A Shop Owner in Training

Nov. 1, 2015
Shop-owner-in-training Taylor Hill details how she’s preparing herself to take over Larson’s Service Inc.

Taylor Hill was standing outside Larson’s Service Inc., scared to walk inside.

She had read about the owner, Diane Larson, in a local newspaper article. An aspiring shop owner herself, Hill was drawn to the femalerun facility and wanted to learn how to make it in the industry.

Spending her childhood fixing cars in the driveway, Hill was always inspired to be a female leader in auto repair—but her father was hesitant.

“Because my father had grown up in the trade and had seen the way men treated women,” she says, “he would say to me, ‘No, you’re not getting into a trade dominated by men.’”

But Hill isn’t deterred by the fact that there’s a lack of women in leadership positions in auto care—in fact, that’s what motivated her to walk through Larson’s doors and ask her future mentor what it takes to run a shop.

At the end of the discussion? Larson offered her a job.

“Diane liked that I just walked into her shop and asked questions,” Hill says. “She’s very personality-based and she goes with her gut feeling most of the time. I think my enthusiasm for learning really won her over.”

Five years later, and there’s no succinct title that defines Hill’s role at the shop. When she attended her first conference with Larson, the two took into consideration all of Hill’s duties—she works side by side with Larson running operations, in addition to performing administrative work, service writing and lending extra help on fixing cars—and decided to label her business cards with the title: “Aspiring Shop Owner.”

And with Larson retiring after 30 years and handing the shop reigns to Hill in 2016, Hill’s day now consists of preparing herself to run Larson’s Service Inc.

Before I started working with Diane, I worked at a lot of retail stores. I hated big corporations because they made you feel like you were so replaceable. They would say, “How dare you ask for a raise. We’ll just find somebody else to do the same thing you’re doing for less money.” I was just always miserable in those jobs. If there’s no room for advancement, then forget it—why would I stay?

Because of the way Diane treated me and showed she cared about my growth, Larson’s felt more like a career than a job. I felt necessary, which was a feeling I had never experienced. I started coming in a couple days a week, doing what I could to help out. I knew I was the low man on the totem pole, so I would do anything and everything they needed. She could see that I was busting my hump.

Ever since then, she’s taken me under her wing and brought me to new heights. Within a year and a half, I ended up getting my ASE certification in service consulting, and now I’ve graduated with my Accredited Automotive Manager degree. I travel to training classes to keep up with everything and she’s been gearing me up to take over the business.

At this point, I’m running the bays and service writing and working with clients, and Diane is handling the marketing, the phones, the bookkeeping. Slowly, I’m transitioning and taking on the duties she used to handle herself. So while I am running the shop, a big part of my day is in-house training and learning from Diane.

From the minute I walk into work, we get started. I already know what cars are scheduled, so I’m looking through the day’s work. Diane has trained each customer to come in religiously every six months, and they come back because we get the vehicle in and out in one day. She’s got this down to a science.

A big chunk of my day is being coached about our procedures and making sure I’ve got them down. Procedure is what makes sure we have a minimum amount of cars coming in for that day. We schedule four cars every day, because if we do any more than that, we can’t take breakdowns. The procedures she’s put into place ensure it’s a non-stress situation every day.

I’ve adapted the way she organizes the repair process. The technicians will send me a sheet of repairs needed on a car highlighted in yellow, and I will highlight in blue whatever I get the OK on from the customer.

That way, I can just hand back the paperwork and they’ll know what to do. That sounds really simple, but having Diane pound that procedure into my head was a game changer. In all the other industries I’d served leadership roles in, I’d sit down and explain a list of things they needed to do. The nonverbal communication allows less room for error and has proven to be highly effective as far as productivity.

A lot of her traits and habits have rubbed off on me, but being that disciplined has been a learning curve for me. Sometimes I’m chatting with a client and I forget to schedule their next appointment. Then I have to fit them in afterwards, and it disrupts the flow and it puts more stress on the technicians.

If Diane sees I’m doing something wrong, she’ll address it. She’ll put her foot down, but she always does it in a reassuring, motherly way. She makes sure that everyone knows that this is a business, but does it in a way that doesn’t create tension or animosity. Instead of saying, “This is the way this needs to be done,” she says, “These are the mistakes I’ve made and this is why I do it this way.”

I respond a lot better to that than the “it’s my way or the highway” attitude. That’s one of the biggest reasons we bond so well and why she’s a great mentor. She understands my way of thinking. With the 30 years of experience she has in this industry, if she’s doing it this way, I’m going to believe her.

I’ve been getting a lot more leeway with the decisions. We’re hiring right now, so I’ve actually been doing interviews. She didn’t sit me down and tell me how to do it, either—she let me wing it. She let me write out my questions and get a feel for the process.

I have to bond well with somebody to feel like they would fit into my shop. I looked at their credentials and ASE certifications, but most of my questions involved getting to know the person and whether they would be a good fit for the shop: What kind of culture do you think you’d fit into? Do you prefer working alone, or working in a team environment? I can’t hire hotheads that want to work by themselves. That’s not how I roll. I want a team unit. We need to identify people’s strengths and make sure we’re interchangeable if something goes wrong.

Really, I think I’m just looking for what I have with Diane because we work so well together. I don’t want him or her to be just another face—I want to have that bond with whoever comes in.

The great thing our training sets up is that she allows me to do things my way. Yes, procedures are important, but she also knows I need to develop my own leadership style. I’ve always had a leadership personality. I’ve run departments at retail stores. I’ve worked myself into positions of authority. While I do pick up on a lot of her cues, it’s not solely based off what Diane has taught me.

It’s important that I take the business in a new direction and do things my own way. I’m updating the Facebook page and responding to online reviews. I have been trying to improve our recycling habits and working on a paperless program for our clients. We have similarities, but we have a lot of differences. Because of my attitude and ambitions, she’s really invested in seeing me make positive changes in the shop. I have a lot of vision and creativity to turn this into a new business.

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