Should You Hire a Coach?

Feb. 27, 2023
For many shop owners, a coach adds a higher level of accountability that you can't place on yourself. Two shop owners talk about when they hired a coach and what it did for their shops.

Kevin Oswald always knew he was going to take over his father’s service station.  

Oswald, owner of Oswald Service and Repair in Idaho Falls, Idaho, is a third-generation shop owner. His grandfather opened their family service station in 1939, his father took it over and ran it until he retired and Oswald has overseen the family business ever since.  

Despite knowing he’d one day take over the family service station, Oswald had very little exposure to business management. So, as he took over the shop when his father retired—following stints managing a pair of other shops—Oswald decided he needed some help.  

He attended a conference put on by the Automotive Training Institute (ATI), and Oswald then signed up for coaching through ATI. “Before I signed up … I had no idea what KPI even stood for,” Oswald says.  

It didn’t take him long to learn. As Oswald puts it, ATI helped him “graduate high school.” 

“They were able to really open my eyes and help me look at a different way of managing my shop,” says Oswald.

Collin Ettienne always had a passion for the auto industry. Ettienne, owner of RI Automotive in Tampa, Florida, opened his own shop at just 20 years old following a brief stint at a dealership after graduating from Tampa Bay Technical High School.  

After years of developing his business—which did primarily performance work before beginning to dabble and dive into general repair in 2015—Ettienne found himself at the Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference in Minneapolis in 2019, where one of the speakers, Aaron Stokes of Shop Fix Academy, stood out to him.  

He then found himself in one of Stokes’ classes. “All the examples he was giving, it was like struggles that I was having and resonated heavily,” Ettienne says.  

“Being the owner technician and trying to transition and understand the business side of it, that was a huge struggle for me, which I think it happens to a lot of guys who are technicians.” 

That journey led to Ettienne receiving coaching from Shop Fix Academy, and he hasn’t looked back since.  

The Right Time  

Both Oswald and Ettienne have seen their businesses reach new heights, in part, thanks to the coaching they’ve received.  

But when is it the right time to hire a coach?  

Well, it depends. There isn’t a script, and it can be different for every shop.  

And sometimes, it can be the right time and feel like the wrong time. When Ettienne first started receiving coaching and going to seminars, he was forced to shut down his shop because he didn’t have enough people to work.  

“When you think about it, it’s just gut wrenching because you’re like, ‘Man, how is this gonna work? I gotta close my shop for two days.’ But, you know, you get through it, and you look back on it and it wasn’t that bad,” Ettienne says.  

Maybe you’re an owner doing everything from repairs to the budget, or maybe you’re an owner who has it all together but is looking to take the next step to grow your business.  

Maybe you find yourself doing the same things over and over again.  

“Once you get to that point where you’re starting to realize you become stagnant, and you’re doing the same things over and over and over that you think are going to change businesses, and it’s not, that’s the time when you need to sit back, take a step back and look,” Ettienne says.  

Stagnation is one of many potential signs your business could be ready for coaching. Similarly, Oswald says if you find yourself sticking to the status quo, it could be time to have someone challenge you. He says there are always things you can do better, and it’s important to look outside the box.  

The Right Coach 

Years of coaching from ATI helped Oswald learn the basics of business and “graduate high school.” Eventually, he was ready for college.  

Oswald decided he needed a more personalized experience and began searching for something new.  

“Nothing really came to me as far as: This is what I should do,” Oswald says.  

But sure enough, at a seminar in Texas, Oswald found his next coach, Vic Tarasik of Shop Owner Coach. The two bonded over a shared faith, and Oswald could tell he’d be held accountable—one of the biggest things he had been searching for.  

When it comes to the search, Oswald recommends casting a wide net. There’s no reason to tie yourself down early, and it’s OK to wait until you find the person that fits your needs.  

“Don’t just jump into the first (place) that comes and talks to you,” Oswald says. “Talk to four or five consulting groups. Do a little bit of investigating on it. Talk to the person.”  

Oswald says Tarasik is a perfect fit but understands that he wouldn’t be the perfect fit for everyone. Different owners have different needs. Ettienne understands that, too, which is why Shop Fix Academy’s process has worked so well for him.  

Ettienne said they vet all their clients and pair them with a coach that suits their personality and needs. He says Shop Fix Academy’s process was simple for him, and that they do a really good job of pairing the right coaches with the right owners. 

Other Considerations  

Oswald says it’s important to establish your goals before seeking out coaching. You should establish a vision for your business, look 10-15 years down the line and have an idea of what you want to accomplish through coaching.  

Ettienne notes that you need to have time to invest in the coaching process. Otherwise, you’re paying for those services without using them, and you’re not growing.  

Are You Ready Yet? 

While the right time to receive coaching might be different from one shop owner to another, both Ettienne and Oswald note there’s one surefire sign someone isn’t ready for coaching: They’re not open-minded.  

If an owner isn’t willing to be open with a coach, sharing even the embarrassing or uncomfortable aspects of business, they aren’t ready for coaching. If they’re stuck in their own ways, unwilling to accept change, they’re not ready for coaching.  

Openness is fundamental to the coaching process. 

“Just being transparent and being open to receiving constructive criticism, you’ll be fine,” Ettienne says. 

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