Coach Your Shop to the Next Level

Jan. 10, 2018

When you find the right people for you shop, it will not only allow your business to be successful, but it also will allow you the opportunity to dedicate time to doing things you’ve always wanted to do.

SHOP STATS: Rob'e Mans Automotive Service   Location: Homewood, Ala.  Operator: Eddie and Trish Cleveland  Average Monthly Car Count: 330  Staff Size: 11  Size: 10 bays Annual Revenue: $2.25 million   

Rob’e Mans Automotive Service, in Homewood, Ala., has been named one of the Automotive Training Institute’s “Top Shops” every year since 2011, taking home the overall honor in 2016. Owner Eddie Cleveland is quick to shift the credit to his staff, and says that—while this may sound cliché—the shop has been so successful because the team is honest and stands behind its work.

“If you really do this, people will come back,” Cleveland says.

Cleveland took over ownership in 1983, bought out his partner 15 years ago, and recently initiated a succession plan, grooming his general manager, Kenny Krackenberger, to take over the business in two years.

In over 30 years of experience as a business owner, Cleveland has learned the importance of hiring the right people, putting together strong policies and procedures, and, in the last few years, the importance of letting go.

We’re big on productivity at the shop. I want my business to run like a machine, but not treat my employees like one. Control is key. Every day is different, and you need to pay attention to what’s going on and shift things around to accommodate the situation. At the shop, we preach that we’re here to serve as many people per day as possible. My team knows that some days they might get the jobs that you want, but on others you may not. You have to play to people’s strengths. When the work is flowing in, you need to make sure to assign jobs that feed their strengths, which means you need to be conscious of who is good at what.

The people that I have in place is what has allowed me to be so successful. When I hire people, it’s more about their personalities than their talent. You can teach people how to do a job. You can’t train a good attitude.

My philosophy on coaching is to call it as I see it. I’m always coaching. If I see someone at my shop does something that I want to go over, I handle it then and there—if it’s appropriate. For example, we’ve started using these new punch cards that offer different discounts for different services. The other day, I saw someone at my shop hand a customer the punch card without an explanation. I stepped in and said, “Just to let you know a little more information…” and then I explained how the program works. If you do it while it’s happening, they’ll see what they’ve done wrong.  

Typically, I only come into the shop for a half day. I’m usually here from 7 a.m. until lunchtime. My general manager, Kenny, does 75 percent of what’s needed to run the shop. I’ve spent the past five years training him. That’s my job right now.

Every Tuesday, Kenny and I meet for an hour in the afternoon to look over numbers and anything that needs to be addressed. I’ve found the right person, and he’s doing a great job. He’s taken my place. The hardest thing that I’ve had to learn is how to keep my mouth shut.

Kenny came in and was actually interviewing to be a part-time shuttle driver. He was ex-military and was working for FedEx. There was something about his personality and his drive that made me feel he was going to be more than a shuttle driver for me. I had just finished reading the book EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey and in the book, he talks about the importance of finding the right person to take over your business and to take them out multiple times, including meeting his family. He probably thought I was crazy, taking him and his wife out to dinner to be a shuttle driver—but I think that speaks to who he is. He went with it.

The first year, I had him work as my assistant. The second year, I had him do advertising. The third year, he was in charge of inventory. And the fourth he ran one of the locations. When we first opened, we did only Hyundai and Acura. Then, the opportunity to purchase the space next door opened up and we started a Toyota and Lexus location. For 15 years, we ran two locations that were the width of an alley apart. Recently, we decided to combine the two.

Last year, I asked Kenny to take over the shop. He’s ready. He’s done every piece of the business. Through ATI, we set up a succession plan and in two years, he’ll officially run the business. Kenny is pretty much running the show now. He even asked me not to come in as much and not to wear a uniform anymore. This experience has taught me not to micromanage and how to actually be a business owner. After 34 years of doing this, I’ve grown as an owner in areas that I never thought I could.

After being close to winning ATI’s Top Shop, but never quite getting it, we decided to spend time putting together all of our policies and procedures. That’s a requirement to win the Top Shop award. We went through all of the different areas of our business and wrote everything down and put it in a book. It took about a year to get it done. My wife, Trish, Kenny, our back office manager and I all put it together.

Now that I have a long-term plan, it’s freed up my time. I spend more time with my kids than I ever have in my life. I work on my family farm more and I’m able to do more charity work. The way I was raised, I had a lot of opportunities, and I believe that all kids should get what they need to make their lives right. In 2000, my wife and I went to the Ukraine and adopted two kids. My son is dyslexic, like I am, so the shop helps raise money and awareness for the school that he goes to that specializes in teaching kids with dyslexia.

If you run your business right, it gives you the means to do what you want to do. I now am able to give away more than I used to make. As a business owner, running a good business allows me to be who I really want to be. If I was broke and struggling, I would need to focus on other things. Running a good business, a disciplined business, has allowed me to be able to give back.  

With the two years that I have left as owner, I’m going to work on coaching. That’ll be huge to the success of my business. This week, Kenny is out. He just had his first son. This means I’m in the office all day. I’ve been going around and making notes of things that he needs to do and explaining what will happen if they’re not done. With my experience, I can see things down the road. I’ll go over this with him when he gets back. Right now, it’s all about how to train him as a business owner.

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