Shop Owners Helping Shop Owners

How To Choose An Auto Repair Shop Business Coach or Consultant
by Robert Silverstein

As a shop owner who may be seriously considering hiring a coach/consultant, you are likely keenly aware of the difference that exists between the results you want to achieve for your business and the reality of that which exists. But you probably don’t know –why- the difference exists or what you can do differently to achieve your goals. Acknowledging that you “know that which you know, but you don’t know what it is you don’t know” is the very first step in a very long journey of education.

I wrote this guide to help shop owners who are considering hiring a business coach/consultant to help them with their business. I almost made a very costly mistake many years ago when I started my business. I had seriously contemplated hiring a coaching firm that was going to put me in debt to the tune of $35,000 at a time when that figure exceeded my average monthly sales. As time later proved, that company would have been an exceedingly poor fit for me and my business.

The problem was that I just didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what questions to ask to help me make my choice because I was, well, overwhelmed and completely unprepared. Although I graduated with a business major from college, I was simply not ready to deal with the rigors of day to day business operations of my auto shop. As my real world business education continued I found myself making expensive mistakes because there wasn’t anyone that I trusted enough to give me good advice. As time progressed I slowly began to make fewer mistakes and I was fairly eager to pass on what I had learned to other shop owners in my community. The way I figured it, if my experiences could help someone else from making the same mistakes I made, that would be a good thing.

Before I go any further and tell you what this guide is; kindly allow me to tell you what it isn’t. This guide is not a ratings sheet where I compare and contrast the costs, features and benefits of each coach or consultant against a specific standard or pit one coach against another. I’ve provided a link to a list of coaches/consultants at the end of this guide. After you have read through it, do your homework and follow some of the suggestions I’ve provided. Ask the questions of yourself and of your potential coach/consultant.

This guide is not a hit piece where I rage against a coaching company or specific coach with whom I’ve had a bad experience. You should, however, be advised that the coaching/consulting profession is not immune to the deceit, seediness and unethical business practices that we all know exist in the auto repair business or in the sales profession at large. Consequently I would be remiss in my responsibility to you if I did not provide examples of those reprehensible practices you might encounter while you search for a coach/consultant.                                                 

What is it then? It’s a reference point. It’s a beginning. It’s the place to start your education…your journey. Hopefully this journey will culminate with your hiring a coach/consultant that helps you reach your destination.

As a disclaimer and in the interest of ‘transparency’ I make the following known. I am not a shop consultant or coach. I am not selling anything, especially my time or advice. I receive absolutely no compensation by anyone for anything I have written here or posted on the Auto Shop Owners Group on Facebook. No commissions, no referral fees, no kickbacks of any kind. Like you, I’m a shop owner, that’s it. One more thing; let’s talk pronouns. It would be a mistake to assume that since I write using the masculine pronoun- his- that I don’t think women are equally as capable of being great coaches or consultants. That’s just crap and you would do well to divest yourself of any such notion.  

This guide has been produced in four parts; the first is an introduction to the initial process of choosing a coach (that’s the part you are reading now). Included in this introduction are examples of the most common scenarios that are frequently cited as the impetus for making the changes to the business. Make no mistake, I’m not for a moment suggesting that the examples I provide represent the complete list, far from it. Take a few minutes and read the scenarios and see if you can identify with one (or more) of them. I think you may be surprised to find that you are not as alone in your circumstance as you may think.

Part two defines the difference between a business coach and a business consultant. Although the terms are frequently conflated, there are real differences that merit consideration as you proceed with your ‘education’. Throughout this paper I will use the term coach/consultant because the information usually applies to them equally and I don’t want to be accused of playing favorites by favoring one term more than the other.  

Part three contains a list of those questions that a shop owner MUST ask of themselves PRIOR to interviewing a coach/consultant.. I posed these questions in a ‘Yes’ or ‘No” format. Take the time to print that part of this paper and take the test. If your answer to questions 1,2,3,6,7,8, and 9 are anything other than ‘Yes’, it’s unlikely that hiring a coach or consultant will be beneficial for you. It’s not a fact, it’s just an opinion formed by years of experience.

Part four contains a list of questions that I feel can help a shop owner chose a coach or consultant that will be the best “fit” for that shop owner. It really doesn’t matter if the coach/consultant is part of a large nationwide coaching firm or an individual who works alone, these questions form the basis of any coaching- client relationship In hindsight, I wish that I had been knowledgeable enough to ask these questions during the process of choosing one of my coach/consultants. I am certain that had been able to reference them prior to making my choice; I would have been better prepared to choose the right coach for my business instead of the mistake I made. These questions should be directly asked of the coach or consultant and I have added some of my thoughts as commentary about those questions where I think you, the shop owner, will benefit.

