Doug Hoy contributed this article to CARS magazine as an “It’s Your Turn” guest editorial. You can send in your rant to firstname.lastname@example.org
Most aspiring shop owners start out their careers as service technicians. After a few years, when a spot opens up, they make the move to the service desk. And once they’ve gotten comfortable dealing with customers and figuring out how the business works, they purchase the business.
I’m going in the other direction. After five years as the owner of a four-bay shop, I’m transitioning back into the bays to resume a career of full-time wrenching.
I purchased the shop at the age of 28, after having been a tech for 10 years. As the new owner, I was suddenly faced with unfamiliar responsibilities and challenges. As much as I wanted to stay on the bench to do diagnostic work, I was the only service advisor on the desk, and there were business decisions that needed my full attention. I wasn’t ready to hang up my coveralls and take my toolbox home, but my new role simply made it impossible for me to be in the bay, working at automotive repair.
Five years later, the business has grown to the point where we have two service advisors, and three technicians, with the need for a fourth. And I’ve decided that the fourth tech will be me.
I was excited to be going back in the shop where I could utilize my skills as a certified technician. I’m convinced that leaving the sales and administration to strong people on the counter was the best move that I’ve ever made in my business.
That’s not to say the transition has been easy. Being behind the scenes, away from my customers is tough. It’s hard not to micro manage the counter, and it’s weird not to answer every call myself. After years of being the face of the business, getting to know every customer that walked through the door, I’m letting others take the lead. In a way, we have to train our customers all over again.
I don’t want them to think I’m abandoning them so I try to make myself seen whenever I can. And I still offer the personal touch to those who want to deal only with me. But largely, I let my service team handle the customer experience and the workflow.
I may look over quotations or invoices at the end of the day. But I have great confidence in the systems and procedures we’ve put in place. The business is operating better than ever, without me getting in the way. Quite frankly, it is good that my “emotional bank account” has been taken out of the equation entirely. My soft spot for customers is no longer hurting the bottom line.
The transition has made my management staff stronger. They handle the morning open, the day-end reports, the paper work, and the closing duties. I used to take work and worries home with me, and would lose sleep over them. But having the right people in place, has made a huge difference in my life, without hurting the business.
I’m back in the bay full time, where I can truly be an asset to my own company. I’m focusing on the car care side of things… where my skills lie.
Doug Hoy is the owner of Hwy 33 Napa Autopro in Kelowna, B.C.