Quantcast
Jump to content


Gonzo

Article: Building a Canoe - When you're deep in thought...

Recommended Posts

Building a Canoe

Have you ever noticed when you’re relaxing at home, or at work trying to accomplish something, sooner or later somebody comes along and asks, “So, whatcha doin’?” It happens to me all the time. Around my house though, there’s a typical answer you’ll get if you ask such a question, and that’s, “I’m building a canoe.” Meaning, “It’s not all that important what I was doing. Thanks for caring, but I’d like to get back to what I was doing.” It’s a running joke at my house. Nobody takes it seriously. It seems at my house, no matter what the situation is, somebody is building a canoe somewhere. Now at the shop, well, I’m not sure anyone would understand “building a canoe”, and it definitely wouldn’t be appropriate. But, I’ve certainly had my fair share of chances to shout it out from time to time.

Take the typical phone call that asks, “If you’re not real busy right now, I’ve only got a couple of questions I’d like to ask.” Not a problem, nothing is as important as helping the next person in line. Go ahead and ask, but if the questions seem to be from the far side of the lake I might start answering with nautical terms or what size oars I’m carving out. By then, you’ll know I’m probably not following your line of questions too closely.

Let’s face it, I’m just a mechanic. According to some, I’m supposed to have more in common with a Neanderthal than a rocket scientist. Figuratively speaking of course. But, at the same time, I’m supposed to have the solution for any type of problem at a moment’s notice, and know exactly the cost of each and every part from each and every manufacturer cataloged in my brain, and if I can’t answer their question with the answer they expected I must either be a Neanderthal, or I’ve spent way too much time building canoes and not on my chosen profession.

It goes back to the old school of thought that it doesn’t take a lot of brain cells to do this job. I’m not sure where that comes from, or how it ever got started. But, if you’ve watched a few old TV shows from the 50’s and 60’s it’s pretty clear that the portrayal of a mechanic is almost always one of a dopy guy with a greasy rag hanging out of his pocket who couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation with anything beyond a boat oar. That perception has gotta change, these days it takes a highly trained, technically savvy mechanic to diagnose and repair the modern car.

Like many professional mechanics, I don’t spend my time under the hood of a car to answer questions. I’m there to do my job, and that’s fix the car. But, there are those occasions when one of those rubberneckers is leaning over the fender and you know at some point they’re going to ask, “Whatcha doing now?” I seriously want to break out into a long dissertation of how I’ve been building this canoe. It’s probably best I don’t paddle in that direction, as I’d have to explain the canoe thing.

Being so involved in your work is one thing. Being asked questions while you’re working is another. Sometimes it’s not a problem, while other times it throws you so far off you’ve got to regroup your thoughts and start all over again. I’ve often wondered how a psychologist would interpret some of the things I hear at the shop. Maybe I really don’t want know, maybe I’m the crazy one and everyone else is just building their own canoes.

A perfect example was a hot afternoon with several jobs going all at once. The shop was buzzing and everybody was super busy when this guy came to the service counter. “Ya got a second? OK, OK, like… I changed the starter, the battery, and the ignition switch. Then, I changed the window switch, all the relays, and the fuel pump. I was told it could be the power steering pump, so I changed that too, and while I was at it, me and a buddy replaced the heater core. So, so, how much do ya charge to look at my car?”

For me, I prefer the logical approach to answering customer’s questions. That is to answer each and every one of their concerns correctly and professionally. But in this case, which end of the canoe are we talking about? I’m not quite sure what I was really asked. There I am just paddling along (working out in the shop), doing my thing, and when I pull up to the shore line (run up to the service counter) somebody starts telling me about what parts they changed on their car and not necessarily problems I’m capable of solving. Do I ask this guy, “I take it the car doesn’t start?” or do I answer the only question that I actually heard? Is there more than one canoe involved in this story, or have I been paddling on the wrong lake all this time?

By now, I should have a whole fleet of canoes. But, I never ever seem to finish the first one, before I’m swept downstream on another adventure. There’s always another job, another phone call, and another, “Hey, do ya got a second to answer some questions?” Which usually leads to another canoe.
Working on cars, and all this high tech razzle dazzle stuff can be a trying effort, but it’s what mechanics do every day. It’s one of those jobs that seems easy, but in reality, it’s not. It’s something that not everyone is cut out for. It has its rewards as well as its down sides. But for the most part it’s a great career choice and if you’re like me, finding and fixing the problems is what it’s all about. However, I wouldn’t mind building canoes as a career choice either. It’s another one of those jobs where working with your hands is the only way of getting things accomplished, and I’m definitely a hands on type of guy.

