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We all need training to move the industry — and ourselves — forward

Once again, our profession is at an intersection and we need to address training, from shop owners to techs

Once again, our profession is at an intersection. And I’m an advocate for taking those willing and able to the next level when it comes to addressing our industry training, from technicians to shop owners.

As you know, aftermarket automotive service, whether it’s the mechanical or collision repair sector, is an important segment of the overall transportation economy. Both are seeing strong demand from consumers as the more user friendly and more local dealership alternative. As such, we’ve got an important role long into the future and will need to train up to keep up with demand.

John Gustafson, of Gustafson Brothers Automotive Services in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Here are a few of my thoughts toward that goal:

Owners need to be leaders and leaders need coaches

No matter the core focus or size of the aftermarket automotive business you run, everyone needs to develop strong leadership skills. The best way I learned leadership skills was to be coached. It took the first 10-plus years to realize that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

After engaging coaches from different segments of business, I learned and was able to grow a good, but small, shop into a great and profitable business. Now, 40 years later, I can say that I should have sought out mentors and coaches much sooner. There are some excellent coaches in our profession and the sooner you bury the ego and learn what you don’t know, the sooner you will succeed beyond what you currently think is your ceiling. 

Leaders need an operating system for consistency 

At Gustafson Brothers, we’ve adopted the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) by author Wickman, which I highly recommend. It’s been a recent discovery and it’s been a great add on to what we had in place already.

Also, earlier this year, while listening to Carm Capriotto’s pod casts, he interviewed Barry Barrett discussing a seven-part series on EOS. We were about 80 percent in sync with what they were speaking about and it prompted me to buy the books Traction, How to be a Great Boss and What the Heck is EOS. After reading all three books, we picked up the 20 percent that was missing from our leadership process. Truly a remarkable revelation and the beginning of what will be my succession plan. 

Team training is critical

I personally recommend that everyone under your roof consume more than three hours of continuing education every month. Documented and rewarded. Pay the team members for the training and make the training available during working hours.

This is how we move from the present to the future. To succeed tomorrow and future tomorrows, we need to be enveloped in a learning culture. We found a reasonable LMS (Learning Management System) to track each team member’s progress and we use the information at six-month reviews to reward progress.

Build a Mentor/Mentee culture inside your shop 

Give your team members a career path to climb. This is the fix for the tech shortage — set a career path for your people and provide each of them a mentor. This takes a little work, but in the end, you are building your bench every day.

Training needs to include business math and personal math

We realized that the old saying, “The boss is getting rich and I’m getting screwed,” grew out of a lack of understanding of business economics, so we offer a business math class for each team member who is interested.

We take a recent quarter or the last fiscal year and have the team member fill an entire white board with actual business numbers. In the end, they understand that running a business is rewarding and they are getting a fair share of the customer’s payment.

On the personal math side, we offer the same white board but with their personal numbers in the following categories: Column 1— Assets, Liabilities, Net Worth; Column 2 — Post Tax Income (take home pay) less expenses (as many as they can remember) and the resulting cash flow number (either positive or negative); and then in Column 3, we suggest they fund a six-month emergency reserve and when that’s full, start their investment fund.

Build your business strong, plan your exit many years in advance

It takes 5 to 10 years to exit your business with grace and money. It is my opinion that you need to start a realistic exit plan the day you start your business. This is another great reason to engage with coaches — they will help you get started.

The need a common library of resources

Our profession needs a common library of resources for the members to find information on best practices from the silos — whether they are industry associations, businesses, non-profits, etc. —that have them perfected already. Recruiting, for example, is a grassroots activity that many silos have figured out, but we all need to come together, work together and coalesce to develop a library of best practices in one place for all to benefit from. 

Where is this common library? If it exists, I’ve yet to find it. We have many associations across our profession, and most are doing a great job at what their leadership sees as important. I see a need for all associations to link to this forward-thinking common library and share best practices.  If you know of this resource, please share.

I encourage — or even challenge — you to wake up every day with a plan to make a difference so that we’ll all succeed. 

About John Gustafson

Fresh out of high school in 1971, John and his brother, Frank, founded Gustafson Brothers Automotive Services in Huntington Beach, Calif., that now employs 60. He is a Certified ASE Master Technical, Bureau of Automotive Repair Certified Instructor, Continuing Education Insurance Instructor licensed by the State of California, and a certified I-CAR instructor. He is also an active ASCCA member and has been recognized with the Alumni Pillar of Achievement Award from Golden West College for his contributions in the automotive industry. He can be reached at

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