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In the end it all comes down to how much of a burning desire a shop owner or manager has to expand and grow his or her shop. When the shop owner began his or her shop many years ago, there must have been an intense drive to succeed. The growth must have been successful, perhaps doubling every few months, to bring the shop to the size it is today. So where did all of that enthusiasm go? It's likely that some of our visions were unrealistic dreams that crashed when they met the reality of competition, government regulations, unreliable employees, unpredictable finances, faulty equipment, irrational customers and unrealistic insurance appraisers and adjusters. But if you've survived somehow you had enough enthusiasm, enough drive and determination to push on through those obstacles and continue to grow.
So now here we are today. We've grown to a certain point, but is there still enough drive and determination to grow more? Some of us have peaked and actually fallen back a bit. Others seem to have stagnated, staying more or less at the same point for years -- maybe even enjoying the pause. And a few others continue to grow, but very slowly. But is that enough? Is the game still exciting? Can we still fire up the troops with a vision of greater growth, more jobs, better pay, more recognition? Or has everyone settled into a mental rocking chair of comfort and complacency, just doing enough to get along -- with no more challenge or "fire in the belly?"
"Stagnate" is defined as "Standing still; not flowing. Foul from long standing. To become dull or inert." Not a pretty picture! I've found that the shop owners, who somehow overcame the "stagnation trap," were motivated by a greater purpose. I recall John, a Hispanic man who put three children through college and provided a good living for his family and employees working out of a small 12,000 square foot shop. Then he expanded into a 30,000 square foot former industrial park. John's son Danny finished his degree in business and came on board to work with John managing the business. I was there the day they opened the new shop. John's eyes sparkled with the excitement of seeing a dream come true. No longer cramped in a tiny space, shuffling vehicles back and forth to get jobs out, John was thrilled with the opportunity to grow. His joy was in the realization of his dream to provide his family with more.
Today the growth process has become more technical. Mastery of the new structural materials and computerized components of vehicles can determine a shop's capacity for growth. But it is still the owner/manager leader who determines the vision of the shop. Getting technicians trained on the new processes will be a factor, but the real determinant may be the knowledge and skill of that leader.
To get growing again, and possibly regain some of that early enthusiasm, a shop owner and/or manager may have to consider improving his or her own knowledge and skills. At a recent autobody association meeting, a key speaker was from Universal Technical Institute, an educational institution that offers training in collision, automotive and diesel repair. One attendee at the meeting said he had hired about a dozen graduates and all were able to do their jobs immediately.
Training for techs is readily available, but for up-to-date management skills the best choice may be the Automotive Management Institute (www.amionline.org). It was founded in 1989 to answer the demand for management education specifically for automotive service and collision repair professionals. The fields of study focus on five areas of business management: marketing and sales, operations and service, management and administration, financial management, and personnel and human resource development. Its accredited curriculum consists of more than 700 courses taught by more than 150 faculty members. Classroom courses range from 90-minute to five-day sessions. A core of self-study and on-line courses is also available. Upgrading the skills of the leader may well be the key to real shop growth in this age of rapid-fire technical advances.