We all could use a little more time to just float along and enjoy the gentle current and scenery. You know, take in the big picture for a change, and realize none of us really have it that bad after all. Maybe a little less of that rush-rush and hurry up-stay-on schedule in our lives. Mechanic or canoe builder, every trade has their issues. But, when the day is done, and we have that moment to sit back and forget about the shop or that next car we’ve got to work on, it’s the perfect time to day dream about a leisurely float down a lazy river. So, as you’re sitting there in your easy chair, smiling, taking in that imaginary scenery and somebody comes along and asks, “Whatcha doin’?” just tell them… “I’m building a canoe.” It’ll be our little secret.



Click here to view the article

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites



  • Similar Forum Topics

    • By Elite Worldwide Inc.
      Whenever a customer tells you they can’t afford to do the repairs, and they ask you if you can help them out “this one time’”, you need to give careful thought before you lower your price. 
      First of all, there is a cardinal rule in sales that says before lowering your price, you need to build more value in your service. Yet as we all know, there are going to be some occasions where no matter how good your sales skills are, the customer simply won’t have the ability to pay for the recommended services. In such cases, you and your advisors will have three options. One, you can let the customer walk; two, you can drop your price; or three, you can follow the proven path we have provided to tens of thousands of advisors over the years. 
      First of all, if you let them walk, both you and the customer have lost. They’ve lost the time they’ve invested in having their vehicle inspected, and when they leave your shop their problems still exist. You’ve lost the marketing dollars you invested in bringing the customer through your door, you’ve lost the time you’ve invested in inspecting the vehicle and estimating the job, and you’ve lost the opportunity to help someone in need. 
      The second option you have is to lower your price, and while you may close that sale, you’ll also be sending a message to your customer that if they wouldn’t have asked for a discount, they would have paid too much. If that’s not bad enough, it gets worse, because they know if they ever decide to come back they’ll need to negotiate with you, regardless of the prices you quote. The good news is, there’s a third option, and it’s one that’s used by the top shop owners in America with great success….  
      Putting first things first, you’ll need to see if the customer qualifies for any legitimate discounts you offer, such as Senior Citizen, AAA or Military discounts. You can also limit the number of repairs to the ones they can afford at the time. Another option (which works well in some cases), is to scale back on some of the benefits, such as the length or terms of the warranty. If you and your customer find none of those solutions to be acceptable, you can consider telling them that you will keep their vehicle at your shop (space allowing), and perform the repairs if and when your time allows (when another customer cancels their appointment at the last minute and your tech has the downtime, for example). What your customer would be sacrificing is the immediacy and convenience.
      Please bear in mind that when making any decision to lower your price, you need to ask yourself who is ultimately going to pay for the discount, because the answer will inevitably be your other customers.  Secondly, if you have the right advisors, with the right principles, they’ll know in their hearts it’s just not right to charge two people different prices for the same service. To put it another way, I’m sure you would not want your mom or dad walking into any business and buying a product or service when you know the customer right before them… paid less.  Never forget, principles, not shell games, lead to two things: higher profits, and the ability to sleep at night knowing you are not playing games… with other people’s money.  
      Since 1990, Bob Cooper has been the president of Elite Worldwide Inc. (www.EliteWorldwide.com), a company that strives to help shop owners reach their goals and live happier lives, while elevating the industry at the same time. The company offers the industry’s #1 peer group of 90 successful shop owners, training and coaching from top shop owners, service advisor training, along with online and in-class sales, marketing and shop management seminars. You can contact Elite at [email protected], or by calling 800-204-3548.

