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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!”
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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
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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
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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.
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By Elite Worldwide Inc.
By Jim Murphy of Elite
We continue to hear that it is important to be more efficient in our shops; more efficient at the front counter, more efficient techs, more efficient with our time in general. What are we truly doing about it? Expenses and costs keep increasing. The collision industry has already learned that they cannot charge more because the insurance industry has capped their ability to do so. 6 to 7 hours per technician is not going to cut it any longer; the collision shops now need to get 10 to 12 hours per day per tech. How is mechanical repair going to survive? Customers are beginning to reach the upper barrier of what we can charge. We need to improve proficiency by 50% without increasing the charges to the customer.
How do we do that?
We need to re-evaluate processes, people, equipment and technology. We then need to reassess and improve some more. The collision industry efficiencies were increased, now it is our turn! We need to reconfigure workspaces for the shop and customer service areas. Analyze paper and people flows to minimize steps and remove the barriers that make your staff slow down or stop. We need to constantly review equipment, tools, technology and IT to speed up processes. We need to look for improvements in products to minimize comebacks, and most importantly, we need to continue to upgrade training.
The best performing businesses have the highest quality people, the right people for the right positions. Training plus experience equals a highly trained staff. Make sure that you have a training plan in place for each employee. You want to source the right training at the right time for the right price. Don’t just accept whatever becomes available to you at the time and expect that this will be right for your staff. Do your homework and procure what each team member will need this year to become more efficient. Your business is going to depend upon it!
This article was brought to you by Jim Murphy. Jim the leader of Elite’s prestigious Pro Service, a peer group made up of 90 of the most successful shop owners in North America. To learn more about the industry's top peer group, visit Elite's Pro Service page: https://www.eliteworldwide.com/20-group.html
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