Auto Service World
Feature   December 1, 2013   by Murray Voth, TACT

What’s Good for the Owner is Good for the Employee

Nothing gets a group of shop owners more riled up than talking about technicians who are texting on their phones while they work and service advisors who Facebook all day long. My usual approach to this challenge is to provide good leadership...

Nothing gets a group of shop owners more riled up than talking about technicians who are texting on their phones while they work and service advisors who Facebook all day long. My usual approach to this challenge is to provide good leadership skills training, employee engagement training and discussion of ways to develop mutual accountability of all the team members. However, I have had my eyes opened to a hypocrisy on the part of the owners that needs to be addressed before we talk to our employees. There are some owners who blatantly say, “Do as I say, not as I do,” and then expect their employees to perform well. Having said that, many owners are not aware that they are being hypocrites. This comes from a lack of understanding of what it means to be a business owner, especially one who performs an active role in their business.

Where is the Owner?

I’ve been aware of this issue in one way or another for some time, but it has hit me between the eyes in recent weeks. With the shortage of good technicians and service advisors at critical levels, I have been researching what is attracting good employees to the right shops and the things that turn off good employees. What is most disturbing are the owners of the least profitable shops who often exhibit the worst behaviors. What I am talking about is a shop owner not actually putting in a full workday. (Note: if you are a shop owner whose shop is highly profitable, and you have employees to fill every single role in the business, you are off the hook. You have earned your flexibility.) Owners who are filling roles such as manager and service advisor, in a few cases technician or shop foreman, need to held accountable to that position in the same way they would hold an employee accountable in that position.

Owners are spending significant amounts of time on Facebook, Craig’s List or Kijiji; or buying and selling cars, trucks, boats, snowmobiles, motorcycles and quads. In some cases, owner are trying to make money and in others using company money needed for cash flow to buy personal toys.

I have heard of shop owners spending up to half of the day watching fishing or golf videos, or sending and receiving “funny” emails. There are other examples of owners playing the stock market or working at multilevel businesses unrelated to their shops during business hours. Others are out and about, hanging out at the local coffee shop, meeting with other business owners dreaming up new business schemes.

In their minds they are being entrepreneurs. Other owners are very involved in community or volunteer work, business networks, sporting organizations, or their religious organizations. Others run for political office at municipal, provincial and federal levels. And then there is playing solitaire, working on hot rods and racecars, hiding in the office and other general time wasting.

Before you jump all over me, get defensive or close this magazine, please understand that none of the above mentioned activities are bad in themselves. In fact, some of them are very honorable and rewarding activities, and in other cases I know that the owner is burned out and is trying to escape.

What Are Your Responsibilities

Just because you own a business does not mean you can do anything you want to it, with it or in it. If you own an animal you need to feed it and care for it, or the SPCA will be all over you. If you own a home, you need to look after it and maintain it or the neighbors and the real estate market will speak to you. But who holds you accountable when you own a business? If you don’t pay your taxes, the government; if you mistreat your employees, the labour board; if you don’t treat your customers well, they leave; if you don’t pay your bills, your suppliers and the bank. But who holds you accountable to how you use your time? It appears that no one does, because you are your own boss.

The picture I want you to see appears when you look in the mirror. You get very upset when a technician shows up late for work, you are frustrated when your bookkeeper does not have the month end finished, and you are very stressed when your service advisor leaves in the middle of the afternoon to deal with a sick child. How do your shareholders feel when you do all of the above and more? Oh wait, you are the main shareholder!

In many small to medium automotive shops the owner holds three positions. The first position is that of owner or shareholder. The second position is that of manager. And in many cases the third position will be that of service advisor, technician or bookkeeper. In larger shops, chances are you are the owner and manager.

So what are the responsibilities of an owner? If you own shares in a company on the stock market you are part owner of that company. As a shareholder you are looking for a return on your investment and dividends. The shareholders hold the board of directors and the management of the company accountable to that end. Society and government hold corporations accountable for good corporate citizenship, proper environmental practices and good labour relations. These are your responsibilities as an owner; how are you doing?

Next are your responsibilities as a manager. As a manager, it is your job to operate the business in such a way that the company makes a profit for the shareholders. This means that you must understand how to measure the business, create and read financial reports, understand and attain industry benchmarks. You must provide and train the systems and procedures required to attain these benchmarks. You need to attract, hire, train and retain the employees required to fill the different positions in the company. You will provide job descriptions, training, staff meetings and regular employee reviews. You will ensure that all the company-operating expenses are paid, accounts payable are paid and accounts receivable are collected. You will research and source the required tools, equipment, training, software and computers needed to operate the business. You will meet with suppliers to negotiate best pricing and service for the business. You will need to manage and control the expenses of the business to ensure that the business can operate effectively yet not waste or overspend. You will research and create a marketing plan to grow the business and perform all the public relations and customer relations roles that need to be carried out.

In addition to this, you will also be held accountable for good corporate citizenship, environmental and labour practices. So unless you hire a manager, I really don’t think you have time to watch YouTube videos.

I said that in some shops the owner also fills a role as service advisor or technician. This is on top of the management role. I am going to qualify the above statement by saying “try” to fill a role as service advisor or technician. Unless you have a full time manager in place, how do you have time to do any other job, much less play solitaire or watch YouTube videos?

Most of you in this situation have landed there because of several points of view. One is that the money is made in the bays and you think that you need to be the one working on cars because you are the best and the fastest.

Another point of view is that you need to do all the service advising, because all of your customers know you and you are nervous that an employee might charge them too much or upset them in some other way. And the last point of view is that you feel you cannot afford either that technician or advisor.

In all three cases it comes down to a matter of good management and trust. If you are honest with yourself, you are desperately trying to micromanage everything because you have never found the right employee, you have never trained the right employee, and have never empowered and held the right employee accountable. Mostly because you are not the right employee: you have never been trained, you have never been empowered and held accountable, yet you are the owner of the business.

Just as a couple do not need any training or certification to be parents, there is no certification required to open a business. I hope after reading this article you have woken up and realized you have been pregnant and delivered a baby, and you have no idea what to do with this baby called an automotive shop. Time to seek some parenting advice and get some training.

To those of you spending long hours in your business and not wasting those hours, my hat goes off to you. If you want to be able to spend less time in your business and still make money, attracting, hiring, training, and retaining good strong employees is still the path to take.

And to those of you who have a profitable shop, and have met all your obligations as an owner and manager, why not take time off and go fishing rather than watching fishing videos!

Dave Meunier’s Automotive Management Training and Consulting group is one of the most sought after providers of business solutions for shop owners in Canada. Contact Lee Meunier, Toll Free at 1-866-489-8228 (TACT) or by email

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