I learned how impactful it can be to fully listen to your employees to understand what an issue is. I’ve found that work-life balance is a huge issue in today’s industry, so that’s something that I’ve taken into account. When you really get to know your employees and recognize what their motivations are, then it’s easier to manage a person, in my opinion.

 

On Wednesdays, I focus on marketing for the shop from all of the information I gather on Monday and Tuesday. I’ll focus on who came in and what people typically came in for.

I want to grow the business, so I spend more time working on marketing than I have done in the past. When I’m working on marketing, I really look to see what is working and what isn’t. We have a fairly large landscape of an audience. We have advertisement on the radio, postcards to our customers, social media, and we work with adwords. My approach is to see what’s working best and then to adjust from there.

Over the last year, we’ve focused a lot on marketing in our business in order to continue growing year after year. To emphasize its importance, I created a marketing budget which isn’t something that I’ve done in the past. Being in a family business that has been around for so long, we went off of word-of-mouth, which isn’t really effective in today’s world. I want to grow and continue the success of my business, so I’ve worked on putting together a marketing plan to accommodate the business.

There are a few things that I’ve adjusted because I realized that what I was doing just wasn’t working for the business.

 

I have a weekly meeting with my business coach on Thursdays, so I typically prepare for my meeting during the morning. We have a call on Thursdays, so I spend the first couple hours getting everything ready for the meeting. After the meeting, I’ll take all of that information and develop a plan of action.

In the past, I was tired of wearing so many hats because I believe that an owner, a manager, and a service advisor are all full-time jobs, and it’s not easy trying to take on everything at once. I was involved in everything in the business, which made it impossible to focus on other parts of growing the company, such as marketing and monitoring productivity and efficiencies in the shop. It was important for me to remove myself from those roles and in listening to smarter shop owners, I learned that as an owner, you have to work on the business—not in it. That’s really opened up my eyes tremendously.

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