As I gaze into the rearview mirror and look back at my career as a technician, shop owner, business leader and coach to many successful shop owners, I wonder, what would I say to my younger self to expedite, enhance and straighten the path to get me to where I am today?
Looking back to learn from positive things and the challenges is requisite to achieve the best you can be. Self-reflection is healthy, just as long as you don’t reflect to condemn yourself. Reflect to learn, period.
As we wind up one of the best years we’ve had, I ponder…what lessons would I share with the younger me, say 30-ish years ago? As I write this I realize one fact: first, I would have to be teachable. Can you remember what it was like when your younger self was all knowing and all seeing? In many cases, some of us repeated the same lesson over and over again!
If I had a coaching session with the younger Vic, I’d point out a number of key points:
Failure Is An Option
Never be afraid to fail. The lessons we learn when we crash and burn are the ones where the learning is the strongest.
I have had my share of epic fails, from financial hardships where food and finances were in short supply, to dealing with crooked people in my employ who decided to liberate funds from my shop for their own gain. Each of these failures left an indelible mark on me to the point where I learned how to handle finances to the degree where we navigated multiple national financial crises at our shop. While it wasn’t easy, we were never short of funds.
Failure equals pain. Embrace the pain, learn from it and endeavor NOT to repeat it!
Ask Questions and Listen More Than You Speak
There’s an old proverb that says, “Even dunces who keep quiet are thought to be wise; as long as they keep their mouths shut, they’re smart.” While this might be good for appearances, just looking smart sucks in reality. There are so many wise people around us who can help us to achieve far more than we can trudging through business alone trying to figure things out.
I admire younger shop owners who reach out to business coaches to help them learn and grow, because it took me 15 years of shop ownership before I sought out a coach. It’s easy to slip into regrets, wondering what my shop and business life would have been like if only I had engaged a consultant sooner. But, hey, at least I sought one out at the midpoint and not at the end of my career as a shop owner.
Whether you have a coach or not, take advantage of your experienced industry peers. Listen first, trying to gain understanding. Ask questions of those who are successful, learning from their mistakes.
Don’t Mistake Self-Confidence for Arrogance
By nature, technicians and business owners are problem solvers, and, in many cases, a master tech decides to open his own shop. Suddenly, what was his greatest asset in fixing vehicles – confidence – is now his greatest liability.
You see it is easy to confuse confidence in your abilities in servicing vehicles to arrogance that you as an owner are fully equipped to run a shop the first day you open it. Let’s be honest – technical prowess doesn’t translate to business acumen; business skills must be learned. Just like the progression of learning the trade, the same progression must be followed as shop owner, building skills block by block.
Realize that Sunset Always Follows a Sunrise
This one might not make sense, especially if you are young in your career and have many years and decades ahead of you. In your mind you think you have a ton of time and, in one sense, you are right. You DO have time; you can use it in your favor by setting yourself on the right course now and make adjustments as your career progresses.
If you look around, you’ll see owners and businessmen entering the twilight of their careers, some flush with cash, others wrenching on because they need the income. Who do you want to be, the guy who can decide when to hang up his keys to the shop, or the guy who needs to come in every day because he can’t afford to not be working?
Success is easier to achieve if you set the course earlier than later.
Be Intentional About Growth
What got you here won’t get you there. You are in a career that requires life-long learning to maintain your position, let alone get ahead of your peers. Acquire knowledge specific to your immediate and near future needs.
As your role grows from being technician/owner to solely the owner, YOUR need for technical knowledge diminishes, but your need for knowledgeable techs increases. Surround yourself with a team that is technically superior to you, while you focus on business operations and captain your ship.
Learning isn’t just for you; adopt a growth plan for each member of your shop – general service tech, service advisor, technician and owner.
You Are Not A Bank
First, over the years as a shop owner, you’ll meet plenty of people “in need,” who will want you to service their car for free. Pass these folks along to someone who can vet them. If they are truly in need, a non-profit organization like a church can vouch for them. If you are inclined to help, you’ll know that it is a verified need.
Second, as a shop, never self-fund a repair. There are plenty of options for your customers to finance repairs, from credit cards, to interest-free financing, to their relatives and friends. I have seen plenty of shops left holding the bag when it came to unpaid repairs. In many cases, the shop has released the car to the customer without being paid and it’s not on top of mind to come back and pay the bill. Other shop owners have a lot full of vehicles that aren’t worth what the customer owes on them, so they continue to sit unclaimed and unpaid for. These shops likely don’t have a firm grasp of their own finances and, in some cases, have neglected paying their parts bill or taxes to make up for unpaid repairs.
Most Importantly, Family First and Always
I recall one Christmas morning here in Houston. It was abnormally warm, so we had the A/C on so we could have a fire going to set the magical Christmas morning tone. My wife and I were unwrapping gifts in the middle of our living room floor. Christmas music playing, candles burning and the Christmas tree lit to perfection, it was a holiday postcard.
Then, my phone rang! Answering it, which was my first mistake, I immediately recognized the voice on the other end. Rocky was letting me know that his A/C wasn’t blowing on his van and wanted me to come over right away. He said it just needed a charge. I did what any shop owner would do and told him to come in the next day the shop was open.
He pressed because he said he was leaving on a trip and wanted his family to be comfortable. So, next I did what MANY shop owners tend to do – I relented, went over, charged the system and came home. All told, I was gone an hour and a half.
When I returned, Christmas morning was over and the magic we had created was gone, all because I failed to put my family above my business.
This is a lesson I still share with shop owners: you have only one family. Treasure them, guard your time with them, protect it at all costs. Your shop can become the source of great pride or great challenges if you don’t prioritize it correctly.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20; you will never see things so clearly as when you’re looking backward. The benefit of hindsight is that you can look ahead in your own life and see what might come and how you can share these experiences with others. I hope you gained some insight on how you can keep yourself out of the ditches I ran into!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!