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Finding The Right Manager

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of Transmission Digest.

How important is it to hire the right manager for your shop ? It may be the most important decision a shop owner has to make. Notice I did not say salesman. A salesman talks to the customers, gives the service recommendations, then sits back down and hopes everything else works out. Those guys in our industry do not qualify as shop managers. Sorry. A real transmission shop manager knows how to sell, manage production, and find the best deal on parts. Those are the big three. If he can do that, the technicians and customers love him and your shop makes money. It's not just a sales job any more.

Don't get me wrong. The manager has to be a good salesman. Remember, nobody works until somebody sells something. If he can't sell, he can't be the manager. He gets fired pretty quick if he is lacking in sales ability or is afraid of the customer. He can know everything there is to know about production and parts and get fired the first day on the job if he can't sell. Sales is secondary to a great manager. It's automatic. It has to be because, he spends most of his time managing production and ordering parts. So, when you are recruiting a manager, sales ability is the most important asset he has. But remember, it is only one of the big three packages a great manager brings to the table.

The seasoned vet is organized and has a production system that everyone in the shop has been trained on. He sets the production schedule before he leaves work the night before and then has a production meeting before work begins the next day. When the meeting is over, everyone knows the exact order the manager wants the repairs for the day done in and they feel like part of his team when they leave and start to work. Goals are set at that meeting and the team works toward achieving those goals by the end of the day. He watches the repairs all day and if something happens to take him off his schedule, he immediately makes a change in the production schedule and puts it on the board. Otherwise, he leaves the employees alone to complete the work he has scheduled for them. This is good stuff now. Beats just having a salesman doesn't it?

Finding a manager that knows how and where to buy parts is like finding a needle in a haystack. The parts game is the most intricate game in our industry. There are very few managers that understand the parts game and take the time to play the game. The great managers out there know how to play this game and win. Saving a dollar is just like making a dollar and can make a huge difference in your bottom line. A good manager will save you enough money to pay his salary. Hard to believe? Wait until you run into one of them.

Having covered the big three, a great manager also wears a lot of other hats. He has to be a good psychiatrist. He handles everyone's problems. Owners, customers, and technicians all come to him with their problems. He is the pivot man of problems. He is a loan officer when a fellow worker is running short of lunch money. He is a bail bondsman when a member of his team calls him from jail in the middle of the night. He is a taxi service when one of his employees car breaks down. He is a comedian when shop moral starts going down. The cream of the crop has his own bbq grill and cooks lunch for the shop on occasion. He is on stage from the time he gets there until he leaves. It's a tough job if it is done right.

I have always said, if you can manage a transmission shop, managing any other business is a walk in the park. It's a tough job if you do it right and even tougher if you don't. Hiring the right manager for your shop is not easy because there are so many things to consider. I realise that putting people in categories is not a good idea most of the time but, in a good hearted effort to help you recruit the right manager for your team, I will break that rule and break down the traits of a few common styles of managers I have seen over the years so you can identify them when you see them and hire the right manager to lead your team. The categories are: Hot Dog's, Green bean's, Good ole' boys, Fixin to's, and the Seasoned vet.

Hot Dog's are managers with 2 to 10 years experience in management and are a legend in their own mind. They have no concept of the word, profit. They deal in gross sales figures and commissions. They never do anything wrong. They know it all. If there is a problem they place the blame on someone other than themselves. It is never their fault. They are hard to manage and do not take criticism well. They like to manage and sell their way, and rarely will work within the system you have set up for your shop. They like to bring in their own system. They are usually great salesmen but, because of their aggressive personality, can create an unacceptable amount of customer complaints. Also, Hot Dog's do not stay in one place for very long for one reason or another. They seem to miss a lot of days work and are late for work a lot of the time. Drugs and alcohol play a big part in this. Some get along well with the technicians and some don't. Don't get me wrong, I like Hot Dog's. They are just set in their ways and are hard to change and manage. However, these guys can make you a lot of money. If you are a shop owner, new to the business without a set system, this guy might be a good prospect. But, evaluate your technicians and determine if this manager will lead your team or destroy it. On the other hand, if you are an established shop owner that has a system in place that you want to use and will not vary from it, you might want to pass on the Hot Dog's out there.

Green Bean's are managers with less than two years experience that can be some of the best managers you will ever run into. They are more receptive to your management than the Hot Dog's and will generally work within the existing system set up in the shop. They are a loyal employee and will show you respect especially if you bring them in off the street and train them yourself. That creates a manager for your shop that only knows one way. Your way. The technicians usually give the green bean a hard time but work with him well for the good of the shop. They seem to miss less work and are always on time. The drawback is that the green bean will miss sales or get less for the sale than the more experienced managers while he is learning the business and his production management and parts knowledge skills are still developing. However, some of these guys can really sell, have good people skills and the desire to make the big money. If you are a shop owner that is willing to train and realize he will be high maintenance for a while, he will make a good prospect. On the other hand, if you are a shop owner with a very busy shop and have little time to train, you might want to pass on the green bean.

