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Taking Time to Build Your Business

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For 10 years, Sam Carubba didn’t take a lunch break outside the shop. He was pulling 12-to-15-hour days, completely immersed in running his business. He felt totally tied to the shop, never leaving to pursue business opportunities with vendors or insurance companies or to simply attend a meeting with colleagues.

Carubba, the owner of Carubba Collision, which has seven locations in western New York, faced a big problem—he was working in the business rather than on the business. “In the beginning, I didn’t know there was a difference,” he says. “I thought I was working on it, but I was really working in it. As I became more exposed to I-CAR training and involved in local insurance agency organizations and collision industry 20 Groups, I realized there was a great opportunity for new business out there that had to be gone after.”

“I remember the first time I took four or five hours off, I was a nervous wreck. After doing it more and more, I realized it was very doable”
—Sam Carubba, ceo and president, Carubba Collision

After years of feeling as if he could never let go and leave his shop—even for just an hour or two, he started to realize that if he didn’t attend to building business outside the shop, his business wasn’t going to grow. The process of learning to leave the shop was tough. Carubba—like so many other shop owners and managers—felt like he just couldn’t walk out the door, no matter how capable and trustworthy his employees were.

“Originally, I thought I was the only person who could talk to customers and that I was the only one they wanted to talk to. I only attended events or training in the evening. I was certainly uncomfortable going during the day,” he says. So, when he started taking forays out of the shop, they were small. “I started a little bit at a time [until I] got more comfortable leaving,” Carubba says. After half-hour lunches away from the shop, he eventually progressed to dentist or doctor’s appointments. “Normal life appointments during the day is really what it came down to,” he says. “I remember the first time I took four or five hours off. I was a nervous wreck. After doing it more and more, I realized it was very doable.”

Then he made the leap to working on his business outside the shop—through networking, classes and other business-building opportunities. “Getting out of the shop and doing the marketing and 20 Groups resulted in direct work and is clearly what has brought us the numbers we do today,” he says. “We’re in the top 2 percent of sales volume.”

Carubba even decided to become a consultant to help other shop owners and managers who are facing the same situation he once did. “What really spurred me on was the freedom to get out of the office, to help other people, and to help myself,” Carubba says. As the CEO and president of Sam Carubba’s Autovision Collision Center Consulting in Buffalo, N.Y., he says he still learns just as much from those he advises as they do from him.

BECOMING A LEADER

Carubba says shop owners and managers who feel they can’t leave the shop often struggle with their role as business leaders. In the transition from bodyman to businessman, says Carubba, taking on a leadership role is the most difficult to undertake. “I’ve been through it, and I understand it.”

Carubba says the problem is a big one within the collision industry. “It’s rampant,” he says. “It’s clearly what is holding a majority of the collision center owners back.”

He says that the problem is not staffing or money—that employees, when left alone, will steal or leave early—it’s about the inability to physically walk out of the shop. “It’s them walking out the door while [the shop is] still open and thinking ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen when I’m gone?” Carubba explains. “They don’t feel comfortable and don’t believe things are going to be done the way they want them to be done. It’s a fear factor. It’s a lack of confidence in themselves and how good of a job they have done training their staff to operate in their absence.”

Oftentimes, a shop owner or manager will make himself or herself the only point of expertise—a mistake, Carubba says, because it just makes you feel you have to be at the shop even more to take care of everything. Leaving at that point will seem completely out of the question—even for a good reason. Carubba sees this situation often when consulting with shops.

“He knew I was coming in, and he knew he needed a half day to take his daughter on a school trip,” Carubba says of a shop manager whom he worked with in the past. “[He] hadn’t taken a day off in two and a half years. He was nervous and jerky. He was sweating, and his face was red as a beet. I finally told him I’d do his job for the half day. I think if a manager puts himself in the position that he’s the only go-to guy, he’s just tying himself to the shop more. He’s doing way more damage than good.”

SETTING THINGS UP

One of the first things that Carubba does to help shop owners and managers feel more comfortable leaving the shop—and also understand the importance of it—is to have them talk directly to their peers. “I literally force them into a situation that allows them to hear or to see the advantages of getting out of the shop,” he says. He shows them the math. “Here’s this shop five years ago and how the shop owner felt he couldn’t get out. Here were his numbers then, and here’s where they are now.”

Aside from connecting with peers, Carubba also coaches shop owners and operators on the importance of building strong Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). “The really important thing that enabled me to get out was to develop and implement SOPs—everything from how we want the phone answered to how our customers are greeted, as well as ensuring a consistent level of quality repairs and paperwork processes in the front office. Sticking to these procedures will enable you to gain confidence in what takes place when you’re gone.”

“The key is properly training your people,” he says. So talking to your employees about your SOPs is critical. “I think the biggest mistake shop owners make is not holding daily office meetings and monthly production meetings with the entire production staff where topics like these can be discussed. It all comes down to efficient communication.”

“I’ve been working with one shop owner for three and a half years. He has the ability to do some massive numbers, but he just can’t let go.”
—Sam Carubba, ceo and president, Carubba Collision

BETTERING YOUR BUSINESS

Your shop’s success is measured not only by what you’re doing inside the shop but also by what you’re doing outside the shop. Carubba has had a lot of success helping fellow shop owners and managers leave the shop to pursue outside learning and money-making opportunities, but for some folks, it’s an ongoing—and uphill—battle.

“I’ve been working with one shop owner for three and a half years. He has the ability to do some massive numbers, but he just can’t let go,” Carubba says. “He’s so entwined in it. Those are really tough situations. They live, eat, breath and actually live next door to the shop. I’m trying to take these people to a whole new level of management or ownership. Some are resistant and other people just stand back and shake their head and say, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t see that.’”

Networking and connecting outside the shop, whether it’s with paint jobbers, 20 Groups or industry training courses, is essential to getting ahead, says Carubba. “If you don’t have a goal in regards to your business or a business plan, you’re hurting yourself. You’ll be stuck in your shop, and you’ll stay there. In today’s competitive collision repair market, it’s hard to believe some people aren’t out there marketing themselves face to face with past, present and future customers. The guys who are working on their business instead of in the business are going to leap forward.”

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