Lessons Learned: Run your own race; comfortable calculated growth is key

I’m sure many out there can relate to my story.

Andy Pollina

Me, like many others who’ve ventured into shop ownership, jumped in with both feet… not knowing what I didn’t know. I made the progression from beginner Dealer Tech, to independent Shop Tech, to shop owner/partner, and finally to sole owner after buying my partner out.

No shortage of ‘blissful ignorance’

I had no shortage of blissful ignorance along the entire journey. It seemed so simple. Fix cars and ride off into the sunset with freedom, money, and no pesky employer to put a damper on what you know is right. Well, about nine years in, the hard realities of shop ownership made themselves impossible to ignore.

Even though we were a well-liked and relatively busy shop, I found myself, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed and burned out. My little three-bay dream was becoming a nightmare.

Feeling held back

It really started after seven years in a partnership in which I felt held-back.

I purchased my partner’s share in the business and finally felt free to take the shop to the next level. I went at it with a full head of steam. I soon realized I needed some guidance, which led to hiring a coaching company. Their coaching showed me what shop ownership could be like if I had an organized facility and good systems in place.

Inspired & excited

Having met other owners who were successful and living the dream, I was inspired and excited. A little too excited. I wanted all I had seen in other successful shops, and I wanted it now. I couldn’t wait to get going. My wife stepped in to help as well. I hit the ground running.

In a very short period of time, I took some important steps, including:

  • Hiring more techs to get me out of the shop,
  • Getting a service adviser,
  • Remodeling the waiting area,
  • Purchasing alignment equipment,
  • Buying the lot next door so I could expand in the future,
  • Implementing digital inspections and workflow systems, and
  • Obtaining OEM scan tools.

The list goes on.

‘Stressed beyond belief’

All of this happening while I trying to implement policies and procedures with a new staff.

All of these changes should’ve been a good thing. They instead left me spread thin and stressed beyond belief.

There’s a name for this. It’s called blind ambition and it can be fatal to a business.

My attempt at growth grew beyond my means both financially and mentally. I didn’t know what my means were. I was truly flying blind. Although the coaching company’s system worked well for many, it didn’t work for my business. It wasn’t tailored to fit a pace my business and finances could handle.

Thankfully I have a wonderful support system and resources around me. That has helped me see my faults and slowly reverse them.

Hiring a new coach

I’ve hired a new coach who doesn’t use a one-size-fits-all approach to growth. That coach constantly adjusts it to fit my situation and pushes me at a comfortable pace to change my situation.

Also, my father recently retired from his company where he was a partner and Chief Financial Officer. That has allowed him to spend time at the shop. He’s been able to show me the ropes of accounting, budgeting, and project management. I find that type of training seems too hard to come by in the automotive training industry. I wish that would change.

Lessons definitely learned

So, what are the lessons to take away?

There are many lessons to list here, but I’ll try to keep it short.

  • Run your own race when it comes to growth.

A little discomfort while pushing yourself is good. Just make sure you ultimately stay within your means both financially and mentally.

  • Listen to your business and calculate your moves accordingly.

This seems obvious, but it’s far too often forgotten when people get ambitious.