Part 1- Shop Owner Scenarios

Group 1- Motivation: Fear/ Desperation/ Panic. You may have started your business as a technician who decided to pursue the American dream of owning his own business. Or, perhaps you purchased an established business that you mistakenly believed would essentially run itself with the current staff.  Unfortunately, your expectations have very little to nothing to do with the reality you face. Every day (including the weekend) is stressful because you don’t know how you are going to pay your bills. Things just haven’t gone according to the way you thought they would and you don’t know why. It seemed so simple, so straightforward when you were a tech at the dealership. Cars came in, you fixed them and then the boss “collected the cash”. His job was easy, heck it appeared to you that he did little to nothing at all. If you purchased the business as an Investor hoping to become an absentee owner, you don’t understand what is happening to your new “investment”. Your accountant said that the business was a “cash cow” and would require very little involvement on your part in the day to day operations. It was presented to you as a “Turn Key” operation. Everything was to remain the same except ownership of the business. When you visited the shop as a prospective buyer you noted that the staff was friendly, they all seemed to work well together and everyone was busy. Soon after you completed the purchase you learned the difference between being busy and being productive.  But the shop isn’t busy or productive now and the employees are a mess.  Your car count is erratic; the amount of your average repair order varies wildly from tech to tech and you don’t know from one day to the next who will show up for work. You worry that there may not be enough work to support the techs that you have when they do show up. You haven’t drawn a paycheck in weeks (if not longer) and your wife’s paycheck is the sole form of income for your family. Thank heaven she doesn’t work in the shop with you.  Your back is to the wall and you are on the verge of panic. The prospect of permanently closing the shop, declaring bankruptcy, losing everything and feeling like a failure haunts your dreams. You can’t remember the last time you enjoyed a full night’s sleep and your relationship with your spouse is strained because of the pressure caused by the tremendous weight of uncertainty you bear. You will definitely need the services of a Coach who can provide the positive affirmation that you will require since your confidence has been so deeply shaken. He will likely start with helping you to immediately increase sales. There’s an old adage in business; “Sales fixes everything”. There are obvious exceptions to this rule but unless your business sees an immediate influx of revenue, you won’t have a business long enough to worry about any exceptions.

Group 2- Motivation: Unadulterated Unbridled Ambition. You’ve bought or built your business with one objective: maximizing profit. You view business as a game and you intend on winning. You believe that you have a moral obligation to your family and to others that you become wealthy. You have no particular affinity for cars other than you enjoy driving them. It really doesn’t matter to you if the business you own is making sandwiches like Subway, pizza like Dominos or servicing cars. What DOES matter above all else is that the business must meet your financial targets. One of your favorite sayings is “I didn’t get into this business to fix cars; I got into this business to make money!”You absolutely expect to own a multi-store operation, each store providing you with a six figure income. You want to retire before you’re fifty so you can travel, see the world and create memories with your family. The business, therefore, is simply the means to an end. You can read and understand a Profit and Loss Statement and your financial acumen has allowed you to make some other investments which have been profitable. You recognize that in order for your plan to succeed, you need at least a twenty percent minimum return on your investment annually. You see your business as a factory that produces billable hours and you expect that the factory will run as efficiently and as productively as possible to maximize profit. You are smart enough to realize that while you understand business, there are knowledge gaps in your education and experience that are specific to the multi store auto repair business model.  Accordingly, you recognize the need for a Consultant. You don’t need a coach. Your self esteem needs no positive reinforcement, your confidence in your abilities is strong. You need a business plan specifically tailored to growing numerous stores which includes daily, weekly and monthly objectives to achieve your goals. You need to ensure that your systems, policies and procedures are duplicatable and a plan set in place to hold your employees accountable. Since you will have numerous employees, you will need to have processes in place to interview, hire, train, discipline, retain and ultimately terminate those who do not “fit in” to the corporate culture that your consultant is charged with helping you create.

