Bennett: Transforming Your Shop from Good to Great  

May 24, 2024
What separates the good shops from the great ones? What are great leaders doing that good leaders miss?

Running a successful shop isn't simply about fixing cars, it's about building a lasting business. We all want to see our businesses thrive, but sometimes it feels like there's always something holding us back. In the book "Good to Great", author Jim Collins digs into what separates businesses that just get by from those that take off. Oddly enough, the biggest roadblock to success can sometimes be the one looking back at you in the mirror. By understanding these principles and being willing to tweak your leadership style you can remove those barriers and see your business soar to incredible heights.  

Collins offers not just inspiration but a practical roadmap. These core principles are functional sets of tools you can use to navigate the specific challenges shops and businesses face on the path to achieving greatness. Here are actionable steps you can take.


Prepare Your Shop for the Future 

Collins emphasizes that the best leaders, particularly in our shop industry, possess a unique blend of determination and humility. They are motivated to ensure the long-term success of the shop, even if it means prioritizing the shop's needs over their own. A significant aspect of this leadership style is preparing the next generation, ensuring the team can continue the business without their direct involvement. 

Think about your shop's future beyond yourself. Are you balancing your drive to succeed with developing other leaders? Start finding talented folks on your team with promise and invest in their skills and knowledge. Not only will this take pressure off you, but it will also make your shop stronger in the long run and primed to scale should you want to. 


Cultivate an Excellent Team 

The best leaders know that even the best plans fall apart without the right team. The Good to Great concept is all about getting the right people on board and putting them where they can shine. That means hiring beyond just technical skills. Look for that spark, a good work ethic, and someone who fits your shop's culture. You know those folks who drag the whole team down, right? They have to go, even if it's a near-term setback.  

“You don't take donkeys to the Kentucky Derby. If you're going to win, you better get yourself some racehorses," said Pat Summit, former head basketball coach for the University of Tennessee. It's all about who you surround yourself with. Take a hard look at your team, especially your leaders. Is everyone contributing to their full potential? Be brave enough to make those hard changes if you have people in the wrong roles or don't fit your team. Consider your hiring practices, too—do they help you find the kind of technicians, service advisors, and team members who'll keep your shop running like a well-oiled machine? 


Be Brutally Honest About Your Business  

Building a great business, team, and culture means being brutally honest about the challenges you face. A mentor once told me, "That which you do not confront, you validate." I have found this to be very accurate. Leaders who sweep issues under the rug are guaranteed to face bigger challenges down the road. Create a culture where your team feels safe bringing up concerns, even if it's a tough conversation. Patrick Lencioni calls these "critical conversations." They are foundational if you wish to operate as an elite team. 

Do you have a system for gathering honest feedback from your team? First and foremost, you must be having regular one-on-one meetings. You, with anyone you lead, and your leaders with anyone they lead. This is foundational and critical in an environment of open and honest communications and feedback. Consider setting up regular team meetings to create a consistent environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing successes and challenges. 

Additionally, an anonymous suggestion box can be a helpful tool. Remember, ignoring problems is like leaving a check engine light undiagnosed—it won't fix itself, and the issue will only worsen. The sooner you address concerns, the better for your team's overall health. 


Identify What Makes Your Shop Unique 

Collins is big on what he calls the "Hedgehog Concept." This means figuring out what your business does best, what gets you fired up, and what brings in the money. That's your sweet spot; you should focus all your energy on that. You can't be all things to all people, whether that's with your customers or your team. Leaders and businesses who chase every new fad or offer every service under the sun will end up scattered and worn out. 

Can you, your leaders, and your crew explain in a few sentences what makes your shop unique? Define your core strengths, what you're genuinely passionate about, and where the profit comes from. Once that's clear, you can better decide where to focus your energy and where not to.  


Ditch the Micromanagement 

Good to Great businesses run through disciplined people and smart systems, not a boss breathing down everyone's neck. Talented techs and advisors want ownership and responsibility, and trust is key! When leaders try to control every little detail, they stifle creativity and, ironically, end up having to put out far more fires in the long run. Your team and business will only expand to the level where you give them space to grow and flourish.  

Last month's article discussed empowering your team and delegating tasks that distract you from your essential duties. Where are you spending your time? Are you bogged down in stuff your team could handle for you? Find areas where you can step back. Set clear expectations, give your team the necessary tools, and get out of their way. Of course, have ways to check progress and ensure results, but don't make it all about babysitting. 


Build Your Long-Term Gameplan 

Building a truly great shop takes time and consistent effort. Think of it as a big, heavy flywheel—those first few pushes are tough, but over time, momentum builds. That's when the magic happens. So, your role as a leader shifts. Instead of constantly being in the trenches, you focus on the big picture and keep things moving in the right direction. 

Start with a vision. Where do you see your shop in five years? How about 10? Does the way you run things now support that kind of growth? If not, start shifting your approach to focus on big-picture strategy, building up your team, and creating a shop culture that can weather any storm. 

The Good to Great concept offers a blueprint, but the fundamental transformation starts with you, the leader. You can build a crew that operates like a well-oiled machine by shedding your ego and embracing the coach role. Together, you'll confront challenges head-on, maintain a laser focus on your core strengths, and empower your team to reach their full potential. This isn't a quick fix; it's a long-term commitment to excellence. But by embracing these principles and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, you'll watch your shop transition from 'good' to an unstoppable force in the industry. The road ahead may have bumps, but with the right approach, you'll lead your team to success and true greatness." 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article or any other. For any questions or feedback, please email [email protected]

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett has more than three decades in the Independent Auto Repair industry. Mike has been an ASE Master Technician and is the owner of Mike’s KARS Inc. in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Fully immersed in the industry for his entire professional career as a master technician, shop foreman, general manager, and automotive shop owner, Mike has a unique and broad perspective on the shop owner experience. Mike is able to communicate with real-world experience and a “been there and done that” perspective. As an Alumni shop owner with the Automotive Training Institute, he continues to operate his shop with his wife Shelle. Mike is now a nationally certified executive trainer and he has spent the last 11 years as a full-time business coach with ATI as well as leading two of ATI’s premier shop owner 20 groups as well as the first-in-industry CEO/COO development program.

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