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Menefee: Aware of My Own Ignorance

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Sometimes I feel blessed that I came into this industry without any preconceived ideas about how a shop should be run or how things should work. It meant that I didn’t have as many bad habits to break. On the flip side I also feel like not having a background in the body shop industry is a hinderance because there has been a huge learning curve for me. Even now I have techs or other body shop people throw out terms or abbreviations that I have no idea what they mean or are talking about, and I have to ask them to clarify for me. It all boils down to that I just don’t know what I don’t know. 

I’ve always been aware of my own ignorance. I’ve done my best to study, learn, and generally educate myself as best as I can but I still felt like I was lacking (truth be told I still feel that way, especially with how fast our industry is changing). There were questions I wanted answers to that I didn’t know who to ask. There were things I knew I needed to do that I just didn’t even know where to begin. I wanted to see how other shops ran parts, how they ran their production, their front offices and every other aspect other their shops. I wanted to have someone to ask things to and someone to guide me when I needed it. 

I wanted a mentor, and I needed peers in my life, and I had no idea how to get them. Then in walked the FenderBender Management Conference. I promise you this is not a shameless plug for the magazine or the conference. The first time I went to the conference I had no idea what to expect and I was intimidated beyond belief. I just knew someone was going to ask me something and I was going to answer and make just a complete idiot of myself. I felt like I was a dorky freshman in high school walking into a locker room with the senior football team. I was seeing shops that knew each other talking. I was seeing owners and managers having conversations about best practices, how to deal with insurance companies, what new equipment is coming out, new repair procedures, what struggles they were having and on and on the conversations went. 

Then something miraculous happened at that conference. No one cared I was a small shop that really had no clue. I wasn’t ignored or looked down on. I was pulled into the fold of conversations. I sat with people I didn’t know and they talked to me and asked me questions. They asked me my struggles and told me theirs. We talked as peers, as equals, and it was amazing. We talked about the things I had nobody else to talk to about. I found kindred spirits that were just trying to run their businesses also, trying to do a safe repair, make some money and carve out some time for their personal life. It’s really easy to look at other shops from the outside in and think they all have it figured out and question yourself. I found that I wasn’t alone in my struggles in my shop or my personal life being a business owner. I found that I wasn’t actually intimidated by the conference or all the other shops that were there. I was intimidated of my own ignorance. 

Then the 2nd shop-shattering thing happened at conference … I found a mentor. There was a shop owner I met that had a shop with almost the same amount of employees as mine but I was blown away with the numbers the shop was running and just everything he was doing at the shop. I knew I wanted to learn from that shop owner, and I didn’t want to miss that chance. I pushed down all my feelings of being inferior to this shop and gathered up all my courage and just asked him if he could mentor me. I felt like suck a dork telling this other shop owner that I thought what he was doing was great and if he would mentor me, but I did ask him and he did say yes. I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by and not seize it for myself. The shop owner was so humble about his success that he even said he didn’t know what he could teach me, but he’d love to try.  

I can tell you that 30-second conversation I had when asking for a mentor has turned into thousands of dollars of profit for my shop. I have learned so much from having a mentor and a group of peers. A lot of times we cannot see the madness within our own shop, and we need an outside perspective and that is what a peer group and mentors can do for you. Give you that outside perspective. I don’t care how long you have been in your business; if you are not continuing to educate yourself then you will fall behind.  

Educating yourself isn’t just learning and understanding the newest technologies but learning from others as well. Partake in industry conferences, seek out regional performance groups your vendors may have, join a 20 Group, find others in your industry and develop a peer group. If you don’t have the opportunity to find a mentor through one of your peer groups, then find one a different way. I guarantee if you call one of the more successful shops in your area and tell them you think what they are doing is great and you would love to take them to lunch or dinner and pick their brains about what they are doing, the shop owner or manager will say yes. I guarantee they won’t say no, you just have to have the courage to ask. 

Remember to be aware of your own ignorance and to not let it hinder you and your shop.  

Mentor Tip from Me to You: Everyone says to work on your business and not in your business. I say if that isn’t an option then carve out one to two hours a week to work on your business instead of in your business.   

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