What Makes a Top Shop Owner

Top shop owners share a number of traits

Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many of the top shop owners in America, and have discovered there are a number of traits they all share. So let’s start by putting first things first.


1. They know their job description. At Elite we are often asked by shop owners if we have written job descriptions for technicians and service advisers. When we ask why they are interested in such documents, they typically say it will help their employees better understand what is expected of them. We often then ask the shop owner what their job description is, and with rare exception, they give us a blank look, and then go on to tell us it is their job to back up their service advisers, help their techs, shuttle their customers and chase parts when a vehicle needs to be back on the road by the end of the day. Many will wrap up their list by telling us they clean their restrooms too, because they never want to ask their employees to do something they would not do themselves. Unfortunately, not one of these tasks should be in the job description of a shop owner. You see, the job description of a business owner (shop owner) is short and profound. As a matter of fact, there are only five responsibilities:

• It is the job of the business owner to set the goals of the company. A top shop owner knows that by having clearly defined, written goals, they’ll make far better business decisions, hire better techs and advisers, and it will keep their team laser-focused, and it will add to the value of their business.
• It is the job of the business owner to create the plan. A top shop owner not only has clearly defined goals, but also has a plan in place for reaching those goals. The owner will have a written business plan outlining exactly what he or she needs to do in order to reach those goals. This plan, in essence, is their road map to success.
• It is the job of the business owner to hire the superstars. Every top shop owner knows that we are now in an age where good is no longer good enough, which is why the top shop owners will never settle for average employees. They hire for attitude, aptitude and ethics, as well as skill.
• It is the job of the business owner to bring out the best in their people. Simply put, the top shop owners know they have to be effective managers of their single greatest asset: the people who work with them. This is why they will attend employee management courses, read books that help them further develop their management skills, and consistently look for opportunities to provide positive feedback to their employees.
• It is the job of the business owner to ensure the success of the company. Top shop owners wake up each day telling themselves they will reach their goals, which is why they assume complete responsibility for the success of the mission. You will find that failure is not in their vocabularies.

2. They know that in order to build a successful shop, they need to have a Mission Statement. The top shop owners know the goals of the company are the destination, whereas the Mission Statement is a description of the journey. For example, a Mission Statement could read, “It is the mission of Elite Auto to provide extraordinary service to our customers, opportunity and a safe work environment to all of our employees, give back to our community and protect our environment in every way we can.” They will then share their Mission Statement with all of their employees, and they’ll keep it at the forefront of their employees’ minds by constantly reminding their entire team of the purpose of the journey.


3. They have a good, ethical culture woven into their company. The top shop owners know it is their responsibility to identify the culture of their company, share it with their entire team, and then constantly reinforce that culture. For example, the entire Elite Worldwide team knows our culture is based on ethics, and that we will never put money ahead of people. The goal of a company is the objective, the mission statement is a description of the journey, and the culture is the glue that bonds everyone together in the quest for success.

4. They put their pride aside. The top shop owners know pride plays an important role in their success. It’s this pride that causes them to make sure their shops are well-equipped and clean, and that their customers are pleased with their services. Yet they also know there is a time to set their pride aside. They do so by admitting to their mistakes, complimenting their employees for doing a job better than they could, and as Steve Jobs did so well, accept the fact that they’ll never be able to build a successful business on their own. To put it another way, they will admit they don’t have all the answers, which is why they join trade associates and 20 Groups, hire business coaches, read books, and attend seminars and conferences.

5. They know who their ideal customers are. The top shop owners know that filling their service bays with the wrong customers will quickly put them out of business, so they make a point to identify their perfect customers. They research their customer database to discover the vehicle types and services that are most profitable, and then they identify who the customers are that are driving those particular vehicles. They then profile their customers’ gender, approximate age range, etc., and once they know the demographics of their ideal customers, they ensure their advertising campaigns are directed specifically toward their target market. By taking this approach, they better ensure that they have the right kind of customers on the other side of their service counters, which leads to higher sales, happier customers and a more profitable business.

6. They are brand-builders rather than price advertisers. The top shop owners know studies continue to demonstrate that brand awareness advertising provides a better return on investment than price advertising. This is why they are heavily involved in their communities, and why you’ll find their names (brands) everywhere. These top shop owners also know that when properly done, advertising is an investment, not an expense, which is why they will typically invest 4 to 5 percent of their gross sales into their marketing programs.

7. They know their key performance indicators. Every top shop owner I have met over the years has a good understanding of the numbers. They not only understand their key performance indicators, but with rare exception, they can recite their numbers from memory. At an absolute minimum, they know their sales figures, car counts, average repair order values, gross profit on both parts and labor, and the productivity and efficiency rates of their technicians.

In closing, we all know there are no guarantees of success, but there is one promise I can make you: If you set goals you believe in, if you never put money ahead of people, and if you apply this content to both your life and your business, then not only will you more than likely grow a really great business, but you will become a role model for generations to come.

Editor’s Note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. In 2012, AMI’s knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today’s service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org. AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.