AKRON (Nov. 8, 2004) — There's nothing wrong with family members working together at a tire dealership or service shop.
But bosses cannot allow their family members to interfere with proper, essential activities of regular employees.
In other words, smart owners and managers will keep family members on a very short leash if they hope to attract and retain good workers. Experience has taught me much about this topic. First, I've learned that good employees detest the interference of family members.
It's convinced me that some bosses will never, ever grasp the concept that the overall health of the business is more important than providing jobs for family members who, in some cases, are otherwise almost unemployable. It's taught me that the true cost of keeping family members employed is a lesson that is often learned much later than sooner.
The most recent example of this conflict that I encountered involved Joe, a solid and conscientious career technician. Over the years I have worked often enough with Joe to know and appreciate his knowledge and dedication. After many years as the lead tech in a metropolitan car dealership, a small-town tire dealer lured him away in hopes of bolstering the capabilities of his growing service department.
This appeared to be a good fit at first. Joe brought much-needed discipline to a well-equipped service department that sorely needed it. As far as I could tell, the department wasn't nearly as productive as it should have been because the techs weren't covering the fundamentals of good diagnosis first. For example, when a blue Ford with a hesitation came into the bay, the tech would chase the cause of the last hesitation he encountered on a blue Ford. The techs were reluctant to follow methodical check-out procedures on all vehicles.
Worse yet, Joe told me the owner's father was badly mismanaging the front service desk. Papa avoided charging for diagnostic time because he believed techs were simply expected to know what was wrong with each vehicle. Older and set in his ways, Papa refused to accept that competent techs need a minimum amount of time to diagnose problems on sophisticated modern cars.
Sadly, Papa also compounded the dealership's problems by refusing to interrogate customers and gather as much vehicle history as possible. Regular Tire Business readers know I've been badgering them for years to gather as much vehicle history as possible the moment the customer walks in the door. Several minutes invested up front in this process routinely saves many hours of wasted time later.
Papa had a grossly simplified—and wholly inaccurate—way of handling customers' problems. For example, any symptom that suggested the engine wasn't running up to par was classified as a tune up. Any handling problem that suggested a shimmy or roughness was dubbed alignment. If a tune up or wheel alignment didn't solve the customer's complaint, it was the customer's problem, not Papa's!
Gradually and tactfully, Joe worked himself into a position to interview as many customers as possible. He successfully applied the fundamentals of gathering facts and clues from motorists up front. The results were immediate and dramatic. The number of comebacks dropped; positive feedback from customers soared.
But as tactful as Joe tried to be, Papa interpreted his efforts as a callous effrontery to his position and his role in the dealership. Eventually Papa would stand by and glare menacingly as Joe interrogated customers. “I could feel this old man's anger while I was doing my work,” Joe explained. “He made the situation very uncomfortable for me and for the customers.”
Eventually, Papa bombarded his son, the dealership's owner, with complaints about Joe's alleged misuse of company time. However, this misuse was actually just routine fact-gathering. When the boss failed to rein in Papa, Joe returned to the car dealership in the city, where he was welcomed back with open arms. Joe has chalked up the episode to experience and the rural tire dealership has reverted to its flailing and thrashing methods.
Hopefully, readers will learn something and benefit from this fiasco. As for me, it reinforces my belief that family ties don't trump business fundamentals.