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By Joe Marconi
The day to day operations of running a business can take its toll on anyone. To be a business owner means to address problem after problem and finding the right solutions. Sometimes the decisions we make will be the right ones, sometimes not. If we are not careful, this emotional roller coaster we call being in business, can make us focus too much on the negative, and not the positive things that happen in our lives.
With nearly 4 decades as a business owner, I can say with certainty that one of the basic building blocks of being successful in business is having the right team of people around you and getting yourself in the right frame of mind.
You need to find and hire great people. But once you have them, you need to do all you can to take care of them, train them and make them successful in order for you to be successful. Is it easy? No. But it is essential.
Most important; you need to treat each day as if it were a gift from the heavens and base your entire perspective from a position of strength and remaining positive. I know it’s not easy, but I can tell you, it works.
MEN ARE JUST HAPPY PEOPLE This needs no explanation - and is a fun read, no matter your gender. Men Are Just Happier People! What do you expect from such simple creatures? Your last name stays put. The garage is all yours. Wedding plans take care of themselves. Chocolate is just another snack. You can never be pregnant. You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park. You can wear NO shirt to a water park. Car mechanics tell you the truth. The world is your urinal. You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky. You don't have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt. Wrinkles add character. Wedding dress - $5,000. Tux rental - $100. People never stare at your chest when you're talking to them. New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle your feet. One mood all the time. Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat. You know stuff about tanks. A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase. You can open all your own jars. You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness. If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend. Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack. Two pairs of shoes are more than enough. You almost never have strap problems in public. You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes. Everything on your face stays its original color The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades. You only have to shave your face and neck. You can play with toys all your life. One wallet and one pair of shoes - one color for all seasons. You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look. You can 'do' your nails with a pocket knife. You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache. You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24 in 25 minutes. No wonder men are happier! NICKNAMES If Laura, Kate and Sarah go out for lunch, they will call each other Laura, Kate and Sarah. If Mike, Dave and John go out, they will affectionately refer to each other as Fat Boy, Bubba and Wildman. EATING OUT When the bill arrives, Mike, Dave and John will each throw in $20, even though it's only for $32.50. None of them will have anything smaller and none will actually admit they want change back. When the girls get their bill, outcome the pocket calculators. MONEY A man will pay $2 for a $1 item he needs. A woman will pay $1 for a $2 item that she doesn't need but it's on sale. BATHROOMS A man has six items in his bathroom: toothbrush and toothpaste, shaving cream, razor, a bar of soap, and a towel. The average number of items in the typical woman's bathroom is 337. A man would not be able to identify more than 20 of these items. ARGUMENTS A woman has the last word in any argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument. FUTURE Awoman worries about the future until she gets a husband. A man never worries about the future until he gets a wife. MARRIAGE A woman marries a man expecting he will change, but he doesn't. A man marries a woman expecting that she won't change, but she does. DRESSING UP A woman will dress up to go shopping, water the plants, empty the trash, answer the phone, read a book, or get the mail. A man will dress up for weddings and funerals. NATURAL Men wake up as good-looking as they went to bed. Women somehow deteriorate during the night. OFFSPRING Ah, children. A woman knows all about her children. She knows about dentist appointments and romances, best friends, favorite foods, secret fears and hopes and dreams. A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house. THOUGHT FOR THE DAY A married man should forget his mistakes. There's no use in two people remembering the same thing!
Repairing by the Numbers
Now and then, I’ll get a car in the shop that you can clearly tell some amateur has been fiddling around under the hood. Things are out of place, harnesses and lines are not strapped down, or they’ve come up with some concoction to seal an oil leak. Nothing surprises me these days, especially after all the years I’ve been at this. Whether it’s a homemade battery clamp or gobs of pepper poured into the radiator to seal a leak, I’ve probably seen it before… and then some.
Once in a while, some of these in-the-ditch repairs truly are a road side emergency, but I tend to believe with proper maintenance even those repairs could be avoided. I’m not saying you won’t break down on the side of the road, I know I have, but we aren’t driving around with points and condensers or 2 ply tires anymore. Cars have far more reliability built into them than the cars back then. Even though the number of repairs has dropped considerably, the number on the bottom of the repair invoice rises with every new technology added.
Like everything else in the modern world, it still comes down to the numbers. The dollar number that is. Car repair can be expensive, especially considering the amount of training, tools and equipment needed to perform the various diagnostics and repairs. However, there are still a number of people who take car repair and maintenance as something that can be taken care of with cheap off shore parts and a shade tree, no matter what the problem is. That number is soon to change.
The number of sensors, cameras, and multiple layers of high speed computer data in the modern car changes the way a lot of repairs that once were simple, like a cracked windshield, or a piece of trim falling off into a calibrated control system service. A consumer, or for that matter a repair shop, who is unaware of the complexities of these new systems and tries to penny pinch a seemingly minor problem, may inadvertently be putting themselves, their passengers and the other motorist at risk.
