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Staying the Best of the Best

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We often interview the “best of the best” shops around, but this month, I wanted to talk about how one becomes the “best of the best,” and how they maintain that level of service moving forward. One of the key ways I have found to stay on top is to invite outside owners into your business for an evaluation. 

Having shops nationwide and working in the industry for many years, I get to visit different shops every month. It’s amazing what I see and learn from these experiences. I know that it only makes me better as a shop owner to make improvements, changes or to be motivated by what I see. But it also, I hope, helps the recipient to see things in a different light. I’ve always had an open-door policy to owners that I respect to visit our locations and provide valuable feedback and share what they see with a fresh pair of eyes. Another set of eyes will see things that you miss and point out areas to review that you may not have paid attention to in years. 

I recently had the ability to spend some time with Ashleigh Civitello, shop owner of Lucas Auto Care in Cypress, Texas, and consultant for ShopFix Academy. I enjoy my time with Ashleigh during every visit to get the female take on being an industry leader, a customer’s perspective, a respected automotive professional and an amazing shop owner. Ashleigh knows that to stay the best of the best, it’s important to invite others to your shop to gain a fresh perspective. 

Owners, Ashleigh explains, are so busy doing everything—from front counter sales to diagnosing cars—that they often forget to step back to see the bigger picture. With all of the hats that owners have to wear, it’s easy to overlook the old tires stacked up on the side of the building, or the member of the staff that’s stopped shaving. All of that, Ashleigh explains, starts to become the norm and is no longer acknowledged by the owner. That’s why it’s beneficial to bring in another shop owner, as it introduces an outsider’s perspective to the business and provides valuable feedback that can be used to improve.

Aaron Stokes and I visited Ashleigh’s shop before she started consulting. Ashleigh said the feedback helped her improve branding, the shop layout and find ways to improve flow and efficiency. However, for a shop visit to be beneficial, you must be open to constructive criticism, as Ashleigh was. 

Her shop had been in business for 10 years and was successful—it would have been easy for her to brush off our recommendations and think, “my way is better.” But, if she did this, how would she have grown? By taking a humble approach and listening to outsider perspectives, she increased revenue and currently has a second location in the works.

Ashleigh herself now tours shops and has a checklist for what she looks at. For her, the journey starts online. Is it easy to get directions to the store? How does the website look? What do their reviews look like? All of this is evaluated before she even steps foot on the property. 

Then, as she heads to the physical store, she takes note of the neighboring streets and businesses, whether or not there is a view of the shop from the street, if the signage is clear and visible and if parking is easily accessible. Moving inside the shop, she takes note of everything—from the staff to the smell. Ashleigh plays the part of a customer and heads straight to the waiting area. Then, she evaluates how long it takes to be greeted, makes note of the interior signage and determines whether or not she feels comfortable. One huge, tell-tale sign of whether or not a customer will be pleased? The bathroom. You can tell a lot about a shop by the way they maintain their restroom, Ashleigh says. Next, she evaluates the staff to see how well they stick to the script and company policies. 

Ashleigh, who comes from a hospitality background and is strong in that area, enters her shop through the back and takes the time to check in with technicians. Building relationships with the technicians can quickly help point out where the pitfalls are in the front. Allowing other shop owners to tour your shop allows you access to insight into layouts, equipment and efficiency and enables you to work out new ideas.

After another shop owner tours your shop, it’s time to make an actionable plan. Since everything can’t be addressed at once, rate each item in order of priority and draw out a roadmap to get it done. 

To sum it all up, to be the “best of the best,” you have to have a thirst for improvement, curiosity on how to be better and stay humble. Having a “my way or the highway” view is not always the only or the right way. 

Finally, just ask. I don’t think in over 20 years I’ve ever had a shop owner say, “you can’t visit my store.”  If you want outside feedback, just call up one of your mentors—respected brothers/sisters in the industry—and ask. You will be blown away by what you will learn.

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