How I Work: Steve Springer

Feb. 25, 2020
A Fix Auto owner in California inspires employees to grow into leadership roles.

Though few people expect to be in a leadership role at the age of 22, Steve Springer was thrust into that situation years ago, as a member of the Marine Corps. 

That experience stuck with him. 

After approximately 20  years in the industry, Springer now spends roughly three days per week working in the body shop.  While his son, Nick Springer, now runs the majority of the day-to-day operations, Steve maintains a role overseeing the Fix Auto franchise culture.

“My job is to keep everyone working the culture, working the mission,” Springer says. 

Springer credits his ability to lead to his time spent in the military.  

“They take you right out of college at the age of 22,” he notes, “and you just get a ton of responsibility at a really young age, which you rarely see in the civilian world.”

Springer entered the collision repair industry when he tried his hand at co-owning a collision repair shop with his brother, who had previous restoration experience. However, barely three years later, Springer bought his brother out.

Springer first opened his own body shop in San Jose. Today, his family runs three Fix Auto locations that combine to generate $6.6 million in annual revenue.

As told to Melissa Steinken

I rely on my experts because I know I don’t have the expertise. My job’s to understand how the whole business works and then put people in the proper position to succeed. I believe that no one person can possibly have all the knowledge of every department. 

I can go in and let the team know what’s not acceptable in terms of a finish and appearance, etcetera. I’m a reasonable quality-control guy, but I never go into any department in the shop and just tell the team what to do.  At the end of the day, though, I rely on my experts, the people who are repairing the cars and the competent employees.

My quality-control skills are not better than anyone else’s. I just have to convince my guys that there is a right and a wrong when it comes to repairs. We used to have an issue in the shop a few years ago in which the team was focused solely on sales. I had to quickly put a stop to that process and explain that there is pre-accident, industry standard and then there’s not industry standard. 

I focus on SOPs because I do think they are good in measuring right and wrong. I think, a lot of times in business, workers are worried about getting in trouble and not following a procedure correctly. I always tell my team that there is no “getting in trouble.” We’re adults here. We do steps right or we “err” and we correct those errors. 

I use self-deprecation and humility to gain the trust of my staff. I tell my team a story that showcases this. The story goes: I once put a fender liner on a newly, freshly painted car and I had a half dozen screws in front of me and a battery-powered screw gun. I started zipping these screws to tie the fender liner back where it belongs and I wasn’t paying attention. It wasn’t my wheelhouse. I took the wrong length of screw and went right through the brand new painted fender.

I’ve told that story enough that my employees who have been with me over 20 years now—there’s three of them—will tell the story and occasionally make fun of me saying “Hey, you don’t want that guy on the shop floor. There’s an appropriate place for Steve and it’s not here.”

I don’t meet my new employees until a month after they start. I delegate that to the local manager who’s doing the hiring. After folks have settled into a new organization and they’re going to be keepers, then I’ll introduce myself. 

It’s really about the store manager and what’s expected of him. They do their own hiring and firing on site. We hire slow and fire fast around here. We mostly just hire as we grow. 

One of the most beneficial tools I use as a leader and look at religiously, is Fix Auto’s dashboard. It’s kind of a self-management tool. It’s a web-based tool which extrapilates information from the estimating system and is essentially a leader’s bird’s-eye view in a single page to tell if you’re on track. It helps us figure out if we’re short each month or ahead of schedule. Before I franchised in 2011, I had to manually create these types of management reports. You need to be able to track KPIs throughout the month.

I also like to use the CCC One mobile app to help keep me abreast of vehicles coming into the shop even when I’m offsite. 

We do bi-monthly meetings with all the stores. We meet over lunch, two times each month. We interact via web cameras.  I run it and all the managers are involved. 

I ask the managers about what’s going well and where they need help. We keep the meetings to about 15 minutes maximum because it helps to keep everyone focused and on track. 

For most of my career I’ve worked in the front office. I’ve always been a white-collar guy. It’s similar to when I was in the military. I sit mostly in an office, which is like a cockpit, and don’t get my hands dirty. I think it’s a fun job, but I think the important players in the shop are the ones on the floor turning wrenches.

I try to encourage engagement in the industry. I encouraged my sons to work in the business once they were college-educated, 25 years old and had worked for someone else for at least two years. Today, Nick is the only one still working in the business. I send him to workshops and have him meet as many other Fix Auto owners as possible so he can learn the business from a wide range of perspectives.

Nick has been working in the business since 2015 and right now he manages employees, staffing for all three locations, training, payroll and production. We’re on target for my retirement and passing of the baton for 2024. 

SHOP STATS: Fix Auto  Location:3 locations: San Jose, Calif., Sunnyvale, Gilroy Operator: Steve Springer Average Monthly Car Count:185 (combined) Staff Size: 30  Shop Size:36,000 square feet for all 3 locations combined  Annual Revenue: $6.6. million