Good Old Boy's are managers with varying experience and skill levels that are just plain laid back. They are easy to get along with and rarely have a customer complaint or a problem with another employee. They just kinda coast through the day and try not to cause any problems. They don't like problems. They will gladly work any system you put in front of them and do almost anything you tell them to do. They generally will come to work every day and rarely are late for work unless drugs and alcohol are involved. The technicians will take advantage of the good old boy because of his good nature and inability to say no. Most, but not all, good old boys, are lacking in talent and/or desire. They are not the great salesmen in our industry because they see the customers as good old boys and listen to their reasons as to why the price is too high. Or, they will not price the job high enough to make a decent profit. Why? Because they avoid conflict. They just don't like problems. Keep in mind, most do not have the drive to make the big money and as a result are not good production managers as a rule. So, if you are a shop owner that is at the shop every day and you are the leader of the shop, the good old boy might be a good prospect as long as you control the price of the jobs and watch the production. On the other hand if you are an absentee owner you probably should avoid the good old boy all together.

Fixin To's are unorganized managers that make excuses all day long. When you ask him a question and he says " I'm fixin to do that as soon as I...." you've got a problem. If he is a green bean, then fixin to's are fairly normal but, if the manager is not a green bean, he is simply not organized and will be high maintenance for you. Also, he will not be able to get along with the quality technicians because of the confusion he creates because of his lack of organization. I have been successful at organizing several fixin to's in the past and they have turned out to be good managers. But, you have to stay on them all the time. They have to be taught organizational skills. There are some really good managers out there that just haven't been taught time management. If you are a shop owner that has the time and patience to teach these skills and enforce them, a fixin to can make you a good manager. However, if you do not have the time or patience, you might want to pass on the fixin to's out there.

The Seasoned Vet will have at least 5 years experience in the heavy retail production shops and is accustomed to making a lot of money. He can sell with the best of them, manage production and knows how and where to buy parts. He has good people skills and gets along with everyone as long as they show him the respect he has earned. He is organized and makes sure the shop is organized and informed at all times. He enjoys his job. He has his way of selling and managing but, will give and take with the owner to make the relationship work. He understands what it takes to make a profit and has the talent and desire to make it happen on a consistent basis. Some have owned their own shop at one time or another. The seasoned vet is a loyal and honest employee that will go the extra mile it takes when necessary. He is alcohol and drug free and will not work in a shop that is not. He is a team player and gladly takes the team leadership role. He does not move from shop to shop. He likes to stay in one place and build on the progress he has already made. He is concerned about the reputation of the shop and will not lie to the customer or sell in an unscrupulous manner. He expects the customer to pay top dollar for the jobs he sells but, is willing to take care of his customer's warranty needs in a professional manner when they come back and need his help. He has a lot of pride and will show you the same respect you show him. If you disrespect him, do not expect him to respect you. If you are a multiple shop owner or a heavy retail production shop owner, the seasoned vet is the perfect prospect. He is low maintenance and a self starter. On the other hand, if you are a start up shop or a low volume shop, the seasoned vet's salary requirement may exceed what you can afford to pay.

When you are recruiting a manager for your shop here are a few suggestions. Take your time. Find out if he can sell , manage production and save you money on parts. Ask him what is average sales amount is on major automatics, major standards, clutch jobs, and minor repairs. Ask him, out of 100 telephone leads, how many will result in lost leads, no shows, fta's, minor repairs, and major repairs. Ask him what his parts percentage is ? Ask him to rate himself on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, on his ability to control technicians , parts knowledge, production scheduling, computer skills, customer relations, organizational skills, paperwork,and keeping a clean shop. Then, ask him to finish the sentence, I like to work in a shop that... and then, finish the sentence, I don't like to work in a shop that...

Once that is done, if he meets your standards, go over his job description and tell him exactly what you expect him to do for your shop. Be precise in the goals you have set for your shop and let him know the little things that drive you crazy. Work out a pay plan with bonuses that works for both of you. Take into consideration that the manager that brings the big three to the table is worth more than the other type of managers out there. Money has broken up many owner and manager relationships made in haste. Don't make a deal that is no good for you no matter how good he is.

As I have said many times, there are quitters , campers and climbers out there. The top transmission shop managers that do this job right in our industry are unique individuals with a lot of talent and should be compensated accordingly. When you run into a great shop manager that can sell, manage production and watches your money on parts, find a way to put him to work. A manager that is a triple threat will make your job easier and also make you a lot of money. You can't beat that combination.

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