Running a Shop How To Lead

Having the Freedom to Leave Your Shop

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Right now, I’m writing from Bonavista, Newfoundland, Canada on the tail end of a month-long trip away. It’s beautiful here! It’s the kind of beauty that restores the soul. Wide open ocean views, sunsets that seem to never end and getting up close with enormous humpback whales. The pace of life here is slower with lots of room to breathe and take long walks. And, more importantly, we’ve been able to connect with extended family over meals and adventures.

Some of you might be saying, “Hold up! Did you just say you took a month-long vacation?” Well, yeah. And the follow-up question, “How?”

That’s a fair question! Most of us lead or manage busy shops and the thought of taking a month off seems not only crazy, but also impossible. I totally get that. And there was definitely a time when this would not have been possible for me either! There are seasons in a shop’s life that simply require the owner to be fully present. In the early days when I was the estimator, bookkeeper, and production and parts manager it would not have even been possible. Not a chance! But now as things have grown and I’ve been able to hire people who are literally better than me at every single aspect of my business, I am more free to be away. Now, there are things that simply can’t be delegated. As the owner, I have to set the goals and pace of the organization. I have to make sure our values are upheld and the culture stays on track. I am the only person who can decide on the biggest issues, like which shops we want to acquire and our higher purpose. So, I still have a job to go back to (thankfully!).

I’ve been thinking about what has allowed me to have this freedom to take a month off to be with family and I came up with five factors.

First, it’s what I’ve written about in this column all year: culture. Culture creates freedom. With your values clearly communicated and a team that can refer to those values, decision making becomes easier.

Secondly, and related to culture, is having a trusted team. If you hire talented people who are better than you at specific tasks, pay them well and encourage them, they will gladly take care of your shop while you’re away. I have a friend whose father gave him this advice: “Hire the best people you can, and pay them as much as you can.” You get what you pay for. If you want to save a few bucks by hiring people of lower skill to run your shop or do your bookkeeping or greet your customers, well, you will likely pay for that in other ways! Of course, there are limits here but make sure you are at the higher end of the pay scale to attract the kind of people who can run your shop as well as you.

Third, by joining the CARSTAR franchise, I have found that there are other people who keep an eye on things for me as well. One of the questions I get asked most often about joining a franchise is, “Do they dictate how you run your business?” I can honestly say not in the least. They are there to coach and offer input as needed. And they have great interest in making sure that my shops run profitably so they get their fees, maintain their insurance relationships and preserve the reputation of the wider network. Our interests are aligned. I want those same things. It’s helpful—and quite honestly, comforting—to have others checking on the health of my shops for me and offering feedback as needed.

Fourth, connectivity. There were several days during my vacation where I was interrupted out of necessity. We are right in the middle of acquiring more locations. There are decisions that need to be made, investors and banks to talk to and discussions with sellers that simply can’t wait. In those situations, even though I’m three hours from the nearest airport, my phone and email work. I’ve learned that a lot can get done with those simple tools! Thankfully it hasn’t been every day, but it’s also good to be connected when I absolutely have to be involved.

And lastly, scale. Many shop owners I talk to are afraid to scale because of all the extra work that involves. There is an assumption that taking on a second or third shop means two times the work, and there just aren’t enough hours in the week when they do that simple math. However, I believe that not scaling actually ties owners to their business in ways that those who choose to scale do not experience. For instance, as we’ve grown, I’ve had the resources to hire people to do all the tasks that I wasn’t very good at anyway. We all have those tasks that simply drain us. I’ve made it no secret that for me that is bookkeeping and accounting. I literally could not wait to get those tasks off my plate in the early days. Now I have a whole team of people, including bookkeepers, at each shop, a controller who manages cash flow across all the locations and interacts with my accountant as needed. I have a friend who used to own more than 10 shops and he told me once, “The hardest thing I ever did in my whole career was own and run two shops. The easiest things I ever did was own and operate eight.” There are advantages that come with scale and one of the biggest is freedom to do those tasks that you are really good at and enjoy. This makes your time at work more enjoyable and getting away that much easier.

If you’d ever like to talk about scaling your business, joining a franchise, experiencing more freedom to get away or anything else, please reach out to me at the content info below. I will personally get back to you and pretty quickly, too! Right after my vacation, that is.

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