Running a Shop Work-Life Balance Shop Life Repairer Life

A Healthier Personal Life Leads to Business Success

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Ken Lytle remembers the day when that light went off in his head—something was wrong.

A music major in college, Lytle lost track of his degree after heavily investing himself in auto repair. He decided he wanted to rent his own shop, and before long, he was spending seven days per week running an auto repair business in Upstate New York.

And then, on one fateful Easter Sunday, Ken’s daughter came out and said it: “Isn’t this supposed to be a day off? You’re supposed to be home.”

After that, Lytle sold his business to his employees and became the collision repair manager of a much smaller shop, Whiteman Collision Center in Glens Falls, N.Y., where he works with a team of eight that manages to produce $100,000 in monthly sales.

Now caring for a handful of farm animals, practicing as a music producer, and being a more attentive husband and father are all parts of his daily duties, all of which have made him a better businessman—and the happiest he’s ever been.

When I came to Whiteman, it was very slow. Now we average about $100,000 a month in gross sales. It isn't a real great number to a lot of the big shops, but for the really small staff we have here, it's really impressive. Before I started here three-and-a-half years ago, there were two managers who had six-month stints. The overall numbers were half of where they are now. The owner wanted somebody a little more aggressive to come in here and pick everything up. We haven't had a slow day in about three years now.

The team I have is what really makes those numbers possible. There's a lot of communication. I think because it's a smaller shop, and I've never been in a shop where everybody's flat-rate, and everybody's so willing to give a hand and pitch in and understand that as we help each other, we all make more money. And it really does work here.

The alarm clock is set for 5:30 a.m., but a lot of times I'm up earlier than that, getting the coffee rolling, going out to take care of the animals. We've got a horse, a donkey, some chickens, pigs, and a bull calf. I'll get out there, turn the water on, grain all the animals, get them their breakfast. At that point I'll go inside and wake the rest of the household up so they can get ready for work. My morning routine helps me clear my head, and it really helps me to be efficient at work.

I get to work around 7:15 a.m., and that's to give me a head start. I have a schedule I’ve worked out with my office manager, and we both follow it to get everything done. When I get here, I go through my day's appointments, and I will research each and every one of them very quickly. It's a smaller shop, so if I have four d

ropping off in a day, that's a lot. So I'm only expecting to see four or five people in the morning. But I'll look at each one of those appointments and I'll familiarize myself with the estimate I wrote or why they're coming in, so that when they meet me at the door, there's nothing greater for them than, “Hi, I've been expecting you, the car is warming up outside.” You've just put a smile on that customer's face

A FAMILY AFFAIR: After spending far too much time at the shop rather than with his family, Ken Lytle changed jobs and overhauled his approach to work-life balance. Now, he spends his weekends and free time with his daughter, far right, and wife raising animals at their home.

By 8 o'clock, Suzanne, our office manager, is in. She takes over. She and I know who we’re expecting that day. Her job is to make whoever comes

through that door feel comfortable. She's keeping them in a conversation all while they're here. And it doesn't necessarily have to be about the car. It can be about anyt

hing. Don't let them ever feel uncomfortable. She's got a great sense of humor; she's got a great smile. I come out, I do the estimate, and by the time I sit down, they don't eve

n want to talk to me. At this point, there’s a small bond they've formed with Suzanne. If I’m ever sick or on vacation, she can take over.

Some of the guys get here around 6 or 6:30 a.m., so they're already hard at work by the time I get here. I'll walk the floor and say good morning to everybody. That’s another thing: Communication goes a long way with the guys. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn't be sitting here—so many people forget that. It isn't you sit

ting in that chair making all these decisions and you're God and they couldn't do it without you. It's the guys on the floor. If they don't want to work for you, you're done. 

I also start my day with the AutoWatch program we use. That’s how we update the customer through their phone or email. We’ll actually update c

ustomers twice a day with photos of his or her car in process. So that process will start first thing in the morning, and it’s also how I end my day. If the customer has acces

s to a smartphone or a computer, we communicate with them and they love it. Everyday they're getting something and a lot of them really love the process of seeing their car and the steps that it goes throug

h to get repaired. It cuts down on the phone calls during the day as well. It’s hard to get a lot done when you're a small shop and only one guy. I write all the estimates and I order all the parts. I hand out all the work. The last thing I need is 20 phone calls a day to make status updates on a car.

I sell. I wish I could keep track, but I'm not even exaggerating when I tell you I land almost 90 percent of what walks through my door. That is where the increased revenue comes from. When they leave here, they're comfortable with me, they're comfortable with my shop, and they're comfortable with that paper I hand them. They can go home and they can tell their spouse, “This is why he's got to do this.” The most important part of this job is communication and helping that customer to understand what's in their hand.

The team Suzanne and I have built together makes the customer feel comfortable and they understand the process. We take the time. That's so huge. And when you get somebody that's invested that kind of time? You're sold. You wouldn't want to go anyplace else. And I think that's how we've done it. I really, really do. And from there, it's word of mouth. It just slowly, slowly builds. And now it's been three-and-a-half years and we have doubled the revenue that this shop made.

We want to make sure we're set up for success for the next day, so around 4 o’clock when people are leaving for the day, that’s when we are going over where we’ll be in the morning, because you're not going to see me until 7 or 7:30 a.m. Then I go home, bring the animals in by 7 o’clock, watch some TV and do a little reading.

PASSION PROJECT: Lytle has a full, multi-room recording studio in his home, and since his career switch, he has more time to focus on his other passion—music.

Almost every weekend, I try to schedule out for family time. That's really where the farm is huge, because my wife and daughter help out with that, so that's our time together.

The recording studio, I've done that for six years. It's really impressive. It's a multi-room studio. It has an isolation booth, a vocal booth, a control room, and a live room. It's a pretty good size. That's a hobby for the weekend. Some people like racing, some people like hunting—I really, really love music. The studio is like my church. What I can't understand sometimes is these guys who work on cars every day, and then they go home to a garage and work on their hotrods. I could never understand that. This is a total 180. 

It's so easy to unwind and forget about the stress of the day when you're walking out to a dimly lit barn with a bunch of animals. When you go home and do the farm work and the music and anything other than work, and then you come in here Monday morning, I mean, you really do feel refreshed. You weren't working on a buddy's car all weekend. I have a garage at home that you couldn't get a car in if you wanted to. And that was done intentionally. 

I used to be that guy. I used to be the guy who went home and did projects. And it just didn't work for me. I'm the happiest now that I've ever been in my life, in both my job and personal life. I think I've finally figured it out. 

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