Can Your Auto Repair Shop Run Without You?

I received a distressing email the other day from a fellow shop owner. The shop owner stated in his email that he was scheduled for surgery the next day, and asked if I knew of a tech who was looking for temporary work. He went on to say that his other tech (a full-time Police Officer), works at his shop between shifts, and with him out of commission due to surgery, he will need help in the shop. This shop owner fills in when the tech is working at his other job. This shop owner has been in business for more than 25 years and is well into his fifties. What’s wrong with this picture?

To be honest, I didn’t know how to reply to the email. After years of being in business, this shop owner has not grown his business to a position that allows him to take time off, without the worry that the shop can’t run on its own. I’m not just talking about leaving early on Friday afternoon. In this case, this particular shop owner is scheduled for surgery the next day, and while his main concern should be on his personal health and well-being, he has the added stress of finding a tech to take his place while he’s out recuperating. And to make matters worse, his other tech has a full-time position and career in a different trade. Is this the way a business should be run?

It may sound like I’m passing judgment on this fellow shop owner, but please understand, I know exactly what this person is going through. Back in 1988, I broke my foot playing basketball with a group of friends. Back then, my shop centered on me. My job positions included everything from answering the phones, lead tech, service advisor, shop foreman, bookkeeper, and janitor. So, when I broke my foot, I had no choice but to suck it up and go to work. I was supposed to be on crutches for at least four weeks but rarely used them. I didn’t take any time off. My doctor told me to rest for at least a week and use the crutches, but I told him I had a business to run. My foot never healed properly, and to this day it gives me pain. Another time, I was cutting a piece of steel with a torch to fabricate a section of frame, when the jig broke and a piece of hot metal shot into my hand. It was a serious injury, which required minor surgery and stitches. Again the doctor told me to rest for a few days, but you know the rest of that story. I’m not saying I was wrong with my decisions, at that time I did not know any other way.

I learned through the years that if I were the center of my business universe, I would never grow. If all the daily tasks of running a business were solely my responsibility, I would eventually fail. For the first 11 years of my business career, I never took time off, worked 6 to 7 days a week, worked holidays, and put in a minimum of 12 hours a day. By 1991, I was physically and emotionally burned out at the ripe old age of 36.

It took me years to turn things around and run my company like a true business. Today, I have every position filled by trained, qualified people. My business grew dramatically when I let go of total control and put the right people in the right positions. I learned that a well-run business is one that runs without me!

I urge you to ask yourself these questions: Could your business survive if you had to take time off for an extended period of time, due to illness or another crisis? Would you still draw your usual income if you could not work for an extended period of time? Do you have people in place who could run your business the way you want it to be run, without you? And, do you have systems and policies in place to ensure that your business runs smoothly until you return?

If you answered “no” to any or all of these questions, your business needs help. The only possible exception to this would be with shop owners who work alone or have one other employee. But, regardless of your size, there still needs to be a system that allows the owner to take time off, for either health reasons, or just for a well-deserved vacation.

We will be faced with many challenges in the coming years. The better you become at running your business, the better chance you will have at thriving and not merely surviving. Look at your business and do some soul-searching. Not just for you, but for your family too. You made the choice to go into business, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a slave to it. Have the strength to hire people, put yourself in a position that allows you to grow the business, and take time off. It won’t happen overnight, but it will work. To be successful you need to let go, and not let the business control you.

As for my fellow shop owner, I replied back that I would keep my eye out for anyone looking for temporary work, and that if I could help in any way, to please let me know. When he recovers, I plan on talking to him. By the way, I changed the story details, as not to embarrass or insult him.

This article was contributed by Joe Marconi, one of the top shop owners in the country, the founder of, and one of the business coaches who helps shop owners reach their goals through the Elite Coaching Program. To learn more about how you can receive coaching and training from a superstar shop owner like Joe, visit our Coaching Program web page.

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