Staffing Up as Your Business Grows
Dave Mitchell is all too familiar with the expression “24/7/365.” The collision repair industry veteran embraced that mantra with open arms in the early 1990s.
He painted cars. He staged cars. He ran his body shop’s office. Then, when his colleagues called it a day, Mitchell did even more paint work.
“Years ago,” Mitchell recalls, “I worked Saturdays, I worked Sundays. I worked the whole year every day. I worked holidays.”
One day, the workaholic received a rude awakening. With representatives from a major insurance company visiting his office, Mitchell saw an eagerly anticipated meeting get disrupted in a fashion that left him incredulous.
“All of a sudden my door just burst open,” Mitchell says. “It was my cleanup guy. He says ‘Hey, boss, we need to order some hand cleaner.’ I said, ‘Do you think there’s anybody else that can order the hand cleaner for you? I’m a bit busy.’ … I was angry that this guy interrupts me to do that. But I realized that I created that environment. I was the guy who said it’s OK to order hand cleaner.
“So that was the moment where I said, ‘You know what? I can’t work any more hours. I can’t do any more.”
Soon after, Mitchell created a few new positions, naming a paint-shop foreman, for example, and hiring a production manager. In short, he began to designate and delegate, creating a clear chain of command. The shop operator had learned that knowing when to add personnel, or to delegate, can be instrumental in getting one’s growing business to run smoothly … and preventing the owner from being consumed by stress.
Roughly a quarter century later, Mitchell serves as the president-CEO of Car Guys Collision Repair, a central Florida MSO with plans to officially open three additional locations in early 2017.
Jack of all trades was a role that didn’t truly suit Mitchell. He’s much more content these days, essentially serving as a sideline general, entrusting key personnel groups to assistants.
“What happens is, we wear so many hats, and we do so much, and it’s hard for a lot of people to let go of certain things,” notes Mitchell, who has run multiple MSOs in his career. “But then there’s times that you have to let go.
“I’m the kind of guy that believes you’re not going to do this as good as I’m going to do it, but, in many cases … you’ll do the job. And, if you don’t do it right, I can coach you.”
If a shop operator fails to delegate, or fails to add personnel at times when it’s imperative to do so, the situation can test their sanity. It’s a struggle Jill Meeuwsen, CEO of Synergy Management Consultants LLC, has witnessed often.
“The shop owner isn’t and can’t be a jack of all trades, yet many try to be,” Meeuwsen says. “In today’s [era] of cheaper, faster and better year over year, it’s hard to keep up. I see more owners in serious stages of burnout every day.
“So, owners that can take the initiative to move strategic things off their plate can have more time to focus on the business.”
A shop owner might be able to pass off IT duties to a tech-savvy office assistant, for example, or transition an eager estimator into a managerial role.
If a business operator can’t leave his or her facility for the occasional long lunch, it’s a potential sign that less-than-ideal employees are in place, or shop processes need to be re-evaluated. Another common sentiment: Auto body employees need to be allowed to learn and grow in their roles; this can be accomplished by owners if they gradually increase staffers’ responsibilities over time, which can increase their confidence and purpose which, in turn, can also allow an owner more time to work on strategies for growing his or her business.
“When employees don’t grow and learn, they end up leaving. They leave, and the owner stresses, and the cycle starts all over again,” notes Joe Martin, a market manager for Gerber Collision in southwest Florida.
That said, some roles, like human resources or accounting, are best left to hired help from the outside.
“The single biggest factor for shops to get off the hamster wheel is solid leadership development, and coaching,” Meeuwsen says, “to get them to where they can start to plan and implement things that will help their business, such as outsourced HR.”
HR managers can bolster the single biggest outlay of cash—human capital, Meeuwsen notes.
Issues with payroll taxes, or the IRS? Those call for a competent CPA, in Mitchell’s experience.
“I know so many [owners] that try to do it on their own, and they make mistakes,” the industry veteran explains. “And all of a sudden they’re getting audited … and now you have to go back and reconstruct all your records. You can get yourself in a world of trouble.”
In order to find ideal hires for roles in areas like H.R. and accounting, Mitchell suggests seeking recommendations from other trusted business owners.
Not every owner is going to experience the vivid epiphany Mitchell did long ago, when he made the clear and decisive choice to seek assistance around his shop. Sometimes, the best opportunities to add staff are those during which your business’s growth has plateaued.
“If you’ve got people [working] at their capacity, you’re never really going to grow,” Mitchell notes. “Because you’re limited to what they’re capable of doing.”
For example, Mitchell says it simply doesn’t pay to have employees maxed out, so it’s best to pay attention if staff members appear overwhelmed. If they are, it’s likely time for staff additions.
“Just like a piece of equipment, you don’t want to run the techs wide open for too long,” Mitchell notes.
Martin says he always asked himself, “What is the financial amount we are losing by handling this position ourselves? Could our individual time be spent more effectively, producing results immediately, while creating another job for someone in the community?”
Money can often be freed up in a body shop’s budget for new hires simply by re-evaluating relationships with vendors, considering elements such as pricing structure, new vendors, and possible performance/tier margins for large-quantity purchasing.
If a shop’s issue with inefficiency isn’t a prolonged one, it may be able to be remedied by simply shuffling around in-house job duties. After all, it’s usually better to entrust a proven employee that has worked at your side for years, rather than make an impulse hire.
“A lot of times, what people will do is they’ll throw bodies at a situation, because everyone’s running around and they’re so busy,” Mitchell says. “And they can’t take lunch, and they’re working until 6 o’clock at night, and they can’t get anything done and customers are screaming.
“You’ve got to fix the process,” he adds. “And, if you do [need to hire], what kind of person do you need, and what do you need that person to do?
“Just really think through what it is you’re going to do before you go start hunting—don’t rush into it.”
Industry veterans seem to be in agreement: Owners of growing shop businesses should delegate, designate, and when it’s undeniably necessary, bring in reinforcements.
“Why are you shooting a rabbit with a .30-6 [rifle]?” Martin asks. “If you are an operator and you are doing it all, take a step back and see where you can be the most productive, and spend your time there. Hire the other positions and build a team that can support one another.”
Says Mitchell: “If you want to grow the business—if you want to open more locations, build a new building, increase revenue—then you’ve got to be able to focus.”