Many years ago, at a friend’s wedding, I watched as a man did all he could to hide his hands from the rest of the people seated at our table. Most of time, he kept them under the table. And when he reached for his drink or ate his dinner, you could tell that something just wasn’t right.
Then I noticed why. His hands were grease stained and covered with cuts and bruises. I was seated across table, and when I found the chance, I approached him and said, “I couldn’t help noticing your hands.” Then I showed him mine. He said, “I see you, too, work with your hands.” I answered, “Yes, I do.” He went on to say, “I’m a diesel mechanic at a trucking company. Aren’t you embarrassed to show your hands?”
Image was a problem years back. Most of us got into this trade because we had a passion for cars and enjoyed working with our hands. But as business people, we didn’t always portray the best appearance of professionalism. And the public had this imagery of greasy pits and unorganized shops, which made it hard for many of us to gain the respect we rightfully deserved.
I am part of the generation of mechanics-turned-shop-owners that wanted to make a difference and raise our level of professionalism. We always felt that we keep America moving and that what we do as an industry is just as important as any other profession––nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, we should be proud of it.
We’ve all heard the pessimists that claim we can’t find people who want to become technicians. That you can’t make money in this business, and that the consumers won’t pay the prices we deserve. That our future is in jeopardy because there are no young entrepreneurs who want to own repair shops. That is a bunch of baloney! All you have to look to are the amazing collection of shop owners, technicians and managers attending the recent Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference, held in Chicago this past September.
From young twenty-somethings to older seasoned veterans, there were multi-generations of hard working, intelligent people, all committed to the same cause: to raise the image and professionalism of the auto repair industry. I was proud to be there and among them.
While I can’t know for sure, I would bet that most of the shop owners in attendance did not hold a Master’s degree in business management. Many may have not even attended college. But what every shop owner did have is a Ph.D. in everyday Life. The ability to learn, grow and create something amazing. They did it through their hard work and commitment to excellence. And yes, they did it with their own hands.
I was also amazed at the caliber of the younger shop owners, aka the future of our industry. They had goals and passion that far exceeded the typical shop owner from my generation. From speaking with so many amazing young people at the conference, I am convinced that our future is secure, rooted in their commitment to the industry and their desire to create great businesses.
It was great to see the family-owned businesses, where husbands, wives and their children all worked in the business. A far cry from years back when many shop owners were saying, “I wouldn’t want my kids in this business!”
I want to thank Ratchet+Wrench for holding the conference and look forward to next year’s event. And, not to diminish the efforts of R+W, but it truly was the collection of great minds: the shop owners and their colleagues in attendance that helped make this conference such a great success.
I did admit to the diesel mechanic that day at the wedding that I, too, was embarrassed at times by the look of my hands. Thinking back, it was more about how I felt than how others treated me. I remember getting upset one evening getting ready to go out to dinner, and scrubbing my hands in anger. My wife walked over to me, and said, “Don’t worry about your hands, those hands have built a great life for your family.”
It’s rare these days that I reach for a 9/16th wrench or 10mm socket. But when I do, it’s a whole lot different. If I do get grease on my hands, I’m not embarrassed. That grease is a reminder from my early days––a time when I was making my mark on history. That’s something to be proud of and show off, not hide from public view.
Whether you get grease on your hands or not, just remember: We are independent shop owners. Our legacy and our future is what we produce with our own hands. And from what I witnessed at the Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference, our future looks brighter than ever.