Lobsiger: The Four Stages to Freedom  

May 20, 2024
With time and strategic planning, you can reach the point of managing your shop from afar. But you must learn from folks smarter than you. 

For many of us who were former technicians who became shop owners or are currently doing both roles, here are the four stages to freedom from our businesses. 

Stage 1  

The owner is working on cars, answering the phone, ordering parts, writing estimates, dealing with insurers & customers, handling bookkeeping, dispatching work if there are any other employees, maintaining the equipment & building, marketing the business, and more. Some live this life for decades working 70+ hours per week and feel there is no way out. Finding someone to take your spot working on cars in the back is the ONLY way out. Once you search for and hire someone to take your place, you must suck it up and take your tools home! 

Stage 2 

Now you go to the front, and your new job is to be the manager. You will do everything you did in stage 1, but you can’t work on cars. While managing the front, start documenting everything you do and writing up your tasks as work standards (a clear set of instructions). Now focus on fully training, say, two body techs and one painter.  

Stage 3 

Now with at least this three-man team in place, your shop should be able to produce $1,200,000 to $1,400,000 in gross sales. Let’s say you are currently taking wages of $100k. You should have an additional $150-250k in net profit. Now it’s time to find that person to replace you in the front! Don’t give me that “There isn’t anyone to hire” garbage, either. I won’t hire any admin folks from the collision repair industry. It's not that they're bad people, but they are just corrupted and nearly impossible to retrain. The “greener the better” is what I look for. A person with a good attitude, strong work ethic and a baseline of at least average or above average intelligence can be taught almost anything. You could find this person at your church, or maybe it’s someone who waits on you at a restaurant or even at the Home Depot. Always keep a business card in your pocket; you just never know where you will find them. My two managers came from a John Deere dealership. Once this person is hired, pull out the work standards you created in stage 2 and get them trained! 

Stage 4 

Once your new manager can do most of your role, you need to get out of the front. Now, move your office home or even build an office in the attic of your shop. No matter what, you must get out of sight of customers and the day-to-day. It’s not that you don’t care about your customers, but it’s amazing now for me how my customers ask for my front admin folks by name and have no idea who I am. Here is your new job:  

A. Market the business

B. Go to the Gemba (where the work takes place) to help the employees with processes to make the work easier for them

C. Monitor the finances and business profitability.

D. Within six months or so of hiring a manager, you may need to add a customer service representative, back-end estimator, detailer, parts person, bookkeeper, or other staff. It gets very interesting at this point. How can you leave for vacation and never get a text, call, or email from anyone from your business? You must let go and empower your employees to make decisions. Are they going to make mistakes? Of course! If you scold them for a bad decision or micromanage, you will never get freedom from your business, as they will be fearful to make ANY decisions.They will continue to seek you out for even the smallest things like, “Which sandpaper should I order?” 
To get to stage 4, you must seek out folks smarter than you to learn from. These folks can be found in 20 groups from paint companies and independent groups or even individual consultants. A fellow shop owner who is very successful outside of your market can make a great mentor. You must visit their shop and be a sponge. Don’t be afraid to get on an airplane. And you can’t let pride be a barrier, or you will never get out of stages 1-3, let alone see any sight of stage 4. Remember: you must venture out to find these folks; they won’t find you. I would also recommend reading “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber. He discusses how we should be building a “franchise prototype.” Another book is “Rocket Fuel” by Gino Wickman, in which he discusses “visionary and the integrator.” In stage 4, the owner can come and go as they please, even add additional shops, and with the right knowledge, achieve a 20%+ NET PROFIT.  

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