Monday, 12 April 2010 18:15

Ask Dale Jan 2010

Written by Dale Delmege

When I see a problem and bring it to the attention of the manager responsible they never seem to have an immediate answer that makes any sense. I’m beginning to wonder if I have the right people.

  • You probably have perfectly good people. How does the poor guy instantly know why it happened at the same moment he’s hearing about it? If I saw it in your shop before you did and asked you, you wouldn’t know either. Change the way you do this. When you see a problem, go to the manager responsible and simply report it. Tell him you knew he’d want to know about it immediately, but don’t question him about it. Walk away; watch and wait to see if he fixes it. Start wondering about him only if he doesn’t. But my guess is you won’t see that problem again.

What works best for a second location, buying an existing shop, converting a “brownfield” industrial site or building a new shop from the ground up?

  • Before you go into serious planning for a second location, be honest with yourself: Is your first shop absolutely full and totally tuned in? (You wouldn’t be the first owner just trying to get away from chronic unsolved problems at Location #1. Trust me, they will follow you.) The “brownfield” and the “greenfield” second locations are both gross additions to your market’s already excess capacity. Unless you (and your banker) know exactly whose shops you’re going to empty—and how—to fill the new space, look for sellers who already have a good book of business and are just tired. You’ll find them.

I have a long-time key manager who keeps asking for a way to own part of the business. How does this work?

  • Almost without exception, it doesn’t. You’re risking a mess for you both unless he knows cold that becoming an employed minority shareholder in a privately held corporation will buy him zero increased authority and zero increased job security. Ask him if he realizes that there would be no market, other than you or some future buyer, for his shares. Also ask him if he’s OK, when it’s occasionally necessary, with skipping a paycheck or two just like you do, and if he’s ready for a year-end dividend that’s sometimes a negative number. Then ask his wife the same questions. You may find the ownership subject coming up a little less often.

How do we keep the technicians from wandering all over the shop looking for parts, or trying to find the Estimator or Production Manager?

  • You can use leg irons on short chains padlocked to the floor, very popular in New Jersey. Alternatively, tear down every car completely beforehand and never, ever, start a repair until every single part is in the bay with the tech. Every minute that body technicians are not touching cars your shop is producing nothing but costs. Make a rule that the minute a tech’s job is stopped the first thing he does is blow a police whistle, which brings the Production Manager running. If they don’t like the whistles, go back to the leg irons.

We started off great with the General Manager at our second location. But now it seems every time I try to show him how to do something or help him get something done, it obviously turns him off. I have 26 years of experience to offer him, to save him all kinds of trouble, but he doesn’t seem interested. Now he almost never initiates anything on his own. I’m almost ready to replace him, but it takes forever to find a good one. How do we get him to come around?

  • True, really good GM’s are rare, and maybe you got a bad one, but the probabilities suggest otherwise. Unfortunately, particularly in our industry, owners who actually know how to manage a GM effectively are even rarer. It’s not a natural act. Look, any GM that’s any good at all doesn’t want a daily co-manager any more than you want a daily co-owner. It is absolutely impossible for him to occupy that role to your satisfaction while you insist on sharing it with him. Your owner-habits of deciding and ordering aren’t the right tools. Instead, you now have to describe the goal and provide resources. Like trying to hit a baseball with a golf swing, it’s a very different talent. Incidentally, rest assured that your whole organization is watching you and your GM interact like a slow motion train wreck, and my guess is they’ve seen this movie before. While he’s still in his right mind stop telling this GM what to do (tasks), and start telling him what to accomplish (results). Be available for advice when asked for it, but get out of the way. Get a hobby if necessary, or buy a Porsche or take a trip to Italy. Either quit pulling up the flowers to see how the roots are doing or stop complaining about the gardener.
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