WALK A MILE IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES
Everyone has a unique skillset. You won’t always be the greatest at everything. Despite what you were told as a child, not everyone is amazingly super awesome at everything they try. For example, I am the worst basketball player on the face of the planet. There are young girls who could beat me in basketball. I know my weaknesses and will be the first to admit them.
Here’s another fun fact; everyone has weaknesses, lots of them. Every day, a weakness will show itself. How you turn that into a strength is knowing exactly what those weaknesses are and gathering a team around you who are experts at what your weaknesses are. For example, if I am putting together a basketball team and am terrible at basketball, I would recruit great players and put them in positions to win. I support them every step of the way from the sidelines as they make magic happen.
In the case of this blog, I am a business guy. I’m not too shabby at it, trying to make great things happen in various ways, but none of those ways involve the technical inner-workings of a car. I know the theory behind the mechanical aspects of sports cars, turbochargers, pulleys, heat-exchangers and all of that, but no one should entrust their very expensive vehicle to me to perform any task like it was no big deal. Don’t get me wrong, I could do it. I would just need a very detailed list of instructions and pictures, frequent water breaks, I would freeze in a panic if I didn’t see where something went and not sleep at night after it was done assuming I did something wrong. But hey, I can do it!
My shop team, on the other hand, may freak out at all of the reports I look at daily. They may not want to deal with the social media campaigns and politics with other shops and vendors my front office team executes. They are more comfortable executing the projects we have. They are in their comfort zone removing and replacing things on vehicles. They are my “Dream Team” for everything automotive.
In typical owner fashion, I would never ask them to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself. The perfect opportunity presented itself for me to truly experience what it is like to be in that world for an extended period of time. I have a very unique car that I bought several years ago. It’s a 1996 R33 Skyline GTR LM Limited that was being rebuilt. All of the parts were in the shop, the motor was complete on an engine stand, and it simply needed to be assembled to get the car back on the road. My shop team was very adamant that I completed this myself to understand everything on the car, know it’s done correctly, take my time, ask questions if I needed help, but more importantly, learn a new skill and become a better leader.
I began the project with no tools, boxes of parts, bags of bolts, and no service manuals. I was out of my comfort zone already. The guys helped me get started with some of the more obvious parts that could literally only go back on the car one way. After a few parts correctly installed, I felt a little more comfortable about installing small items here and there, woo hoo, go me! Of course, I finished my first few days with a few handfuls of parts installed and my team had completed several big projects and got them out of the door in the same time frame so, victory is all relative.
After the first week, I had most of the accessories on the long block and by the second week, the motor was ready to go back in the car. I was thinking there was another month worth of 12 or 14-hour days to get this thing running even after the motor went in. To my surprise, after the second week, I was down to cutting some fuel lines, plugging in wiring harnesses, and checking my work. Needless to say, the second week went better than the first. I was more comfortable looking at a part and bolts to determine where they needed to ultimately fit and then intuitively figuring out the best tool to get them installed.
By the third week, I was waiting for the last few parts to come in the mail and ultimately fire up the car I had spent the last 300+ hours of my life meticulously reassembling. When the time came to start the car and see what all I had messed up along the way, I was prepared for the worst. I thought there were going to be oil leaks, coolant leaks, vacuum leaks, everything was going to leak, I just knew it. That was, of course, if the car even started, which I didn’t have high hopes for either.
The starter began to turn the motor over and it came to life the first attempt. “OK, I thought, so let’s check underneath to see what all I’m going to find under there.” Dry as the Sahara Desert. Not a single fluid, fuel, oil, nothing. Completely good! No way, did I just complete something that was way out of my area of expertise? Turns out I did.
Although it was successful, it wasn’t a win. I still knew the mechanical aspects of the shop were not my expertise. It took me a while, I asked a ton of questions to my team, and I’m sure they would have all fired me along the way. I’m also positive they wanted to just push me out of the way several times to just hurry up and finish it.
The wins were more intuitive than just getting a car running. I was able to boost the morale of my shop team. Showing them I wasn’t afraid to get in the middle of something like that and do it. As an owner, I literally could have assigned that project to my team and had them complete it. There was much more to be gained through me doing that with them and being around them than just having it done. I also learned how to better estimate the cost and process of future work for our customers. They expect a certain level of quality and if we aren’t estimating the work correctly it could lead to quality control issues or lost revenue. Lastly, it helps me explain the value proposition through experience. Our customers want perfection. They want to go to drag events, race events, or weekend car shows and show off their works of art to others. In order to get those works of art perfect, it takes assembling, not liking, disassembling, reassembling, not liking, disassembling, reassembling, and getting things perfect. As a business, I need to let customers know perfection takes time and costs money.
Our customers pay for our expertise, our network, our vendor relationships, our attention to detail, our experience, our facility, and our tools to make their project exactly perfect. The best customers are those who know their weaknesses as well. They come in to our shop and would like to discuss their current project, their goals, their budget, and then take a step back and say things like “You guys are the experts, just put everything on paper and let’s get started.” They’ll provide some thoughts and participate during the process but ultimately a hands-off approach from a customer who knows they are working with us because we possess something they lack is the best. In those cases, the customer provides their resources and insights, then lets us provide all of our tools, expertise and experience. It’s a great exchange that produces the best results.
I see why using a service provider like our business is an important offering to the automotive community. Not everyone has 300+ hours to spend under a hood, or they want to do other things with their time than be under a hood. There are definitely some elements that aren’t so glorious (i.e. I spilled some transmission fluid on my shirt and smelled like gear oil for a day, cut more than a few knuckles, sweat several pounds off, missed out on family time) and a lot of our customers would rather use their resources to not do those things. I totally get that now.
I see a lot of things in our business more clearly and can be a better owner, manager, and friend as a result.