How to Build a Family-Oriented Culture

March 24, 2020
It’s easy to work with family members if each person involved has a clearly defined role within a business.

“One of the things that I’m most proud of is that we have a third-generation family business,” says Adam Tritz, the owner of Don’s Body Shop in St. Charles, Mo.
“I’m extremely honored and proud to carry that on, and to see what happens in the future.”

Don’s Body Shop was founded by Tritz’s grandfather in 1969. Tritz took over from his father, David, as the shop’s owner in January 2019. 

The younger Tritz worked his way through different departments, starting with detail and culminating in his recent ascent to the owner’s role.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve seen the shop being added onto or remodeled two or three different times, and each time, as soon as we do it, it’s time to do something else. We’ve grown from the one building my grandfather purchased in 1969 to four buildings that we operate out of right now,” Tritz says. “The amount of change and growth has been tremendous over the years. I’m privileged to be a part of it.”

Today, Don’s Body Shop has an annual revenue of $2.4 million, with a little over 4,000 square feet of production space. There are ten full-time employees other than Tritz and his father, with a 1-to-1 ratio of admin staff to techs. 

Tritz says the key to his shop’s success has been the family-oriented culture that leads to unrivaled customer service. He also feels that, one thing that differentiates his business from the competition is a personal touch that treats everyone — customers and employees alike—like family. 

The Tritz family has taken careful steps to foster such a close-knit shop culture. 

Laying the Groundwork

When it comes to creating a shop culture, it’s important to have the right people in place. 

Hiring new people should be a joint effort with the owner and the existing team, Tritz says. It’s necessary for the team to be in on most decisions. They were put in their role for a reason, Tritz says, and he wants to let his staff help the organization become better.

Current employees are the people who will be affected by the performance of the new team members, so it’s essential that they have a say in the process. 

“Our last few team members have been added based on a recommendation from one of our current employees,” Tritz notes. 

During the interview process, Tritz schedules candidates to show up 10 minutes before the appointment to sit in the waiting room. That way the office staff can interact with them in a casual manner, and get a better read without the pressure of sitting across the table from a boss. 

“It all comes back to hire for attitude, and train for skill,” Tritz says. “How will this [hire] affect our culture? Will this maintain our level of culture that we’ve created?” 

Tritz recalls a recent Friday afternoon at the end of a pay period when some employees were still trying to meet their bonus. Six staff members who had already met their bonuses, yet they worked together to make sure two others could reach that threshold, too. 

“It was the collective effort of the team to reward individuals,” Tritz says. “That’s the culture we preach here, and it’s working.”

Making Customers Feel at Home

“When someone comes in, we try to treat them as if they were someone’s mother,” Tritz says. “You treat them the same way you would treat your own mother, your wife, your daughter.”

If your shop has a family feel to it, that feeling should spread to your customers, as well. Tritz considers customer service to be one of his business’ pillars. 

Tritz finds that, most of the time, customers coming into a collision repair shop don’t know what to do, and they need advice on how to proceed. There are three principles that Tritz follows with his customers.

“Trust, empathy, direction,” Tritz explains. “If you supply those three things to clients, that’s huge. And that’s something our office, our company, has been taught throughout the years of ongoing training.”

Here’s some advice on how to accomplish that, according to Tritz: 

Direction: Listen to the customer to understand what they’re looking for. 

Empathy: From your initial contact with a client—phone call, email, or in person—you must make it a positive experience.

Trust: Trust is established with every interaction. If you can take vehicle repair, which people perceive as a negative experience, and make it positive, you can gain a client for life. 

Tritz also emphasizes the importance of being community-oriented. Don’s Auto Body sponsors local youth baseball teams, softball teams, and golf teams, along with being a part of the Recycled Rides program, for example. That helps the community feel more connected with the shop. 

Drawing Lines and Learning Lessons

Creating a family culture is important—but when you’re in a family business, you have to get along with your actual family, too. Tritz is grateful for the time he’s gotten to spend with his father, and the guidance that his father still provides. 

“One of the biggest advantages of a family business for me was being able to work for my father every day for close to 20 years,” Tritz says. “Through fights, agreements, conversations—whether they were fun conversations or heated, it was always good to have that daily connection.”

Separating business from family can be difficult. The key to working with family, according to Tritz, is knowing whether you’re talking to your dad or talking to your boss. It’s all about the specific situation. 

“A point to consider is which conversations to have and where to have them,” Tritz says. “I would never start a deep conversation or critical discussion around the dinner table; that would be for the office.”

At work, Tritz says that he tries his best to live up to the example his father set for him. 

“I’m taking what he’s taught me, and trying to apply those principles on a daily basis,” Tritz says.

David Tritz hasn’t departed Don’s Auto Body entirely. He comes in a few times per week, handles the insurance-agent marketing, and is a consultant to his son. 

“I have a good working relationship with my father,” Tritz says. “It took me about five years to learn the difference between a father and a boss. Once I understood that I was second in the pecking order, things were a lot easier for me.”

Tritz says that whether his own children plan to join the business or if they sell in the future, he’s proud that their company is moving forward. Don’s Auto Body reached its 50th anniversary this year, and Tritz looks forward to whatever joys and challenges come next. 

“It can be challenging, but also very rewarding,” Tritz says about the importance of the family business. “How many people can say they got to work with their dad for 20 years on a regular basis? I feel fortunate for that.”