How to Learn from Other Leaders

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Shop operators can benefit immensely from learning from professional peers.

I just returned from the fourth annual FenderBender Management Conference in Chicago. I had a fantastic time during the two-and-a-half days there.

I was honored to be a speaker for an audience of so many great shop owners, managers, and operators. The real benefit for me was listening to other presentations throughout the conference. There was also ample time to network with the other attendees. Forming relationships with other shops around the country has proven invaluable to my career.

In my keynote speech, I talked about the impact of being around people that are better than me in a certain aspect of the industry. It is almost inevitable that improvement will follow when you can surround yourself with such great minds.

The conference provides so many opportunities to be around such people. There were some very big names in the industry that attended this conference. The best part is everyone comes from a different angle—so many different backgrounds, experience levels, and different types of strengths. There are phenomenal marketers, great process-driven people, excellent developers of leaders, people who are on the cutting edge of technology, and so much more.

Whatever topic you want to learn more about, there are several experts in attendance willing to share their knowledge with other attendees.

In 2004, I joined a 20 Group that our paint company facilitated. Before I attended, I felt like a big fish in a little pond. As soon as I arrived for the first meeting, I realized there is a big ocean out there in this industry. The best part about it, though, was that I never meant any sharks; just other fish who were willing to help me navigate around. I spent the next six years attending those meetings and saw some phenomenal growth during that period. I’m not just referring to sales growth either. We experienced all types of accelerated growth that wouldn’t be possible if I just stayed inside my four shop walls.

While the FendeBender Management Conference has grown in attendance each year, I was very surprised when they told me it wasn’t sold out. The company that owns FenderBender, 10 Missons Media, also runs a similar magazine for the mechanical repair industry, and they hold a conference with the mechanical shops just after the collision repair conference. The difference? The mechanical conference sells out every year. When I found this out, I felt ashamed of our industry. I feel the FBMC should sell out every year.

I admit, I went to the first one four years ago because it was in my backyard just outside of Philadelphia. After that first year, though, it wasn’t even a thought if I would attend the next year because it’s so unique. All the presenters at the conference are shop owners and managers. Most other conferences I have attended typically come from the vendor angle. The presenters are usually paint companies, equipment suppliers, or consultants.

Don’t get me wrong, I have learned an awful lot from those types of events, as well. With those types of events, I do have a lot of choices in which ones to attend. However, FBMC is so uniquely set up that I wouldn’t want to miss it. This sentiment is shared with most of the other attendees. The way the conference is set up, it really allows for relationships to be built in a way that the relationships last. I have a list of names I know I could call or email whenever I want to ask a question or have an unbiased sounding board for a new idea or challenge.

The main point of this article is to strongly encourage you to get out of your building and meet other people in this industry. We all benefit when shops around us improve and get better. I have no idea where I would be if I never attended 20 Groups, training classes, or conferences. The thought of how far behind our team would be without those experiences is scary. I strongly encourage you to get out and attend an industry event. In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I can’t think of one person I met who regretted doing the same. If you want to grow, improve, and learn, one of the best ways to do that is to get outside of your four walls and see what others in the industry are doing.

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