Group 3- Motivation: Discouragement/Disillusionment/Despair. You started your business with the intention of becoming –THE BEST- repair shop around. You have sacrificed both personal time with your family and your savings by investing in technical training for your techs and factory diagnostic platforms for the cars you service. Because of your sacrifices and dedication to your craft, you have achieved your goal. Your shop has built its reputation on being able to consistently fix cars that other shops (including the dealer) can’t. You did this because you just KNEW that the industry was replete with “parts changers” and “wallet flushing, gravy sucking” repair shops that couldn’t properly diagnose or repair even the simplest of problems. Based on what you just KNEW about the shadiness and absence of ethics in your industry you were supremely confident that once your community learned of your exceptional abilities, your business would be slammed. Your bays would be consistently full and your burgeoning bank account would reflect all of it. Your business was going to be the embodiment of the saying that “if you build a better product or provide a better service, the world will beat a path to your door”. Well, you have, and the world hasn’t, and you have the checkbook to prove it. You’ve run your business for several years and you are always able to get by. And that’s what frustrates and troubles you. You’re –just- getting by when it’s obvious that you provide a superior service than the “gravy suckers’ down the street. You shake your head in despair every time you think about the owners of those shops who live in bigger houses and drive newer cars. You pay the shops bills on time (mostly) and you are able to draw a steady paycheck. Occasionally you allow yourself to take brief mini vacations on long three day weekends but you’re weary and have lost your enthusiasm and sense of purpose. You find the prospect of doing the same job for the next 10, 15 or 20 more years so depressing that you dare not say it aloud or express yourself to others for fear that they will find you weak. Sometimes in a fleeting moment of introspection you secretly worry that you look forward to those after work beers more than you should. You find that you don’t necessarily want them; you kind of need them to carry you through to the next day. You find yourself looking backwards to your past for comfort as you relive the “glory days” of your youth before you were saddled with responsibilities and obligations. Thoughts of living a life of gratitude in the moment and looking forward to a bright future just don’t happen very much anymore. You frequently catch yourself daydreaming that if you had the ability it to do all over again; you would have done something else. You dread going to work and you realize that for all of your sacrifices, you’ve simply bought yourself a job and a lousy paying one at that. Here too, a business “Coach” will likely be your best bet. Your spirit needs some positive affirmation and you need to rediscover your passion. The coach can help you to evaluate what improvements you need to make to capitalize on your unique reputation in order to become more productive and profitable. 

Group 4 Motivation: Retirement Income/Financial Security: You’ve been in business for a while now and you’re doing okay. You have some money in the bank (not a huge amount, but enough to cover your expenses for a few months), a relatively new car or two, you regularly take vacations and you’ve been able to send your kids to a State University as a result of the reduced cost of  in state tuition.. Your business enjoys a good reputation in your community and you’ve left most of the day to day operations of the shop to your manager and staff. You can be gone for a week and when you return the place hasn’t burned down and your voicemail hasn’t been blown up by angry clients. All things considered, not a bad life. But something’s nagging at you. You’ve reluctantly admitted to yourself that there are far more days behind you than lay ahead. You can’t shake the feeling that this can’t be all there is, there has to be more. Where’s the money going to come from when it’s time to retire? Is the business in any shape to be sold?  How much money can you expect when you sell the business?  In any case, you recognize the need to position the business to be sellable. The company financials have to be above reproach and it’s imperative that you to do it well because your family is counting on it; you’ve got nothing else; no 401k, no retirement savings to speak of. You’ve done enough research to know that the business is worth more and will appeal to a larger group of potential buyers if systems, policies and procedures are in place that will allow for an absentee owner.  You remember the passion that you felt while learning new technology when you were a tech. Now you wonder if that same drive can be applied to making the business FINALLY pay off in a big way. You will likely do better with a Business Consultant, someone who will spend some time at your facility and help you redefine your goals, fine tune or if necessary create all new systems, policies and procedures while providing an exit strategy for you, the business owner. This exit strategy will include keeping a watchful eye on expenses in order to keep the yearly E.B.I.T.D.A. (Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) as high as possible in the three years immediately preceding your tentative retirement date. Your Consultant will introduce you to the formulas used to determine what your selling price of the business should be and run proforma for the years leading up to the sale.  


Part 2: Coach or Consultant- What’s the difference?

Both the business coach and the business consultant use their expertise to help you achieve your goals for your business. The manner in which they accomplish their goal of helping you exemplifies their differences.

A coach’s job is to provide inspiration, encouragement, motivation and support while his client executes the changes that the coach has recommended. In many respects, a coach acts like a cheerleader exuding positivity and urging his student to realize his/her potential for greatness and success. The coach recognizes that it is easier to accomplish his goal if his client genuinely likes him so he will try to develop a nurturing and likeable personality. He wants his client to think of him as a trusted friend. 

A coach will likely spend far more time with a client helping them to focus on personal development, acknowledge the power of positive thinking, recognize and overcome self defeating behavior such as procrastination and lack of focus than will a consultant. The coach wants his client to recognize that the changes that he is recommending for the business are best achieved when the client becomes involved and ‘buys into’ the concepts being taught. The coach typically believes that it’s not enough that he provides instructions to create change, he has to facilitate it and that may involve addressing psychological, emotional and spiritual components. This course of action is frequently described as a holistic approach of instruction.

A coach’s perspective can be summed up in the following quote from the famous football coach Lou Holtz Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." In summary: The coach believes that with the proper attitude nothing is impossible.

