Who Is In Charge Of Your Shop?

From an owner or operators viewpoint, the most crucial “asset” to have on your list of lube shop assets is often the shop manager. If you are fortunate enough to have great lube shop manager working for you, no other single item or employee can have such remarkably positive effects on the operation of your lube shop. Unfortunately, if you have a less-than-stellar shop manger working for you, all kinds of devastating problems can quickly doom the performance of your shop.

If your main method for finding a great manager is to wait for the “perfect” candidate to walk through your door looking for a job, then you are in for a long, fruitless search. It probably isn’t going to happen!

Clearly, the best method for developing a lube shop manager to your standards is just that: Develop them. Actively pursue great candidates; don’t just wait around for them to show up.

Where Do You Find Great Prospects?

The real question should be: Where don’t you find them? As you go through your regular day-to-day activities, at work as well as away from work, you will run into many people who may seem perfectly happy and satisfied in their jobs, but, in reality, are possibly frustrated with their current employer and are looking for just the right opportunity to jump ship and improve their situation.

Pay careful attention to every person you may run into, from the clerk at the convenience store to the salesperson in the appliance store you happen to be at or even the person standing next to you in line at the bank. You never know whom you are going to run into. If someone you meet strikes you as a particularly sharp or outgoing individual, hand them your business card and offer them up something like this: “My name is [your name], and here is my card. You seem like the kind of person who would probably be a great fit in my company. If you ever happen to find yourself looking for new employment, or if you are just looking for a change of pace, give me a call. We can set up an interview, and I can tell you exactly the things I can offer you.” Or, at least, something along those lines

If this prospect gives you a call at a later date, then you know something you said impressed that person. A great start to a great relationship!

Step 1: Basics, Basics and More Basics

If your management-candidate is new to the lube industry, then you have the perfect opportunity to teach only the good new habits you want them to have — and you won’t have to experience the burden of trying to un-teach old bad habits they may have picked up at their last lube-shop employer.

Start with the basics of the job, the same way you would train a new lower-bay or upper-bay technician. If they are as sharp as you hope, then they will be a quick study and will pick things up faster than a typical hourly employee might.

It isn’t absolutely necessary that they become the most proficient practitioner of any specific task, only that they fully understand it and can actually perform the work as necessary, accurately and without mistakes when required to.

If your manager-in-training is new to this particular crew, then having them learn all the various positions throughout the shop and becoming efficient at each of them will help him to earn the respect and trust of the existing crew members.

This is the point where it doesn’t matter so much what you teach them, as to how you teach them. Once you are sure they understand why something is done a certain way, you must make it clear to them that it is to be done exactly this way, every time, without fail. You must let them go it alone, so to speak, and work at their task without direct supervision for a short while. Then follow up with intense scrutiny and inspection. Their job performance must then be praised for any outstanding results and, likewise, critiqued for any possible challenges. When they become proficient at the basic, day-to-day tasks within the lube shop, they can begin to learn management techniques.

Step 2: Position Them As a Leader

Up to this point, your training should have basically resulted in a good technician. Unfortunately, nothing so far has really helped your candidate to become an effective manager. You must now step up to the next level of training, which is teaching the management skills. You can’t teach effective management skills and expect the candidate to achieve positive results unless you first teach them the skills of the people they will be in charge of. This is an undeniable fact of operating a profitable and well-run lube shop.

Your management candidate does not necessarily need to be the most proficient person in the shop at every facet of the day-to-day procedures, but he must be able to adequately perform any of the needed operations at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, many operators fail to realize this and end up with a shop manager who is, in all respects, a great guy, but nonetheless, fails to become an effective leader.

Being a great technician does not necessarily mean that the individual will be a great manager; however to be a great manager, the candidate must have good technician skills.

Step 3: Define Job-Duty Differences

Your manager-candidate must understand that a store manager is not just a technician who is also in charge of the other technicians. He must be a leader. The first thing to teach them is that no matter how much they feel it is to their benefit, they are not going to be successful if their primary goal as a store manager is to be their crew’s friend.

Don’t get confused — being friendly at work is obviously very important, and especially so for a ‘leader’, but that is not his primary goal as a store manager. His job is be a leader, and that requires making decisions that are often based solely on the necessities of what is best for the shop and have almost nothing to do with what would be considered a friendly decision. This can be paraphrased this way: A manager is one who is required to make the unpopular decision, if necessary.

Another facet of strong leadership is the need for your manager to be totally fair in all aspects of running the shop. But what is fair?

One of the rules of fairness is that all employees in the shop must be held to the same demands and requirements. Playing favorites is the quickest way to destroy any opportunity there may be for a well-run shop.

It is very common for a newly-appointed manager to have become friends, inside and possibly outside of work, as he was a technician. When he is then appointed to the position of lube-shop manager, this relationship with the other technicians can — and so often does — create dramatically damaging behaviors within the store, which can lead to a general inability of the manager to influence the moral of the troops in a positive fashion.

Make sure to carefully explain to your brand-new manager that when he is tasked with making the unpopular decision, he must be sure his crew understands his responsibility is, ultimately, what is best for the location, not what is best for the individual crew-members. These decisions should be made and enforced without drama or any other unnecessary histrionics.

To insulate the crew from the emotionally hurtful effects of a potentially unpopular decision, your manager must always demonstrate sympathy for each of his team member’s feelings and opinions about the matter, explaining that he understands their particular attitudes about the matter. However, he is required by the nature and responsibilities of the job of manager to make the decision that is best for the smooth operation of the shop.

This will most often result in the crew blaming circumstances for whatever level of disappointment or discomfort they experience and not blame the manager, their former friend, for their unhappiness or dissatisfaction.

Step 4: Always Moving Forward

Of course, there are many other aspects of successful lube-shop management, but many seem to feel that it is their job to keep things as-is, or to prevent the shop from moving backward.

In reality, it is impossible to keep the shop as-is. Things change all the time, and that must be fully understood by any lube-shop manager who wants to run a successful shop. So, moving forward is the only answer! Crew members must constantly be trained, retrained and maintained. The opportunities for promotion and wage increases must be kept alive for each team member, and the manager is the only one who can instigate this. This does not mean that they will all get promotions and raises, but they must all know that the possibility is there for them to capitalize on if they decide to.

These are only a few of the many skills that lube shop managers must possess if they are expected to run a good shop. If these essentials are followed consistently, you will be closer to building the perfect lube shop manager.

Talk to all of you next month, and always remember: It is up to you to make it happen every day in your shops!

Kit Sullivan

KIT SULLIVAN began as a lube tech over 25 years ago and is one of the most knowledgeable and respected experts in the fast-oil-change arena. From location manager to general manager of a 50-plus unit chain, to owner of his own six-unit chain of lube shops, Sullivan has mastered every area of successful lube shop operation. Known for his excellent training seminars, as well as assistance in developing new products tailored to the industry, Sullivan is a popular consultant and can be reached at: quicklubekit@aol.com