Shop Life Columnists

Stay on Top of Your Shop When Traveling

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​We all want to take vacations. We all want to attend relevant industry events. 

And, as body shop operators, we should be able to travel as much as we feel is necessary. 

But it’s not always easy to step away from your shop, is it? 

I’ve got some strong opinions on how to stay connected with your staff when you’re traveling. Because, earlier in my career, I encountered a few issues along those lines. Earlier this decade, when I traveled I would spend hours each day on the phone, answering my employees’ questions, approving things, and solving conflicts. 

I’ll never forget one trip I made in 2010. I was getting ready to head to Idaho for an elk hunt. I told one of my CSRs that I was about to fly out of town the next day—and that I might be hard to reach while gone—and the young lady was losing her mind. She asked, “Who’s going to make the decisions when you’re gone? What if we’ve got to put someone in a rental car?” And I said, “Well, if you know the criteria for giving a customer a rental vehicle, then you make the decision.” 

My thinking is, sure, you can run your shop by cell phone a lot of times, but is that really what you want to be doing while traveling? 

These are the biggest keys to keep in mind when you’re going to step away from your business for a few days: 

Empower your staff. To manage your shop while you’re away, you have to empower your staff to make decisions. One rule that we have is, if it’s something that could cost the shop any significant amount of money, then I want four employees to get together and make the decision together. Because that way they’ll play devil’s advocate, and you can have people looking at it different ways. 

That strategy pays off—believe me. I just went to San Diego, was gone for five days, and I didn’t get one call from my three shops during that time. Nor did I call the shop in that amount of time. Empowering the staff was a game changer for me.

Devote one hour to work most mornings. If I go on an extended family vacation, I’ll take one hour each morning, when my kids are typically sleeping, to catch up on email. I don’t answer every single email, just what’s critical. Then, I’ll answer the rest when I can. 

If I take somewhere in the ballpark of an hour each day, when I’m not interrupting my vacation at all, I can stay fairly caught up. Outside of that one hour each day, though, I focus on the main task at hand during my trip—I believe it’s very, very important to be present in anything you do in life.” 

Seize the training opportunity that trips present. Whenever I’m away and let my employees make decisions, it gives me an opportunity to coach them afterwards. I’m never going to yell at them; We’ll sit down and discuss the decision that they made, and why they made it, so I can understand. Then, if I disagree with the decision they made, I let them understand how I would’ve made it, and how I would’ve come to my conclusion. 

Really, by being away from your shop for a while, it provides an opportunity to train employees. Even if they make the wrong decisions, sure, it might cost me $50 or so, but it gives me an opportunity to say, “OK, next time, this is what I would do differently, and this is why.” That way, you’re guiding the future of their decisions. 

Longterm, you want to be surrounded by a lot of people that, when they encounter those situations, are going to ask themselves one main question: What would my boss do here?

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