      View full article
    • By Gonzo
      Twas the Night before Christmas (Mechanic style)   Twas the night before Christmas,  and all through the service bay, Not an engine was stirring,  just old Santa’s sleigh.     All the air hoses were hung,  by the compressor with care, The mechanics had the day off,  I’m the only one there.   I was just an apprentice, but wanted to show St. Nick just what I knew, My boss was all for it, said it was OK if I turned a few screws.   With visions of being a full time mechanic, dancing in my head I was going to give it my best shot; I’ll fix this old sled.    I gave the key a twist,and listened in dismay, That little red hot rod needed service, in such a bad way   Then from under the hood there arose such a clatter, That even St. Nick had to ask, “So, what’s the matter?”   I flew from the driver’s seat and raised the hood in a flash, Nearly stumbling off my feet, from my quick little dash.   The under hood light, glimmered onto the engine below, The fan belt had broken, and a spark plug blew out a hole.   It’s something I can handle; I learned this stuff in school, I’ll have this fixed up in no time; it only takes a few tools,   I started it up and all eight cylinders were firing away Just a few minor adjustments and he could be on his way   That’s when I noticed, his sled was packed full of all sorts of toys… He hadn’t finished his deliveries, to all the girls… and boys.   He was dressed all in red, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot   Anxious he was, to finish his trip as soon as he could, With my wrenches a flyin’, he knew that he would.   It was up to me, to get it fixed this very night, He still had a long way to go, before it was daylight.   His eyes, how they twinkled, his dimples, how merry His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry.   And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow. I knew it was Christmas Eve, so I couldn’t say no,   He had a broad face and a round little belly That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.   He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.   His sled was like new, after the job was all done, Now that it’s fixed, he could get back to his run.   He reached into his huge bag, and pulled a box out with a jerk, Said he knew just how to thank me, for all of my hard work,   I ripped open the present, and Oh, what a sight! Snap On wrenches and sockets!  Boy was he right!   As he pulled from the parking lot, he held the throttle to the floor, Just to show off, he passed by the shop, once more,   This guy Santa, he’s a little strange, at any rate, He had a name for every cylinder, in his little V8.   I could hear him shout, so loud and clear,  Naming off each cylinder, as if they could hear.   "Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!   I heard the tires screech, as he caught second gear, Off to deliver those presents, some far, some near.   Then, I heard him exclaim, just before he drove out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”  
      View full article
    • By Joe Marconi
      I will never forget the day I met Carlos. It was 13 years ago at a small business conference in New York City. The conference drew business owners from all types of industries throughout the greater New York area. Carlos was sitting next to me at orientation. The day was lined up with guest speakers, workshops and networking opportunities. By the third networking break, Carlos and I were hitting it off. We traded war stories, discussed business challenges and brainstormed new ideas. Carlos owns two Italian restaurants, one in Manhattan and the other in Brooklyn. His first restaurant was founded in 1986 when he was 27 years old. I finally asked Carlos, “What’s your background? Did you go school to become a chef? Did your family own a restaurant? Do you enjoy cooking?” Carlos turned to me, smiled, and said, “Joe, I am going to let you in on a little-known secret: I have never cooked a meal in my life.”
      Unlike Carlos and his business venture, most auto repair businesses are started by technicians and use their technical skills to run their companies. I was one of them. I spent years honing my technical skills from the time I graduated high school in 1973 to my first day in business, Oct. 1, 1980. I worked hard at becoming the absolute best automotive technician I could possibly become. I also spent another decade after starting my business improving those skills. That is, until one day I realized that while I may have used my technical skills to start and initially build my business, it wasn’t enough.
      In the first 10 years, I grew my business primarily with my hands, my strength and my determination. At the end of that decade, I hit a wall. Thankfully, that wall knocked some sense into me. My business was largely dependent on my abilities and what I could produce. After analyzing my business and realizing that it had plateaued for a number of years, I had to make a tough choice. It was time to put down the tools. I had to learn a different set of skills—the skills of running a company. This proved to be the right choice for me.
      I’m not saying I regret what I did in those early years. I didn’t know any other way. I loved the auto industry and I loved working on cars. However, when the day came that I decided to become a business owner, my life changed. And, my awareness of how to build and run a business should have changed with it.
      There are shop owners that were never technicians, and do quite well. It’s argued that they have an advantage over technician-turned-shop-owners. A technician’s brain is wired to look at the problem at hand, create a solution and move on. An entrepreneur looks at business from a different perspective: always looking to the future, at growth and what other greater things can be accomplished.
      I remember many years ago meeting a very successful shop owner from the west coast at a trade show. We were both standing at a booth that displayed emissions-related products. I picked up a sensor, turned to this shop owner and asked what he thought of the new air fuel ratio sensors. He replied, “I wouldn’t know an oxygen sensor from a spark plug.” I kept silent. This shop owner was, and still is, well known in the industry—and very successful.
      Here’s the bottom line: As a business owner, the skills of repairing cars have little to do with the skills needed for long-term business success. For many of you with a technical background, you may have come to the same conclusion. If you have not come to this realization, please take a long hard look at your life and your business. While you may love to be in the bays, your place it a helm of the ship. Use those technical skills, but understand that those skills may have gotten you this far, but they won’t get your business to where it needs to be. It will be your business skills and people skills that builds a sustainable company that continues to grow and becomes a source of enrichment for you, your family, your employees and their families.
      Carlos and I still keep in contact with each other and he still owns and operates his restaurants. Carlos called me the other day and told me that he actually had the opportunity recently to work in the kitchen at one of his restaurants. Perhaps even entrepreneurs can cross over into the world of technicians. I’m betting it did a world of good for Carlos.
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on November 1st, 2018


