Striking a Better Work-Life Balance
SHOP STATS: L.C. AUTO BODY Location: PARKESBURG, PA Owner: LARRY CONSTABLE Size: 16,500 SQUARE FEET Staff: 27 Average monthly car count: 145 Annual revenue: $4 million
Larry Constable embraced shop life so thoroughly early in his career that he once worked 100 hours per week for four full years. He loved the first shop he operated in Coatesville, Pa., so completely that he created an on-site living quarters for himself there.
A few years later, in 1985, L.C. Auto Body moved to a converted chicken house on a farm in tiny Parkesburg, Pa. That farm location featured a few squatters (chickens who had remained in the back upon purchase), and shaky electrical wiring, but Constable was devoted to it nonetheless.
The young shop owner had forged a career that aligned with his calling in life. Yet, a thought eventually gnawed at him: Was Constable content, or obsessed?
“I was thinking, ‘How can I keep doing it this way?’” he recalls. “I was the guy painting every single car, and what I learned was, if you do it yourself—D-I-Y—you will D-I-E, because you can’t keep working 100 hours a week.
“When I was 30 years of age, I was about burnt out. … Seemed like all I did [in] those early years was work and barely pay the bills.”
Constable didn’t completely get his priorities straight until the mid 1990s, when he met, and soon married, Sue, a registered nurse familiar with the chaos of emergency rooms. She couldn’t fathom why he obsessed over monthly car counts, and forced him to put things in their proper perspective.
With his wife steering him toward a more selfless life, Constable soon found his next passion. He began to delegate at work and started giving to those in need during his free time. The change suits L.C. Auto Body and its owner well; the shop currently boasts an annual revenue of $4 million, and Constable has ample opportunities to spend time following his philanthropic passions.
Giving Until It Hurts
Guided by his wife and his strong faith, Constable came to the conclusion that he wanted to mentor younger generations.
The shop owner led Bible study. He facilitated youth retreats. And he became a supporter of charitable entities like the Chester County Food Bank.
But he wanted to do even more.
That desire laid the foundation for the creation of The Point youth organization in 2001 in Parkesburg. The organization began in the Constables’ living room, though the couple soon envisioned something larger. Constable researched southeast Pennsylvania, took note of seven established youth centers, and toured those facilities on Saturdays with his wife.
“And we said, ‘How can we do that in Parkesburg?’” he says.
Before long, with the aid of gracious commercial real estate owners and donors, The Point took over a solid facility.
Then, in 2013, The Point took over a truly immaculate, 22,000-square-foot facility on Main Street in Parkesburg, which includes amenities such as an indoor skatepark. The facility, which boasts over 300 volunteers, has an overall mission to provide a safe environment that empowers youths and their families.
In recent years, Constable has tried his hand at every charitable endeavor under the sun, including serving as The Point’s chairperson. Doing so while also running a busy shop with 27 employees, however, requires masterful management of both resources and time.
Constable used to wake up at around 2:30 a.m. each day. The owner of L.C. Auto Body still starts his work days early—at around 5 a.m.—but he no longer keeps the hours of an obsessed NFL head coach. Now he occasionally leaves work at around 3:30 p.m. to take part in Bible groups. And, believe it or not, everything still gets done around his body shop.
These days, Constable sounds like a man who leads a largely stress-free existence. A key reason for that: The term “delegation” has entered his vocabulary.
“Delegating is very difficult when you’re a Type-A personality,” he says. “But here’s what I’ve found in delegation: There is so much freedom when you delegate to someone and they’re better than you.”
Years ago, Constable transitioned an energetic paint prepper—ingrained with an impressive work ethic and integrity—into his shop’s office. He soon discovered that employee was a better “business guy” than he ever could’ve imagined. That employee, Kevin Mattson, is now general manager of Constable’s entire facility, and runs the day-to-day operations, freeing up the owner to concentrate on whatever he deems fit each day. That has provided Constable with ample peace of mind.
“I was a very, very poor delegator, very poor communicator early on,” he says. “Just because I didn’t have time. That’s what you always say: ‘I don’t have time. But I’ve just gotta get this done.’ Well, the one thing you realize as you get older [is] I’ve got to have a balance of life.”
Timing Is Everything
These days, Constable budgets his time like he budgets his shop payroll. In recent years—as he has spent time supporting endeavors like the Parkesburg Library, or serving on the board at a local bank—Constable has given great care to accounting for each hour of his day.
“I used to say, if I had a 36-hour work day, I’d work 24 and use the other 12 to sleep. Well, you can’t do that,” the shop owner says. “So, how do you get all that done? You just have to … really plan. It’s like building a house: If you don’t have a set of plans, it’s not going to end well.”
Constable has learned several tips that help him carve out time for community endeavors:
Utilize a calendar app: “I live by the calendar on my phone,” Constable says.
If he sees that his schedule is overflowing, he’ll use his calendar app to swiftly shuffle around activities, prioritizing when necessary.
Have SOPs in place: Having time-tested procedures in place ensures that a shop will remain running smoothly, even when its owner ducks out for an extended chamber of commerce luncheon.
Constable suggests working alongside your employees for a period of time, to hammer home your daily shop goals.
Consult with those close to you: Before he devotes his afternoon or evening to a community activity, Constable first consults with his better half, making sure she’s on board with the decision.
“I’m going to talk to my wife about it,” he explains. “It’s going to affect my wife when I volunteer for another board, you know?”
Don’t commit too quickly: Constable says he has, on rare occasions, been burned when committing to activities without full consideration of his schedule.
“It’s OK to say no,” he says. “If it’s a business decision, I’m not going to make that right now. I’ll wait 24 hours and see how I feel about it. … I’m going to pray about it, and then I’m going to plan, and then I’m going to proceed.”
A Community Pillar
It has been 35 years since Constable took over his old facility in Coatesville. The memories of him spending the night in his shop have long since faded.
He’s more mature now, more grounded, and infinitely more content. The days of a non-existent home life are a distant memory for the proud husband and father.
His employees are loyal (a few have been with him for the better part of a quarter century), and he has become an indispensable member of his town of nearly 3,600 residents.
And Constable’s business is strong. L.C. Auto Body boasts an annual revenue of $4 million. In early 2012, the business moved into an exquisite, 16,500-square-foot facility in Parkesburg, Pa.
The shop owner occasionally gets thank-you cards in the mail, following charitable deeds he partakes in, such as providing clothes to the needy during the Christmas season. He was even named Lions Club citizen of the year in his area in 2005.
These days, Constable lives a rich, full life beyond anything he could’ve ever comprehended at the age of 30, when his “D-I-Y” shop mentality became untenable.
“When you’re working 100 hours a week, you’re just tired all the time,” Constable says.
“There’s got to be a central focus in your life—what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Otherwise, it’s meaningless.”