The days of bailing wire and homemade repairs has reached the end of the road. Cars are far too sophisticated and complex for shoddy repair work from either the unaware motorist or those repair shops with antiquated repair methods. This is where training the consumer about their car is just as important as training the technicians.
Things like replacing an outside mirror after Junior clobbers it backing out of the garage, aren’t as simple as before. Now, they’ll need to be calibrated and realigned because of the cameras and sensors in them. Even minor fender benders can’t be taken as lightly as before. A few stray piece of duct tape might hold the bumper on, but cover up a radar sensor. However, with these systems in working order, the likelihood of getting in a fender bender or getting too close to the garage door has been diminished by those very same cameras.
Cars aren’t built like the solid tanks of yesteryear either, and why should they be? The technology and the way the vehicles are built goes hand in hand, and it’s not just about fuel economy or creature comforts, it’s about the safety of the occupants as well.
In short, the modern mechanic is going to have their hands full programming, calibrating, and setting up the modern car for those minor mishaps that the average motorist gets involved in. Even now, insurance companies offer better rates if your car is equipped with some of the latest radar and protective systems, such as crash avoidance and lane departure awareness systems.
Keeping these rolling computers in working order isn’t going to get any cheaper, either. Someday you might even count the number of times the technology in your car made a difference to you and your family’s safety, and for those reasons the numbers don’t matter. Saving a dollar is a smart thing to do, cutting corners on repairs isn’t. Repairing the car by the numbers just doesn’t add up when it comes safety and reliability.
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Article: Sinch' Ya - - - Being in the service business means you get paid to perform service work. But, some people still want you to do your job for free... ya know, sinch' ya got the car in the shop.By Gonzo
There’s the bargain hunter, the bargain shopper, the bargain finder, and the “I ain’t shopping anywhere, unless I get a bargain” shoppers. But, there is one more bargain shopper who tries their best to get something for nothing at the repair shop, and that’s the “Sinch’ ya bargain shopper.
The sinch’ ya bargain shopper isn’t hard to find, they’re everywhere. But, there are a lot of places where this form of shopping never works, such as the grocery store and at the gas pump. Now, the sinch’ ya shopper may try it at a doctor’s office, but I seriously doubt when they’re at the dentist getting a cavity filled they’ll ask, “Sinch’ ya got that tooth fixed, can ya look at this other one too?” and not consider the fact your dealing with a professional who gets paid for that sort of thing. Basically, what they are trying to accomplish is to get one thing done while sneaking in something else. You know the type. At the repair shop it is a habitual occurrence.
Take the guy who comes in for a brake job, and then asks, “Sinch’ ya got it here, could you see why the check engine light is on.” Sometimes, the shop will bow to their request, but a lot of times this simple check ends up taking a considerable amount of the technicians time, because the problem in question isn’t a simple problem after all.
It could be their thinking process assumes it’s no big deal, since the car is in the service bay already. Although, sometimes it’s pretty obvious it’s an intentional effort to slip in another repair on the cheap. And you can bet, if the mechanic checks things out and finds it’s a major issue, they’re not inclined to pay for any diagnostic time. I mean what was the mechanic thinking? They just wanted you (the mechanic) to “look” at it, not diagnose it.
Now, that’s another thing. That word “look”. It seems to go hand in hand with the “Sinch’ ya” bargain shopper. “Can ya look at this for me too? Since it’s here?” however, when the service writer says, “They’ll have to charge you for the time to look at it”, you can bet the next thing they’ll say is, “Oh, never mind then. If it’s going to cost me anything I’ll just wait until next time.”
That little word “look” tends to lead to other issues as well. Time after time I’ve been asked, “Well, if ya can’t look at it for free, what do ya “think” it is?” Oh here we go again. Now, the mechanic isn’t looking, he’s gotta think, sinch’ ur there and all. Which is probably the worst idea ever. Guessing at a repair just starts the wheel of parts spinning and hope it lands on something cheap. You can guess at a probable solution, with luck and experience the mechanic might actually have the correct answer. But, I have to wonder, is that all they really wanted in the first place? You know, a free spin on the parts wheel.
Obviously the answer can only be based on what information was given. What if it’s not the right solution? What if the mechanic’s answer doesn’t match what they’ve researched on the internet? What if they think it’s still something else and the mechanic is wrong? Now what? I’ve solved these “thinking” answers with my own little tidbit of wacky wisdom. I’ll tell them, “I try not to think. It gets me in trouble every time. I’d rather test it and be sure.” Which only leads to, “Then, what would be your best guess?”
