Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2008   by Gil Verwey, Owner Of Verwey Automotive In Burlington, Ont.

The challenges of opening your own shop

Something else I have learned in running my own shop is how important it is to maintain a proper work and life balance.

Something else I have learned in running my own shop is how important it is to maintain a proper work and life balance.

Almost every technician at onetime- or-another thinks they would like to open their own shop. Two years ago, after years of working as a licensed technician, I came to the decision to open my own independent service shop.

Making that step was both exciting and challenging, and taught me quite a number of things. The first thing I learned was that being a technician and an owner of a shop are two very different jobs. While I knew a lot about maintaining and repairing vehicles, I did not know very much about running a business. I knew the basics, but there was so much I was simply not aware of. The biggest challenges I faced were around issues of accounting and marketing: how to properly charge for work and materials so every job makes a profit; how to effectively market the shop’s services to customers and keep them coming back; and how to manage a staff to maintain profitability. There are many management courses. However, I found nearly all of them are aimed at people who already have a business. But what about the technician, like myself two years ago, who is thinking of starting their own business?

When I started, I had to figure out all by myself how to start and then run a business. I was lucky that I was able to find people to help me, such as a very good accountant to help with the negotiations on the lease for my building and later putting together all the information and financials needed by the bank. As well, I was greatly helped by the folks at AARO where I was a director. The members of AARO provided invaluable advice and everyone really encouraged me to start my own shop. But how much I would have appreciated a course aimed at technicians who are thinking of starting a business to help them understand what is needed to open a service shop. I always knew I could fix cars, but I did not know if I could run a business. The reality which I and others quickly discover is that the two are very different jobs requiring different skills. But many start off not knowing what those skills are, or where to begin getting those skills and often running into problems because of that lack of knowledge.

Thankfully, I’ve been very successful with my shop, having grown it to the point where I have another full-time technician, an experienced part-timer and I’m now on the path of learning how to further grow the business.

Something else I have learned in running my own shop is how important it is to maintain a proper work and life balance. We’ve all heard the piece of wisdom that when you start a business, be prepared to work long hours and weekends. What I have found is while it is very easy to work 18 hours-a-day and weekends, the price is the strain on one’s family life. Early on, my wife and I decided the shop would have regular hours and be open five days a week. Such a schedule, contrary to what some may think, has not affected the bottom line and makes everyone more productive and happy. I discovered that by making sure everyone has a healthy home and personal life and not tying people to the shop at all hours, the five days a week everyone is in the shop are more productive. If you are tired and frustrated by working long hours and weekends, then it is hard to deal with customers who are frustrated and are coming to you to fix their vehicle.



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