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Separating Business and Friends

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Friends are like family. It feels good to be there for them. We build strong bonds with them and we feel like they are our own blood. We get attached to them, their spouses and their children as well. We attend birthday parties, family weddings, funerals, and other events.

But when friends work with us, we can, for some reason, feel guilty when something goes wrong and we have to say something about it. When we get upset with them, they can get offended and take it personally. This can be a negative situation on both sides. When we don’t keep business as business and instead put our friendships first, the business can lose lots of money.

Let me give you a scenario that comes to mind. See if you can relate to it.

You have an employee who is a long-time friend; he has worked for you for the past 10 years and is your main service advisor. Business for several years was average. You are barely profitable, sometimes not, so you seek advice from a business consultant that specializes in helping auto repair shops become highly profitable. After digesting the advice of your consultant, you decide it is time to make some major changes in your business.

You start with the changes as recommended and you see good results right away. You are finally starting to show better, more consistent profit. But more changes are being implemented and adjusted as you go along. You have plenty of cars coming in the door and you have really good technicians with the right equipment.

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Your average ticket is up and down along with your sales percentage. You talk with your service advisor friend about his low sales percentage and average repair order and he tells you no one is really buying, we are charging too much, the car count is too low or whatever, but his sales percentage is 20–35 percent of the opportunity found. You notice that he is talking with salesmen a lot and giving his assistant service advisor quite a few tickets to estimate and call that perhaps he would be better suited to handle. You have several talks about the situation, you change his pay plan, you talk about hiring a more experienced service advisor and that he could be in jeopardy of losing his job if he doesn’t pick up the pace. This situation goes on and on like a broken record for months on end. When you have a discussion about it, things look up for a week or so and then slide back to the same old situation. You as the owner are very frustrated about this problem and worry about hurting your friend’s feelings if you get on him too hard about it.

Believe it or not, this scenario plays out in shops all over the country. It is a situation that is bad for the business and bad for the friends and no one involved can ever win.

Here are three things you should do to handle it:

1. When you hire an employee, friend or not, give and explain their job description. They don’t know if you don’t tell them. Let them know in detail what the job function consists of and what the boundaries are. If you know your boundaries, you are much more likely to stay within them.

2. Set goals and have a plan of action on how to get there. If you don’t have a goal, you don’t know where to go. Lay out a good plan and put incentives in place for reaching them.

3. Praise and discipline. Be sure to praise employees for good jobs and reaching goals. You can even provide rewards, such as movie tickets or dinner. A little bit can go a long way. When goals are not being met, you must act quickly. Employees must be held accountable to know you are serious.

And remember this simple rule: Keep your business as business and your friendships separate.

B.J. Lee has worked in the automotive repair industry for more than 30 years. He is an industry consultant and trainer for and owner of Stellar Performance Inc. in 29 Palms, Calif.

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