Making Changes Stick
At my three shops, change is a constant. When I meet people at conferences or out in the industry, I often get questions about how I’ve made some of these changes or how I switched my payroll or how I got my guys to go along with some of these ideas. Well, my story gets us to where we are now.
I bought my first shop in 2002, while I was a 22-year-old student studying to become a paramedic. I had gone to trade school in high school and worked in a shop to put myself through college. Needless to say, I never went back to school. At the time, the shop I bought was doing $900,000 per year. I came in and really kicked things up a notch. I was young, I had all the energy in the world and I was willing to do whatever it took. It worked out great and the first year, we did $1.3 million. A lot of the success I had at the time was due to a ton of energy. I didn’t have kids or a wife; I did whatever it took to make the work happen. And that pushed us through the mid-2000s. In 2003, we bought an accessories business, in 2006, we added a second location and by 2007, we were doing $4 million per year. We were rocking and rolling and going crazy. By 2011, we were growing a ton but it wasn’t fun. The economy was bad, gas prices were $5–$6 per gallon and count started going down. Honestly, I would’ve done just about anything to get out of the business.
But here’s what I did instead: I focused on the culture. I thought about how it affected our lives. So, we took a drastic change during that time and I empowered our people to do the actual work every single day. Now we’re doing numbers I could never have imagined before and I’m about to open our newest location, a 20,000-square-foot store.
When I meet people, I often get questions about making a change to payroll and people ask me to send them our spreadsheet. The thing is, I don’t because there’s so much more to it than just a spreadsheet. What I started finding is that if they trust me and they understand what the goal is, then change can happen very quickly. If they don’t understand the goal, then change is the worst thing ever.
Here’s how I tackled one of the biggest changes in my shop: going from flat rate to team based. I first got the idea after becoming friends with fellow shop owner Tim Beal. My guys were on flat rate and I noticed teams worked very well for him. So, I gathered my staff and said, “Look, guys, we have to make a change. This is not going to meet our goals long term. We either come up with something cool that benefits the customers, me and you and you guys can help me develop that, or we go hourly.” I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you when I say they did not want to go hourly. The point is, I told them we have to come up with the new plan together.
Next, I flew two different groups of four technicians from Anchorage, Alaska, where I’m Located, to Phoenix, where Tim’s shop is. We visited Tim’s shop and I told them they had free reign. Tim and I left and they did their own thing. Here’s what happened: While initially they were skeptical and wondered if it was everything it was cracked up to be, after they spent some time in the shop, both groups said, “Wow, this is really cool. They have a great quality of life. They don’t have stress. They’re making good money. We have to do this.” So now they understood it.
Next, we started moving on to the trust. That was also important but we never really emphasized it before. For the first few weeks, I did side-by-side payroll. I paid them the old way to begin with but kept a spreadsheet that showed them what they would’ve gotten paid on the team system. What I was trying to show them is, one, they would actually make more money with the new system, but, two, I’m not trying to screw them. If it doesn’t work, I’m not going to let you guys flounder. I also had the commitment from them that way that they wouldn’t try to game the system. We would both try our best to make this happen in a way that was beneficial for every party involved.
Did I have some pushback? Well, yeah, I did. I had one guy who worked here longer than I was alive and he wasn’t thrilled. But I lost zero people throughout that transition. What I had to do with some was say, whether you understand or agree completely or not, this is why we have to do it. You can make that choice now and either trust me in it, or you can go somewhere else. At the time, I already believed that I had good people, so I was determined to make it work. For that guy, he lasted in it a couple of years and never really bought into the new way. That’s why he eventually left. But guess what? He went to work for a place that went bankrupt and then to another that’s going to go out of business any day now. Now, he can easily find work at another shop doing things the traditional way but to me and my staff, it reinforced that we’re growing the right way and the results prove it.