Encouraging Failure

Feb. 19, 2018
By placing trust in his staff and allowing for mistakes, Tom Martin has been able to expand his CARSTAR empire

SHOP STATS: Sidney Body CARSTAR, Troy CARSTAR and Piqua CARSTAR   Location: Sidney, Troy and Piqua (Ohio)  Operator: Tom Martin  Average Monthly Car Count: 146 (combined)  Staff Size: 146 (combined)  Shop Size: 45,000 sq ft (combined) Annual Revenue: $7 million  

Tom Martin, owner of Sidney Body CARSTAR and Troy CARSTAR in Ohio already has two successful businesses under his belt and is about to open his third—Piqua CARSTAR. With two (soon to be three) locations to manage, Martin has had to find a way to balance all of his responsibilities in order to make it home by a reasonable hour to his wife—for whom he promised to always make time. The main way that he’s done this is by placing trust in his staff. By leaving the shop for short periods of time, he’s been able to see how the staff performs on its own and he’s learned to lean on key people in the shop. Martin gives his staff all of the credit for his ability to run three locations.

My staff can run the shop on its own. That’s what allowed me to purchase the Troy store in 2013 and what has allowed me to add a third location. The Troy store is 18 miles from the Sidney location, and the new location, which I hope to open in April, is right in the middle of the two.

I believe in empowering my staff, which is what has allowed them to function on their own. CARSTAR has a lot of meetings. I attend 3-4 per year. Leaving for those allowed my second in command to grow as a leader. It’s natural that people make mistakes, so whenever I come back from a trip, we discuss any problems that came up and come up with a solution. I want them to be able to make a decision. They shouldn’t be afraid of failing.

I’ve found that a coaching approach to leadership has been what works best for me. Leading like this has been great. The hardest thing for a manager to do is to sit back and watch someone fail, but people have to fail. It’s how they grow.

We have SOPs in place for everything, but a lot of what has allowed me to leave the shop and not worry about it is working with my key people. In the early days, I felt like I needed to check in all the time. Now I don’t. They know that I’m just a phone call away. I feel totally comfortable leaving them and I know they’ll do what’s right.

I get up every morning at 4:15 a.m. and go to Crossfit at 5. That’s my stress reliever and my personal commitment to myself. After all, if I can’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of other people. Each location has a production meeting every morning at 7:30. My house is less than five minutes away from the Sidney store, but I switch off between the two locations as to which meeting I attend. As a personal goal, I try not to be too predictable. If a manager has something that they want to discuss, I’ll go to that location. Whichever location I start at, I go to the other in the afternoon.

I’m usually in each story daily, but I play it by ear. I recently took my office out of the Sidney store to allow for growth in that location. Now, if I have to meet with someone in my office, it’s at the Troy location.

When you open a new store, your first store starts to feel like the stepchild. You have to make sure that they both feel equally loved. That’s going to be even more difficult with the third shop opening. The third shop was an existing facility that I bought from a 65-year-old who wanted to get out of the business. At the end, he was doing 3–4 vehicles per week. Right now, the shop is maintaining that customer base. We have an estimator currently working there. The work that comes into the shop is split between my existing locations.

We’re a lean shop. We’re lean in the office and in production. We try not to waste steps and utilize people to the best of their abilities. In order for it to work, you need to get your people to buy in. Get their feedback. They’re the ones in the trenches that see everything. It’s become a part of our culture. We’ve done it for so long that I don’t even notice we’re doing it. People come in to our shop and they’ll ask me how we’ve been able to do it—I just say we started to do it and stuck with it.

I have a list that I carry around with me throughout the day of things that need to get accomplished. I check off what I finished and I prioritize the things that I didn’t for the next morning. That’s how I unwind for the day. I make sure I didn’t drop the ball on anything.

I am still able to take time for myself. When I opened my second location, I had to make a promise to my wife that I would still have time for her. I’m a very competitive person; I’ll kill myself trying not to fail, which she knows. So, when I said I wanted to open a new location, I had to promise that I would be gone from home no longer than I was with the one store. Twelve hours per day is the most I’ll do. If I leave the Troy location at 6, it gets me home by 6:30 p.m.

My goals for 2018 are to get the new location up and running. I have a sales goal that I want to reach by the end of the year. It’s a little aggressive, but I think I can do it. We started working with a fleet account at the Troy location, so we’re working on an expansion there.

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