Running a Shop

Achieving True Work/Life Balance

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As a longtime body shop co-owner, Geralynn Kottschade has traveled to countless industry events, visiting destinations throughout America. 

Yet, a thought occurred to Kottschade a few years back: During those business trips, she didn’t see many sights beyond hotel ballrooms.

“We’ve seen so many great places over the years, with the industry [travel],” says Kottschade, who, along with her husband, Jerry, owns Jerry’s ABRA Auto Body & Glass Mankato (Minn.). “But we never enjoyed it other than the hotel and the airport.” 

In recent years, the Kottschades have worked to remedy that. And, in general, they’re making efforts to create a more sensible workload for themselves. After more than four decades spent operating their Minnesota shop—working from 7 a.m. until after 10 p.m. some days—they’ve earned it. 

The couple had a few sobering moments over the years that taught them the importance of a work/life balance. First, nearly 23 years ago, they lost a valued employee to a massive heart attack, as Geri discussed in a 2008 FenderBender article (  Then, more recently, the couple examined the “ruler of life” philosophy, in which you stretch out a tape measure, look at your age represented in inches, and compare that to the inches that remain before reaching milestones like 80, 90, or 100. 

But these days, the Kottschades take more vacation time than ever, traveling to their cabin in northern Wisconsin, or even to far-flung locales like Mexico. 

“I always looked at my work as being my life,” Geri Kottschade says. “Well, as I get older, I’m forcing myself to do more life than work. … We’ve worked so hard that we just decided it’s time to start doing things differently.” 

These days, Kottschade ends most work days at 5:30 p.m. and ends most weeks with a reserve of fuel. And, her shop still produces an annual revenue of $5 million. Here’s her list of keys for achieving true work/life balance as a business owner.

Trust employees. 

The Kottschades have surrounded themselves with a solid staff by taking steps such as crosstraining employees, so that many of them can handle multiple tasks throughout the shop. That helps provide the couple with peace of mind when they’re away from their shop for extended periods. 

“We’ve got a good management team,” says Geri Kottschade, whose facility repairs 350 cars per month. “It’s taken some pressure off with the team that we have here now. We’ve just got a really good balance of team players. 

“You’ve trained employees, so trust them to do their job. It might not be the way that you would do it, but, if the outcome’s the same, let them do the best job they can.” 

Make time for yourself. 

These days, Kottschade has freed herself from the shackles of her desk. She takes the occasional 15-minute walk during the day, often has lunch outside of the shop, and takes time to socialize with employees on the shop floor—small steps that have nevertheless helped reduce her stress. 

“The more time you take for yourself, the more pleasant you’re going to be to work with,” says Kottschade, whose shop boasts a 94.7 CSI score. 

She also takes time to run the occasional errand on weekdays, which has 

helped break up the monotony of hours spent frequently checking KPIs and delivery times. 

“I believed, on Day 1, that I should be here when the workday starts and ends, because we’re a team,” Kottschade explains. “As we’ve gotten older, the employees have seen that and have excused me not to feel that way any more; I kind of got their blessing.” 

Extend trips to industry events. 

A while back, the Kottschades came to the realization that travel could be key in their quest for achieving work/life balance. 

So, the couple started getting creative when making travel plans to industry events. They began adding a couple days away from home either before or after collision repair conferences.

Now, Geri Kottschade gets to see far more sights than airport gift shops. In fact, she expects to finish seeing all 50 U.S. states by year’s end. 

“We’re going to see the last four states this fall, [in] the Northeast. We put that on our bucket list to do,” Kottschade says. “You need to get away and wind down.”

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