Shop Culture

Take Stock in Your Work Culture

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Hands clasped together over a desk

Take a moment and think back to the best job you’ve ever had. For me (besides FenderBender, of course), it was when I was in high school working as a stocker at my hometown grocery store. I certainly didn’t enjoy the pay ($4.25/hour), the long summer hours or the picky customers who would scold me if I packed their bag too heavy or squashed their loaf of bread.

What I absolutely loved, though, were Tuesday and Thursday nights. On those days, new crates of stock arrived, and our ragtag team of seven stockers would have the store all to ourselves. The store manager, who knew all our first names, would often come in late and stock alongside us. He always insisted we could only stock after the store closed so we wouldn’t annoy the customers. But part of me knows it was also because he liked getting to know us better. Each of us was assigned an aisle, with the more “senior” stockers getting the tough assignments, like the canned goods section, or even worse, what we fondly called the “spaghetti sauce death sentence” aisle. The odds were high something would inevitably break, and there would be marinara sauce from floor to ceiling that needed to be cleaned.

I definitely wasn’t the best or fastest stocker, so I got the cushy job of the paper products aisle. Not only was everything unbreakable, but it was only a half-aisle because it was attached to the greeting card section. My coworkers made fun of me—a lot—but I loved that job because we were just high school kids laughing, cracking jokes, and making this mundane job a ton of fun. Our night supervisor was in his 20s, and I’ll never forget how well he treated us. He wasn’t just our immediate boss; he was our friend. If someone was behind he’d pitch in and help, and he and the store manager would always look for opportunities to let us learn from our mistakes, instead of berating us about it and crushing our morale. 

So what was the point of that long-winded story? To me, that was a job where we had a great organic work culture. It’s a topic that’s the centerpiece of this issue’s “Best Workplaces” articles (pg. XX), where shop owners had to overcome a series of roadblocks to ensure not only were their businesses’ successful, but they built a culture of trust, teamwork and solid leadership to create a positive working environment for their employees.

As you read the articles, you’ll see that each owner had different challenges to face, and the steps they took to overcome them. You can have the most state-of-the-art body shop on the planet or a dream team of talented workers, but if everyone is working in a state of constant fear of being demeaned by management, or they lack the proper training to fully utilize the technology in front of them, then your odds of creating a positive work culture in your shop are slim to none.

It’s been more than two decades since I left that grocery stocker job to attend college, but no matter how much money I’ve made, the promotions I’ve been given, or the “honor'' of working at a prestigious company, nothing has ever duplicated those four years in the grocery aisles. Great work cultures start from the ground up; trying to create an artificial one will only lead to dead ends, and insteading of chasing more revenue, you’ll be chasing down new talent instead.  

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