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An Average Day - We all have our comfort zones


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An Average Day


My average day begins with the usual commute to work, the obligatory coffee, and the turn of the key to the front door of the shop. Unlock the overheads, do any morning paper work I have waiting, and get the day started. Monday through Friday it’s the same routine. Occasionally I’ll come in early or stay later than normal, but for the most part every working day has the same general routine, one day to the next, each month, and each year it all seems to roll on and on. Same front door key, same route to work, and usually the same brand of coffee.


When there is a chance to change things up it’s a welcome relief from the usual pace of things. For me, being under the dash or under the hood of the modern car is my comfort zone, and it sure doesn’t hurt for me to get out of my comfort zone from time to time. And, like a lot of people on the go day in and day out, that daily grind can turn into a snapping attitude to whomever comes near. I know I could use a little reminder now and then, that what I do for a living ain’t all that bad, and I owe my customers a great deal of gratitude for their patronage and for putting up with this snarly old mechanic. I guess in a way you take those average days in your own little comfort zone and forget there is more to what makes the world go around besides the next car you’re working on. Sometimes it might take a little nudge from an outside source to get you to realize it.


Recently I took a few days off and ventured out on a road trip with my wife to one of her “comfort zones”. Ok, I was “volun-told” by the wife, but I didn’t complain too much. (If you’re married…you know what I mean. She insisted that I go; said I needed a break.) It was three days of little old ladies, sewing machines, and quilts. Yes, quilts. My wife is a very accomplished quilter, and I know about as much about quilting as she does cars. I didn’t have any tools, scanners, or hoods to hide under with me. This adventure is definitely out of my comfort zone.


My wife was the guest speaker for this quilting retreat. Me… I was the “mule” for the weekend. Well over a hundred ladies with scissors, big fancy (expensive) sewing machines, and colorful fabric were on hand. They kept me busy carrying their machines from the parking lot to their respective class rooms. There weren’t that many husbands at the retreat, and the hotel staff had their hands full with all the ladies, so it was a logical choice that whoever was available became the next bell boy, minus the quirky little cap of course. (And no, I didn’t accept any tips.) If you ask the wife she’ll tell ya, “Oh, he fusses but he loves every minute of it.” (Sure, sure honey, whatever ya think is fine with me.) I wasn’t concerned about what she was telling them anyway, I just pulled my ball cap down a bit tighter, and ask the next little lady with a sewing machine, “Where do ya want this one moved to, ma’am?”


This led me to think of how it is when a non-car person makes their way to the automotive repair shop. The actual interaction with the service writer or mechanic can be intimidating for them. For me, a weekend with the wife surrounded by thread and quilts is just about as intimidating. Ok, maybe not nearly as bad, but those little ladies sure know just how to make a grown man blush. Especially when one of them asks me something about their sewing machine, or dare I say… ask me something about quilting. Look… I know what a PCM and a ball joint are, but I haven’t a clue what flying geese or half-square triangles are. And, these ladies loved to rub it in. Uncomfortable, yes, intimidating…well, that gets rather interesting to answer that one. Let’s put it this way, when these ladies stuck me in front of a sewing machine, and clued me in on which buttons to push to make this thing sew… yea…that was intimidating. They got quite a chuckle out of watching some big burly guy fumble around with a sharp needle trying to hold a thin piece of fabric with his big nubby fingers. Sooner or later one of them would push me aside and say, “Here, let me show ya how to do this.” I’d like to think that I can learn how operate any sort of machinery, even one of these ultra-expensive sewing machines…but these ladies…well, they’re in a league of their own. It’s going to take me a lot of practice to get up to their level. It’s pretty intimidating to say the least when they make it look so easy, and I can’t even figure out how to sew a straight line.


I’ve got to keep this in mind when I’m back at the shop. I should try harder not to be so intimidating, work on keeping things on common ground, and not so overwhelming for the customer, especially one who is feeling uncomfortable about having some stranger they just met work on their car. I certainly can take some lessons from those little ladies at the quilting retreat. They did their best to make me feel comfortable, even if I did have to endure a little ribbing from them, but it was all in fun. The real heart of the intimidation was trying to hold a conversation with them and not having a clue what they were talking about, or what they were doing. (Sounds like talking to some mechanics aye?) I got it ladies…thank you. Now the big thing is… can I turn this experience of what it’s like to be out of my comfort zone, and turn it into my average day? I’m sure going to try.


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My wife and I ran a quilting store several years ago... (total money pit BTW) so many slow days at the repair shop were divided up between the repair shop and the quilt store. The guys in the shop use to say, "Gonzo in the morning and Gonzetta in the afternoon." Still don't know jack about quilting even after owning a store all those years. LOL

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Got your attention? Good. The truth is, there is no such thing as the perfect technician pay plan. There are countless ways to create any pay plan. I’ve heard all the claims and opinions, and to be honest, it’s getting a little frustrating. Claims that an hourly paid pay plan cannot motivate. That flat rate is the only way to truly get the most production from your technicians. And then there’s the hybrid performance-based pay plan that many claim is the best.
      At a recent industry event, a shop owner from the Midwest boasted about his flat-rate techs and insisted that this pay plan should be adopted by all shops across the country. When I informed him that in states like New York, you cannot pay flat-rate, he was shocked. “Then how do you motivate your techs” he asked me.
      I remember the day in 1986 when I hired the best technician who ever worked for me in my 41 years as an automotive shop owner. We’ll call him Hal. When Hal reviewed my pay plan for him, and the incentive bonus document, he stared at it for a minute, looked up, and said, “Joe, this looks good, but here’s what I want.” He then wrote on top of the document the weekly salary he wanted. It was a BIG number. He went on to say, “Joe, I need to take home a certain amount of money. I have a home, a wife, two kids, and my Harly Davidson. I will work hard and produce for you. I don’t need an incentive bonus to do my work.” And he did, for the next 30 years, until the day he retired.
      Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So, here’s mine. Money is a motivator, but not the only motivator, and not the best motivator either. We have all heard this scenario, “She quit ABC Auto Center, to get a job at XYZ Auto Repair, and she’s making less money now at XYZ!” We all know that people don’t leave companies, they leave the people they work for or work with.
      With all this said, I do believe that an incentive-based pay plan can work. However, I also believe that a technician must be paid a very good base wage that is commensurate with their ability, experience, and certifications. I also believe that in addition to money, there needs to be a great benefits package. But the icing on the cake in any pay plan is the culture, mission, and vision of the company, which takes strong leadership. And let’s not forget that motivation also comes from praise, recognition, respect, and when technicians know that their work matters.
      Rather than looking for that elusive perfect pay plan, sit down with your technician. Find out what motivates them. What their goals are. Why do they get out of bed in the morning? When you tie their goals with your goals, you will have one powerful pay plan.
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