How I Work | Jeff Matt
As Jeff Matt’s Minnesota-based business, Victory Auto Service & Glass, started expanding, the need for standardizing his procedures became increasingly evident. Over the course of a year, Matt put pen to paper, creating procedures for everything he could think of. Since then, his shop has smoothly expanded to five locations, leaving him to focus on the future, rather than the nuts and bolts of the business.
Since the beginning, I’ve always believed in processes. When I was getting ready to open my first location in 1996, I wrote out my entire business plan with a pencil and paper. I had everything boiled down, so when I opened for business that first day, I knew exactly what I needed to do. As we started expanding, that’s when I realized the importance of standardizing procedures.
It was a core belief of mine that if I was going to expand, I never wanted the quality to drop. I didn’t want the reputation of one location to affect the reputation of another. We’ve carried that forward into each of our locations, and it’s allowed us to develop a core employee group that has similar values and work ethics.
We just opened our fifth location, so I’ve been investing most of my energy into being at the new location. As we’ve opened up new locations, it becomes paramount for me to be at the newest location for the first six months. I need to develop the customer base, get the right staff in place, and get the business on its feet.
It wasn’t a strategic plan to open five locations. We started out lean and we’ve stayed as lean as possible; I only open a new location when I’m positive we can handle it. My staff at the existing locations must be stable and not in limbo, since any expansion requires my full attention. As we started opening more locations, I realized quickly that too many inconsistencies were happening. It’s frustrating when you think, ‘They should have known that.’ Some things that you think are common sense aren’t necessarily common sense to others. I would be looking for a customer’s keys and couldn’t find them because someone’s handwriting wasn’t legible or he wrote it sideways.
As we were getting ready to open our third location, I decided we needed to sit down and create the SOP (standard operating procedure) and employee manuals. We took all these things that were in my head and put it on paper. It was a huge undertaking and it took about a year. It was really important to get input from all the employees because I wanted them to take ownership of it and feel like the policies are fair for everyone.
We started with inspection sheets. Then we did simple things like an oil change, which is the most common service. Then we added tune-ups, brake inspections, work orders, how to deal with our suppliers, writing out key tags—anything you can think of. We also have more detailed ones for our service writers, our managers, even down to how the shops are laid out. We even have an hourly employee responsibility list that outlines how to fill time when it’s slow.
The employee manual deals with the legal stuff, but it also includes job descriptions, our policy on paying for ASE tests, how we handle the phone, the expectation when the tool truck shows up, vacation. You have to be focused and determined to get it done; you can’t go in halfheartedly. Ultimately, it gives employees freedom because they’re able to work without as much leadership as before. We’re up to 30 employees now, and each of them knows exactly what’s expected of them.
Now when I’m at the shop, I’m a lot less focused on the day-to-day work, and I can concentrate on building relationships with my staff, which is what I love to do. That’s where the SOPs come in again because they’ve really helped weed out the bad employees from the good ones.
First of all, when a new employee comes in and sees we have these policies in place, it gives credibility to our business. It lets them know: This is the Victory way.
Every new employee has to read the manuals and sign an acknowledgement that they read through it. That way I can hold them accountable for what’s in it. It doesn’t help it if it’s all just verbal; people can easily just say, “You never told me that.” Your best employees want to do things the right way and make sure the customer has a good experience. There’s a lot less kickback from people when they know it’s on paper and they could’ve said something about it when they were first hired. We’re not just pulling these rules out of the sky. They’ve been hashed through and documented. If I hire someone and they keep messing up and they’re sloppy, it’s pretty evident they’re not going to be a good employee.
Throughout the day, I’m constantly on our shop management system, checking in on the other locations. As we became a multi-location repair shop, managing more than one inventory became a challenge. We really needed to find a shop management system that could manage multiple locations, which is what we found with the Yes Management System from Pace Software Inc.
But besides finding an all-encompassing solution, we also standardized our shop management system so everything looks the same for every location. We created a standardized job kit that we use for each customer, so there are no inconsistencies across locations. A customer can walk into any of our locations and all of their history is there and it’s easy to understand.
Once a month, I have a manager’s meeting where all the managers get together with me to discuss how things are going. Before the meetings, I have each manager fill out a standardized form that has them list all of their numbers (like sales, cost of sales, expenses), but also their maintenance needs, tool needs, things that are going well or need improving, safety concerns.
Since I can’t be everywhere at once, I need to make sure these kinds of discussions don’t fall through the cracks. Having that standard form means that nothing gets missed, the managers know there will be time to address their concerns, and I get a feel for how each shop is doing.
Our shop management system interfaces with Quickbooks, so every night, I run a report for each location and combine them into a standardized report that I’ve created. That allows me to look at each of the locations side by side for sales, parts, gross profit, labor sales, sublet costs, sales tax revenue. We have benchmarks in place, so we know exactly what our gross profit, labor gross profit, and net profit should be.
I used to have a poor grasp on my financials, as far as accounting software, charts of accounts, and key indicating numbers. What I realized was that it was like playing basketball without a scoreboard. How do you know who’s winning? You can go to a game and get a pretty good feel for who’s winning and who’s losing, but without the scoreboard, you don’t know for sure until the game’s over.
That’s why having those benchmarks standardized for all of our locations is so important, because I can see exactly how they are doing compared to one another. We have sales goals set up that get put into one master sales report, so I know immediately if sales or gross profit numbers are down at any of the shops. Then I know the manager at that location is doing something different than the other stores.
The last eight years of my business, most of my time has been focused on marketing. So instead of micromanaging everything, I can now spend my day focusing on leveraging our marketing dollars as effectively as possible. I’m more concerned with the whole experience through the customer’s eyes. It’s not enough for us to fix their car well; I want them to be proud of where they took their car.
I never have to worry about things getting done or not getting done. It’s a great feeling to think that you’ve got the right people in the right place that are motivated like you are. We’re all rolling in the same direction and we understand exactly what our objectives are.