Education+Training Leadership

Field Trip

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Continued education isn’t just for technicians. Shop owners and mangers need it, too. And sometimes, your peers in the industry are the best sources of new information.

There are several innovative, progressive shops across the country with processes and methods for highly productive and efficient work. They have tools, technologies, procedures and best practices that you could learn from—if you take time to peek inside. 

Touring other repair facilities is one of the best educational and training strategies for shop operators to find ideas for performance improvement. There’s a lot to learn from your peers’ experiences—information that can’t always be obtained in the classroom. Two shop operators share why they’ve made a habit of regular shop visits, and the value it’s driven back to their operations.


Most shops, no matter where they’re located, are doing something better in business than I am. Everybody has different priorities, ideas and challenges while working toward the same ultimate objective. There is a lot of instruction and benefit to be gained by touring other facilities and exposing yourself to alternative ways of doing business.

I started visiting and touring other shop operations in 2002, and take every opportunity to do that. Most shop operators in my local area, even competing shops, tend to be quite willing to show me around their facility and offer ideas for improvement. I also make a point of scheduling tours with out-of-state shops during travels to trade conferences and networking events. I visit about five shops across the country annually, and have toured roughly 50 overall. This has been an invaluable effort; it’s one of the greatest things that I do regarding education.

What Valentine Looks For: I identify the weak aspects of my business and the biggest elements that need improvement. My main goal is to find solutions to things that I’m struggling with at the time.

For example, I recently started pushing hard to create a better atmosphere and work environment in the shop. I want to create a more fun place to work for the employees. So I scheduled visits at two noncompeting shops in Colorado and Canada that excel at that. I spent time speaking with staff members to understand what they like about their jobs and exactly what the company did to promote and develop that perception.

Once I have feedback from the staff, I spend time with management to find out how they went about implementing certain initiatives and the challenges they experienced along the way. That helps me understand what I need to do to make it happen efficiently and successfully at my shop.

The Benefit: Many ideas obtained during shop tours can also be learned in classroom settings. But real shop settings are different compared with hypothetical classroom examples. It can be difficult to take something learned at a training seminar and successfully implement it back at your facility.

It’s helpful to see concepts in action in a real-life situation, in addition to obtaining information from an instructor or book. Being able to visualize how a new process works paints a clearer picture of the impact it has on shop operations, which provides insight to identify whether it’s worth trying. It also allows you to understand exactly what it takes to make a change happen, the most efficient way to do it, and the impact on performance. It’s a great learning experience.

Valentine’s Tour Tip: Keep your eyes open. Although it’s helpful to focus on finding solutions to your weaknesses, be on the lookout for other random improvements. You might notice several small, yet highly beneficial ideas, such as storage or placement of tools and equipment. You never know what might catch your eye.


I’ve never thought of myself as being a genius shop owner. I started out as a mechanic and ended up owning a shop. I found that it’s very easy to be complacent in what you’re doing, and to think you’re performing well when there are actually several areas for improvement. I operated for many years before realizing that I needed help with shop management.

I wanted to learn from my peers, and started touring other facilities in the early 1990s after joining a performance group of 90 shop owners. I’ve visited dozens of shops over the past 15 years.

What Zaagman Looks For: I assess and look for best practices in every department of every shop I visit—repair processes, office and paperwork procedures, safety and environmental issues, building layouts, equipment, estimating procedures, customer interaction processes, landscaping and marketing. I pocket the best ideas and take them back to my own shop.

The most important concept I’ve looked for recently is employee leadership and management. I’ve never been formally trained on leadership, and there is always something to learn about how other shop managers create employee relationships, offer feedback, listen to concerns or complaints, and lead with sensitivity. I interview each shop’s employees to understand their perception of their managers, and obtain suggestions for leadership tactics that my employees would positively respond to.

The Benefit: Viewing other people’s facilities and procedures has made a significant impact on the business. It’s allowed me to learn from the experiences, successes and struggles of my peers who have skills and strengths that aren’t natural to me.

There are dozens of things I have learned from other shops. Many are simple changes that have delivered big results. For example, I visited a shop in Arizona that delivers fresh cookies to its customers’ workplaces. It’s a “thank you” for their business, and a promotional tool to catch the eye of their co-workers. I replicated the idea with cinnamon bread. We’ve experienced high levels of response from that; it’s been a great way to boost our customer base.

Zaagman’s Tour Tip: Use your shop tours as a networking opportunity. Get to know the owner and staff. That develops friendships, and you can continue bouncing ideas off one another long-term.

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