by Vic Tarasik, owner, Vic’s Precision Automotive
Morale as defined in Merriam-Webster is the mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or task at hand.
As independent repair shop owners, we all strive to have a successful, profitable business that secures a great lifestyle for us and our family.
We are in different regions of the country and operate shops that range from small operations to mega-shops. We serve different cultures, demographics and have a broad spectrum of car counts. Albeit, one common thread we have is that each of us has employees. And, one thing I’ve learned over my 26 years as a shop owner is that the higher the morale and brighter the shop environment is, the better the quality of the work that’s produced and the higher the hours each employee produces.
I solicited the input from three successful shop owners across the country to get their input on employee morale and team building. While each has a different business model, I consider them to be among the finest shop owners with whom I’ve been associated. Each has annual single-store sales in the seven-figure range, and have operational efficiencies that are in the top of the industry.
Mirroring The Leader
Mike Maloney, owner of Convenience Auto Service, a single store operation in Ann Arbor, MI, has been in partnership with Lou Lippert for 10 years now. Mike and Lou started out servicing only Subaru vehicles, but quickly expanded into a full-line import shop that has added major domestic vehicle repairs to its service offering.
“I always go out of my way to catch someone doing something right! Then, I tell them how proud I am of them,” says Mike.
Many shop owners don’t realize that compensation is only one component of employee retention. Employees stay and thrive in a place where they feel both challenged and appreciated.
“A business often takes on the personality of the leader,” continues Mike. “If the leader is positive, upbeat and treats customer right, the employees will, too. If the guy at the top is cranky, moody or tough on people, employees often act out the same traits when interacting with customers.”
Everyone Is More Secure With a Big ‘Bank Account’
Brian Bates runs a multi-shop operation, Eagle Automotive Service, in Littleton, CO. His philosophy toward his employees has helped grow his business from a small, five-bay shop to being able to add a second location (an eight-bay shop), and he now is actively looking for a third location.
Brian’s approach stems from the “emotional bank account” thought process. “If you point out a problem with an employee’s behavior, you need to point out at least three things that he/she is doing correctly in order to keep your account balance ‘in the green’ with your team members,” he explains.
It’s also important to focus on the employee’s behavior, continues Brian, rather than judging the team member, by saying, “This is what you’re doing,” versus “this is what you are.”
Brian focuses on the behavior that should be complimented or needs to be adjusted, while taking into account that he’s dealing with a person who is a strong asset. It doesn’t take much to turn around an employee’s temperament when you can demonstrate that you value his/her contributions to your business.
Charting The Course
Last is Casey McGowan of Casey’s Independent Automotive in Vancouver, WA. Casey and Kim opened their business on Sept. 11, 2001, and built it from a small operation into one of the nicest facilities I’ve seen as I’ve traveled across the country. I consider their shop to fall into the “mega-shop” category.
Casey’s business has grown at a tremendous rate since I’ve known him; what began as a six-bay business has now expanded into a massive 16-bay facility. He and Kim moved into a new facility three years ago and the company’s growth has been amazing. Each year, his business has grown by 30%. He has a drag racing background and knows how a high-performance culture operates, and he’s created one of his own at Casey’s Independent Automotive.
Casey explains his philosophy this way. “I feel that as the owner/manager/captain of the ship, having and painting the vision for the business and being able to give that to your employees is one of the most important and difficult tasks we do.
“Beyond that, so is asking them to trust us, empowering them to do and learn things they may not have thought important in the past, shining a light on a dimly lit industry, and simply reminding them that what they do every day is a good, respectable, valuable service. We ask our employees to be professional and act professional. Likewise, I feel it is so important to treat them as such, as true professionals.”
As you can see, Mike, Brian and Casey demonstrate top-level leadership traits, and, by doing so, they set the tone at their shop and make sure the morale is at a very high level. They model what strong positive leaders can do in our industry, and the success of their shops bear this out.
Employees yearn for sound, quality leadership where their talents are recognized and their shortcomings are not used as a strike against them. They want to work for people who are upbeat and have vision. A survey of employees cited in the book Love ’Em or Lose ’Em indicated that compensation was number seven on the list of why people work for a particular company. More than anything, they want to be valued for their contributions and feel like they are part of the team.
Your employees are the linchpin of your company’s success. Providing a secure workplace where you set a positive tone will ensure you retain the best people, so they will be with you as you grow your business and experience success together.
• Love ’Em or Lose ’Em, $18.73, Amazon.com.
• The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent and Accelerate Performance, $17.59, Amazon.com.
Vic Tarasik is the owner of Vic’s Precision Automotive, The Woodlands, TX, a 30-year industry veteran and long-time 20 Group member. His 10-bay, 7,000 sq.-ft. shop specializes in customer service, in addition to expert vehicle repairs. Vic can be reached at [email protected]