Many fixed-ops directors, service managers and advisors used to be technicians. Through ambition, circumstances and opportunity, they were promoted to a position of authority, leadership and influence. They got more responsibility, more prestige, more income and (of course) more stress. If you’re one of those “former techs” (or supervise one of them), then this article is for you.
Listen to this observation from AC Guarino, a shop owner in North Carolina: “I had to kill [my inner] technician to become the manager!” Mr. Guarino goes on to say he had to learn to work just as hard at managing the business as he worked at fixing cars when he was a technician.
For those of you who are technicians-turned-service advisors, your technical background can be a real blessing. You understand how a car works, you know the technical jargon, you can communicate effectively with the technicians and your parts knowledge really helps with estimates.
However, you must continually resist the urge to diagnose on the drive. You have to work hard at honing your listening skills and working diligently at not talking over the customer’s head. Quite frankly, there are times when you have to bite your tongue because you know more about fixing the car than the tech. does.
My advice to you is to learn some word-pictures and word-tracks to convert technical-speak into customer-speak. As an advisor, you can use your technical prowess as a powerful resource to further your career and your income. Vehicle owners will appreciate you and technicians will respect you if you’ll use your technical experience wisely.
To those of you who are technicians-turned-managers, the challenges are the same, but sometimes they can be more complex. This is especially true if you get promoted at the same dealership, and thus are now supervising the technicians that used to be your peers. It takes a rare individual who can manage, coach, mentor, teach, and discipline his ‘“buddies.” It can work, but it is a challenge.
The other issue you have to fight is the urge to pick up a wrench or diagnostic tool or fluid exchange machine and just do it yourself. I’m thinking of one service manager at a rural Chevrolet dealership that couldn’t stay out of the shop. He was better with brakes than he was with business. He was more comfortable with power steering than he was with people. This guy worked fourteen hours a day, but the service department rapidly declined, and he was fired last summer. Did he work hard? Oh my goodness, yes. But he wasn’t doing his job; he wasn’t executing the duties laid out in his job description. His “inner-technician” got in the way of an otherwise promising management career.
If this is you, my advice is to get out of the shop and get into your business. You can do it. Get involved in a cutting-edge twenty group, network with other service directors who are growing their departments, attend online training classes and webinars. Learn the business side of the automotive business.
The greatest success story I’ve ever seen is Dave Disco. His is a story of technician-turned-manager and then manager-turned-fixed ops consultant. Dave was an ASE Master Certified Technician at a Chevrolet dealership in Massachusetts who wanted more—who wanted to run his own operation, who wanted to manage a team of technicians.
Dave achieved his goal and ran a successful service center. He overcame the desire to get his hands on every car by hiring competent techs—by getting out of the shop and into his business. It was tough getting out of the shop, but he persisted as he came to the realization that it was foolish to try to do it all. But he still wanted more.
Through a series of events, I met Dave, he moved his family to Oklahoma, and he became a valuable member of my fixed-ops consulting team. That first meeting with Dave was over ten years ago and he continues to serve his clients with distinction as a trusted business advisor to them.
His experience as a “wrench” prepared him for a lifelong career of helping dealerships attain fixed-ops retention and profitability numbers that they never thought possible. So, can he still change the water pump on an F-150 with one hand tied behind his back? Of course he can! But now he uses his technical prowess to help his dealership clients achieve their goals.
For you all that are blessed with a wonderful technical background, be sure that you take the steps necessary to use that knowledge to further your career rather than deter it.
My personal thanks to Robert Bravender who connected me with Mr. Guarino.