Now we’ve gone passed the sinch’ ya, the look, and the think, and have gone straight to the guess. I’ve got a standard answer for the guess. It’s an answer that throws the whole question of sinch’ ya, look, and think right out the window. I tell them, “Well, it sounds like butterflies in the muffler.” Imagine the unusual stares I get. For me, it’s a priceless moment. It’s about then they realize I’m not about to tell them anything worthwhile about my job, their car, or their problem. Let’s face it, the long and short of it all is thinking, looking, and sinch’ ya’s don’t put supper on the table.
Of course, it’s all about the dollar. It goes back to why it’s not such a good idea to give estimates over the phone without knowing the condition of the vehicle. Despite their best efforts to explain things, I’ve found over the years if they knew what was wrong in the first place chances are we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
But, sinch’ ur here, maybe I can make an exception. Maybe I’ll bend a bit and take a look at the problem. Yea, I’ve slipped up more than a few times, usually after I’ve forgotten the golden rule of not “looking” at a customer’s car unless we’ve agreed on a fee. And, what happens 99% of time? They’ll thank me and tell me they’ll be back later to have the work done, but I wouldn’t hold your breath you’ll ever see them again.
In large, urban shops the whole concept of the sinch’ ya bargain hunter is probably a whole lot different than the same type of customer in a small rural town. Meaning, there isn’t one set rule or answer to the issue. The big problem for both the big city and the small town is educating the customer, as well as the technician on what it takes to do this job.
I’ve got to admit, after 3 decades of working on cars I still don’t quite understand the general public. Sinch ya’ gotta have them, you might as well “look” at their car and tell them what ya “think”, at least that’s my best “guess”. But, I am sure of one thing, when I retire from all this wrenching and scanning I won’t be the bargain hunter type of customer. I know from experience what it takes to do this job, and I highly respect anyone who takes on this trade and performs the job with professionalism. But, I might ask ya to check the butterflies in the muffler, sinch’ ya got it in the shop and all.
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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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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
I have never met a shop owner who didn’t have the desire to be successful. People go into business with dreams of changing the world and to make a positive influence in the industry to which they have dedicated their lives. They’re devoted, sacrifice time away from family and, at times, drive themselves to exhaustion—all in an effort to become the best they can be and make their mark. However, all too often, something happens along the way and the business begins to suffer.
While shops owners may start their business with passion and vision, they tend to create a world in which everything revolves around them. When the business is small, the owner pays careful attention to every detail. Every car is repaired with the highest degree of excellence. Quality time is spent with each customer and a bond is created, which gets stronger and stronger as the years pass.
As the business begins to grow, the owner realizes that the amount of work to be accomplished each day is overwhelming and hires more employees. Everyone is working, but not necessarily with the same culture the owner has. They do their job, but they are not really aligned with the goals and vision of the owner. The shop owner continues to work on his or her skills, learning everything that is needed to run a successful business. After a number of years, the shop owner becomes skilled at running a shop and proficient in nearly every aspect of business, except one: the area of people. And that is when the downward slide begins.
The owner recognizes that, in spite of the dedication to excellence, things are not right. The shop owner has established the goals of the company and put everything in place. Everything is attainable. But it’s not working. Frustration sets in, and it’s not long before the owner begins to complain about the lack of performance and drive from the employees, which is the perceived root of the problem.
Well, the root of the problem is the owner. We all know that running a business is not a walk in the park, but if your business is struggling, you, personally, are struggling. If your people are not performing the way they should, then you are not performing the way you should. Granted, there are employees that are a problem, and if that’s the case, they need to go. But even superstar employees will turn sour under poor leadership.
There are endless issues and problems you encounter each and every day, and some of those problems are out of your control. But, excluding a cataclysmic event, you can trace most of your problems back to you. You are the shop owner, you are the leader. The strength of your business begins and ends with you. Given two equally talented ball teams, the difference between winning and losing is usually leadership.
Employees need to know you care about them. The people you employ have vision and goals, too. Not the same as yours, but real nonetheless. One of your jobs, as leader, is to align their goals with yours.
We throw this leadership term around a lot these days, and for good reason. It’s the most powerful skill you have in terms of getting the results for which you are looking. The horrible truth is there are too many bosses and not enough leaders. Anyone can be a boss. Bosses order people around. And people will follow, but not for the long term. A leader motivates others by understanding what drives the individual. A leader gives credit to others, never seeking gain at the expense of others.
Next time you walk through your shop, pay attention to the mood of your employees. Are your employees laughing and talking to each other? You know, having a little fun at work. Do your employees look to engage in conversation with you, or are their heads buried under the hood of a car as you pass them by? Even worse, does everyone stop talking when you are around? These are signs that your employees are not engaged, which means they are not aligned with the goals and vision of the business, and you are not aligned with theirs.
A leader finds out what’s important to others, and works to help them achieve it. Aligning the goals of the individual with the goals of the company will achieve great things. When employees are respected as people, they become motivated and perform at their best; not because they are told to, but because they want to. This is the highest form of team spirit and becomes your driving force toward success.
This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on October 1st, 2018
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