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How I Work » Tom Griffin

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Tom Griffin is owner of Mayfield Collision Centers, a two-location operation in suburban Cleveland. Between the two shops, the business has 45 employees and brings in $4.8 million a year in sales. Griffin says that kind of success happens only with the best people—people he finds ways to coach and support each day.

I started in this industry pumping gas at 13 years old. I’ve never fixed a car in my life, and I still don’t know how.

What I do know is the collision business, and that includes customer service. That’s where we strive to differentiate ourselves. We have a very strong administrative process, from scheduling to blueprinting, that helps us serve the customers as best we can.

But most importantly, the people who work in our shop have to be empowered. They need to be empowered to make important decisions and to do what’s best for the customer. There’s no magic to this business, quite frankly. If customers aren’t happy, they’re not coming back.

What this means in our shop is that sometimes a detailer will need to decide whether to rub out a spot on the left rear but we worked on the right front. We’re not giveaway artists, but we want to keep the customer happy. So usually we take care of little things like that. It’s the dozens of little things that make up your reputation in the marketplace.

“I don’t just give an answer to a question, but I’ll talk them through the thought process so the manager can learn.”
—Tom Griffin, owner, Mayfield Collision Centers

I work to help employees feel confident in making those decisions—everyone from customer service representatives to detailers. I show up every day looking for coaching and teaching moments. I’m certainly trying to look for reasons to compliment. My job all day long is to do just that.

Usually I’m here by 7:30 a.m. I typically will attend one of our production meetings. We have a location in South Euclid and a location in Bedford Heights, and when I pull out of my driveway each morning, sometimes I don’t know which shop I’m going to. I’ll get an e-mail saying someone is sick or that a DRP is going to be at one of the facilities. I go where I need to provide support that day, and that’s how I make the decision.

Around 8 a.m. is when I start helping managers on anything they need help with. We work a lot on prevention issues. So if a problem occurs, we won’t just talk about fixing it, but we’ll talk about what we can do to prevent the problem from happening again.

We recently had some missed appointments, for example. We followed up on the issue to see what happened, rather than simply shrug our shoulders and walk away. Then we talked about what to do about it next time. Sure, the customer may have missed the appointment, but perhaps it was a miscommunication between the customer service representative and the customer.

SHOP OF EMPOWERMENT Tom Griffin, owner of Mayfield Collision Centers in Ohio, focuses on giving each of his managers and employees the knowledge, training and skills to make proper decisions on their own. Photo by Marcus Bierbaum

This is where accountability is important. A lot of people give responsibility without empowerment, or empowerment without accountability. The type of leadership I was taught many years ago was that you are responsible for your actions no matter what your title is. That’s how I lead my business.

Empowerment basically means recognizing employees when they do something right, and in a very specific way. For example, maybe a painter stayed an extra half-hour to get the car done and over to reassembly in the morning rather than the afternoon, which helps everyone from his coworkers to the customer. Or maybe someone made a really smart or proactive decision. The more specific you can be, the more understandable that praise is to the employee, and the more he or she will feel good and repeat that action that caused the praise in the first place.

I also like to praise in public. It’s a great vote of confidence for that person, and it also sends a message to other people so they can understand the behavior and results we want.

When it comes to working with managers, what I like to do is help them understand the thought process behind a decision. A lot of my day involves impromptu phone conversations or face-to-face meetings about training or hiring or some other situations. Usually I don’t just give an answer to a question, but I’ll talk them through the thought process so the manager can learn.

For example, we were hiring for the South Euclid location, and a manager asked whether he should interview a certain applicant. I asked about what type of person he would like the see in that role, and whether this applicant fit the description. If yes, I said, then talk to that person; if not, then move on. It doesn’t matter what I think. The light really seemed to click on.

By mid-morning, I’m looking at emails. I’m on a few boards for technical schools and high schools, and that requires some time on email.

I live by my Outlook calendar. I’m a very disciplined person when it comes to time management, and Outlook helps me keep my priorities straight and my head clear. Most of the important things I do every day are not on my to-do list.

For example, we had an employee who got injured on the job, and he went to the hospital. Keeping organized is key because then my head is clear so I can respond to situations like that.

I also spend time in the morning looking at data. I’m fresh in the morning, so it’s the best time to look at numbers. We produce a customized in-house financial statement audited by an outside accounting firm, and so on the fifth workday in the month I’m looking at that. I look at KPIs, sales reports, and other cars. I’m mainly looking to see if we are ahead of or behind our goals. I’m kind of a nut about measurements. Then when I see something to praise or coach, I take that opportunity.

I’m not a big lunch guy, and if around lunchtime the managers want to huddle, it’s a good time to get everyone together. I’ll sometimes eat, but it’s not that important to me.

I’m an active owner, so sometimes I’ll interact with customers or DRPs. But usually I’m out of here by early or mid-afternoon. I will occasionally work long days; the other day I was here 13 hours. But that’s rare.

I like to lead by example, showing up early and dressing professionally, getting my head in the game. But my employees don’t need me here all hours of the day. This company could run for days and weeks without me.

I keep my smartphone on me all the time, though. My work phone instantly forwards to my phone from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. at night. I’ve called customers back while on vacation, and I’ve responded to my managers who send me ideas late at night. There are times when it’s important to reply to emails right away or talk to people at night, and that’s OK.

It’s not necessarily about working harder. It’s about working smarter. And it’s about cultivating a culture where customers and employees are always top of mind. That’s how we set ourselves apart. 

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