      View full article
    • By Joe Marconi
      Can someone truly have two personalities? A real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—the one you see, and the one everyone else sees? I had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde employee a number of years ago; we’ll call him Dr. J. He was my shop foreman and helped the manager run the daily operations. Dr. J was employed about five years before things began to change.
      I first learned about Dr. J’s erratic behavior from a few of my employees. According to these employees, his behavior was destructive, disrespectful and rude. He never acted differently in front of me, so I had a hard time understanding what was going on. I talked to Dr. J about what others were saying, and he looked stunned.
      “Joe, I really can’t tell you why anyone would be unhappy with me. I get along with everyone,” he told me.
      I met with the employees who expressed concerns and let them know that I appreciated their feedback. I told them that Dr. J had been with us for a number of years and that I had never witnessed any unusual behavior from him. I tried to look at all sides and suggested that perhaps he was going through some personal issues, so let’s try to be a little more understanding.
      Out of respect, the employees agreed—but not for long. I was away on a business trip when I got a disturbing text message from one of my technicians. The text read, “Joe, if you don’t do something about Dr. J, we’ll deal with it ourselves.” It was late when I got the text, but decided to call the tech anyway. He told me in great detail what Dr. J was saying and how he behaved. I was shocked by what the tech told me. Could this person be a real life Jekyll and Hyde?
      It was early Monday morning, my first day back, when my office manager came into my office, closed the door behind her and said, “Joe, if you don’t do something about Dr. J, people are going to quit.” I knew at this point I had a real problem on my hands.
      I brought Dr. J into my office and told him everything that I had heard. I told him that the employees did not like the way he treated them and that the harsh words he used was causing a problem with everyone. Again, Dr. J was defensive and denied everything. However, this time he told me his perspective of the situation.
      According to Dr. J, the rest of the employees were not pulling their weight and that all he was trying to do was to motivate them. I tried to explain to him that criticism and harsh words are viewed as an attack. And if this strategy is repeated over and over, people will push back and shut down—the exact opposite of any intended good. I could tell by the look on Dr. J’s face that he really didn’t agree with what I was saying, but he told me that he would take my opinion under consideration.
      After that meeting, I paid careful attention to Dr. J’s treatment of others. All seemed good. Then one day, I witnessed the Jekyll and Hyde persona for myself. Dr. J didn’t know I was in the front office as he lashed out at one of the technicians. The tone and the words that came out of his mouth were unacceptable and appalling. I saw firsthand what everyone in the shop was experiencing. After repeated attempts to correct his behavior, his conduct never improved. It was time to let him go.
      I never found out what changed Dr. J, but I did feel confident that I gave him every opportunity to correct his behavior. While Dr. J may have fooled me initially, I have to admit that I did see that the mood of the shop was tense and morale was down. With Dr. J no longer employed, morale improved and everything went back to normal.
      The workplace environment is a delicate balance between culture and production. It’s also filled with emotions. People want to rally together for the greater good. But, they also need to know that their leader protects them from any threats that attempts to harm the team. It’s also wise not to readily dismiss the concerns your employees express to you. Be on the lookout in your shop. You just might have a Dr. J of your own.
      This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on December 7th, 2018


      View full article
    • By Gonzo
      12 Days of Christmas        at an Automotive Repair Shop   You know the song, so just sing along with me in the holiday spirit.   On the 1st day of Christmas  a customer sent to me: A cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 2nd day Christmas a customer sent to me: 2 Latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 3rd day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 3 Wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.    On the 4th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 4 Wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 5th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 5 Piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 6th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 6 Brand new sockets, 5 piston rings,  4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 7th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 7 Dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings,  4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 8th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 8 Engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 9th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 9 Coils a-sparking, 8 engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 10th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 10 Headlights blinking, 9 coils a-sparking, 8 engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 11th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 11 Gears a-grinding, 10 headlights blinking, 9 coils a-sparking, 8 engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings, 4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   On the 12th day of Christmas a customer sent to me: 12 Trannys slipping, 11 gears a-grinding, 10 headlights blinking, 9 coils a-sparking, 8 engines leaking, 7 dash lights flashing, 6 brand new sockets, 5 piston rings,  4 wire straps, 3 wrench ends, 2 latex gloves, and a cartridge for my grease gun.   Speaking on behalf of the entire automotive repair industry, Thank you to all our customers for their patronage.  We appreciate it. Have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 
      View full article
  • AutoShopOwner Sponsors



×