What Is Your Game Changer?

March 1, 2018
Is it just attitude and motivation?

Jason Smith has a past, like many of us (including me). He started in the business as a technician with the dream of owning his own shop. He found a failing two-bay shop, raised the money needed and opened his first location. It was all great in the beginning! He had a 1,600-square-foot, two-bay shop that he was ready to expand (in less than two years) into a 3,000-square-foot three-bay location.

Next he felt that common itch: “I want to open more stores.” Within five years, Jason and his wife had two shops that were only three miles from each other. He was finally living the dream of multi-shop ownership with one highly visible location in a lower-end demographic area and another in an off-the-beaten-path location but in a good demographic. Within a short period of time, Jason found he was struggling to run two shops and get the gross profit, car count and ARO (not to mention net profit) he needed to survive. Jason tried his first coaching group for eight months and it helped him learn some basic owner/operator skills, add some processes and start the process of fixing what was broken. However, he quickly found it was a little too late––not only for the business, but also for his attitude toward it. The decision was made and the newest location was shut down.  

Jason didn’t know it at the time but, besides the location choice, what was really killing his business was his attitude toward it. This feeling led to a dramatic decision and, in 2016, Jason hired a service writer and a new master tech and he left his business for a year to become a service advisor at a dealership (yes, you read that correctly). In this year, not only did Jason continue to hate the business, but the shop he owned also went from getting by to a complete downturn in sales of more than $200,000 and a dramatic departure of his customer base. In December 2016, Jason and his wife had to decide: keep the business and make it work or sell? With determination, Jason took over his business in January and in eight months, he hired a third technician and had the numbers back in line. The one key that was still missing that would take him to the next level was the love of the business and his attitude toward his shop.

Here’s the pivot point for Jason: Aaron Stokes.

Jason saw Aaron at a Ratchet+Wrench event a few years ago and then saw him again on a Facebook video talking about a coaching group, of all things. When I talked to Aaron about his coaching group, he said he wanted to create a group of people that really cared for each other, were completely transparent in all things and helped each other to succeed. His quote is, “fix the owner and you fix the shop.” That was evident in the day that I called Aaron. He was getting on a flight back from visiting one of his members who has cancer because he wanted to be there for him!

That comraderie is what Jason said changed his personal and shop life. Jason said he felt motivated, passionate and gained a big-picture vision of his business for the first time. He felt he had goals and passion each day with a team behind him that held him accountable, but also admitted their own struggles. Aaron says that every time he teaches a workshop, leads a 20 Group or makes a new video, he tells himself, “I need to make sure I’m still doing this at my shop.” That relationship is the honest one that most shop owners are looking for.

My take, at the end of the day, is that in 2018, we all know the ideas that work in shops, most of us know how to do them, some of us know how to make money when we do them, but none of it matters if we don’t have people with whom to share in the successes and failures. We all want to do something that we love and have passion for each day. Most people who have passion and drive for what they are doing will be successful. I think Aaron said it best: “Surround yourself with passionate people who are smarter than you! Don’t ever be the smartest person in the room. If you are, find another room!”

About the Author

Rissy Sutherland

Rissy Sutherland is an auto care industry lifer, having grown up in her family’s automotive franchise business and later implementing the training and operational systems for all 300 auto repair franchise locations for Moran Industries—the automotive giant that purchased her family’s shops. She has opened more than 400 shops in her career as the executive for nearly a dozen automotive brands. She is one of the industry’s foremost experts in shop operations.

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