What’s Really Important

Feb. 1, 2015
Don’t dwell on bad weeks. There's a much bigger picture to be aware of

Ever had that week from hell? You know, the week that makes you question why in the world you ever got into this business in the first place? And as you push through the week, every turn you make you find another fire to put out, another bounced check, another comeback—on and on and on. Yes, we’ve all had the week from hell. But then something happens that makes all the issues we deal with appear irrelevant. Let me tell you how a week from hell ended up a reminder of what’s really important, life itself.

It all started on a Monday morning, the first week of June, last summer. I got a phone call early in the morning from my manager. He was sick and would probably be out until Thursday. I also learned that one of my top techs got into a motorcycle accident and was seriously injured, with no idea when he would return to work. It was 6:45 a.m. and little did I know, this was just the beginning; things were about to get worse.

A Subaru we serviced a few months ago was towed in over the weekend with a seized engine and the owner was blaming us for not putting oil in the engine. I gathered my crew together a little before 8 a.m. and told them this was going to be a very challenging week.

On Tuesday my air compressor caught on fire. The compressor, a little over two years old, apparently had a defect in the wiring which caused a short and fried the motor. We were two months over the warranty and I had to eat the cost of a new compressor motor. 

On the ride into work on Wednesday, I called my shop foreman and asked if it was safe to come in. I was joking, but he wasn’t laughing. There was silence on the phone and I asked, “What happened now?” He told me that the Dodge van transmission we installed last week had failed. He also told me that someone threw a rock through the front window and that the police were waiting for me. I wanted to turn my truck around and run for the hills.  

Thursday morning started out OK. My Manager was back and we were working through all the issues. The compressor motor was due to arrive that day. Luckily, we had an old backup compressor which kept us going. The glass company was there installing a new window. Things were looking better ... so I thought. 

Shortly before 10 a.m., we lost electric power from a downed pole around the corner. We did what we could, but we all know how dependent we are on computers, lifts, phones and other equipment. The power came back later that afternoon and we all stayed late into the night to catch up. The problems and the push to get the work done were draining everyone, including me. 

I spent the better part of Friday morning dealing with the customer with the seized engine. The truth is, there was oil in the engine, but it was low about two quarts, which he couldn’t read on the dipstick. He was also 5,000 miles over his oil change service and admitted that the oil light was coming on intermittently. Knowing the truth put me in a better position to deal with the problem, he was still upset, but the facts were the facts and I stood my ground.

By Friday afternoon I was mentally exhausted and was looking forward to the weekend. At about 3:30, I noticed a long-time customer in the waiting area. I walked over to her to say hello and she started to cry. I sat down with her and asked if there was anything I could do. She told me that her 41-year-old daughter just passed away from cancer. She left behind two young children and her husband. In an instant, all of the problems during the past few days took on a different meaning. This woman had real issues to deal with; issues about family and about life itself. 

I sat with her until her car was finished and listened as she spoke about her daughter and family. When her car was complete I walked her out. As I walked back to the office, I started to put things in perspective and realized that all the trouble that had happened in the last few days seemed a lot less important.

As shop owners, we face adversity every day. Sometimes, things appear to be too tough to bear. But sometimes, just sometimes, the problems we face are just what we need to remind us that things could be a lot worse. 

Another Monday is approaching, and I don’t know what the auto repair world has in store for me. It may be hell or it may be paradise. But whatever happens, I’m ready for it.  

Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at [email protected].

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