A Consultant, unlike a coach, does not delve deeply into his client’s psyche. He believes that the client’s motivation is self evident; his client wouldn’t have retained his services if he didn’t know that he needed help. His focus on the problems or limitations of the business is acute and laser-like. His thought processes are analytical in nature and his gift is his ability to recognize and solve problems quickly. He is generally far more direct and can at times appear to the client to be friendly, but distant. While the consultant recognizes that it is easier to successfully motivate a client who likes him, in his view, it’s simply not necessary. To the consultant, what is paramount is that the job for which he is being paid gets done. The consultant will generally have a far more methodical and structured program to address the flaws in the business than a coach. While a consultant recognizes the benefits of positive reinforcement and encouragement he will likely use them much less frequently than a coach. A consultant is far more likely to believe that the positive affirmation is client may be seeking will be seen in the positive changes seen in the business as the result of following his recommendations.

The first step for any business consultant is the discovery phase, where the goal is to learn his client's business. A good business consultant takes the time to learn as much as possible about the business, from the owner, employees, vendors and the community at large. This should include touring your shop, meeting with employees, analyzing the finances, reading all company materials and online reviews to obtain a fuller picture of your business. It’s not uncommon for a consultant to remain at a business for a couple of days to observe how the business runs firsthand.

Once the discovery phase has been completed and an in-depth understanding of the business as it currently exists has been achieved, the consultant will move forward to the evaluation and modification phases. In the evaluation phase the consultant identifies the company strengths and weaknesses and notes where change needs to be made. He then works with the shop owner to establish a timeline and modify the business plan as it currently exists. If no business plan currently exists, he creates a plan to achieve the desired results. Additionally, the consultant can help to identify future opportunities and well as current and foreseeable problems.

Once the problems have been identified and the plan produced, the implementation phase begins and its success is directly proportional to the efforts made by you; the shop owner.

Part three- Questions Shop Owners need to ask themselves Take the test and circle ‘Y’ for Yes and ‘N’ for No

1. Are you ready to commit to the very real possibility of changing the way you run your business if that entails doing something that you don’t want to do?  Y/N this means you must be open (truly open) to new ideas or new ways of doing things to accomplish your goals. This also means you must be open to revisit those ideas that did not work for you in the past but may work now because of changing circumstances. “I’ve tried that before and it just didn’t work” simply doesn’t cut it.

2. Are you the sole business owner and decision maker? Y/N

3. If you are not the sole decision maker, are your partners one hundred percent on board with the prospect of change? Y/N.  If your partners (spouse or business) have not committed to make the changes needed then your likelihood of success is dramatically reduced. The sound of one hand clapping is silence.

4. Is there something out of the ordinary going on in your personal life that might negatively affect your ability to work with a coach or consultant to create the change you seek?  Y/N Examples may include a pending divorce, a terminally ill child, a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia. This is where you must be absolutely honest because those reasons may mean that this is NOT the time to retain a coach or consultant. If your business is not facing imminent bankruptcy and the passage of time may benefit you, it may be prudent to wait. Changing your business will require a great deal of focus and time. If current events in your personal life prevent you from allocating these resources to the very best of your ability it might be wiser to wait until circumstances change for the better if at all possible.

5. Are there any interpersonal conflicts or other problems at your shop that might negatively impact or hinder your efforts in working with a coach/consultant? Y/N It should come as no big surprise when I say that this refers to a problem employee or employees.

6. Are you willing to institute disciplinary policy which may result in the termination the employee or employees even if they are family or lifelong friends? Y/N

7. Are you willing to commit to being completely honest with your coach or consultant even if that means you will look bad in the process?  Y/N Any experienced coach/consultant expects you to screw up in the course of improving your business. How you handle that screw up will tell that coach/consultant a lot about your character. Remember, a coach isn’t just trying to improve your business, he want to see improvement (personal development) in you as well.  

8. Can you absolutely commit to completing your assigned tasks in the timeframe specified by you coach/consultant? Y/N Coaches/consultants will usually assign weekly tasks that monitor shop financial performance. These Key Performance Indicators are a way to keep score. They serve as a barometer to measure the state of health of the business. This can be in the form of an Excel spreadsheet that must be filled out by the owner and then emailed to the coach/consultant. This information can also be relayed in weekly telephone or Skype calls.

9. Do you understand and agree that you as the Shop Owner are ultimately responsible for the results achieved by choosing to follow or NOT follow the coach’s/consultants advice or program/ Y/N this is tough. Think long and hard about this one.

10.  Both this question and question 11 are compound questions: What measure of control are you as the shop owner willing to give up achieving your goals?  Are you willing to cede some control and delegate responsibilities of the day to day operations to your employees?  Y/N Many owners can be accurately defined as control freaks who inadvertently micro-manage. If you think that this describes you, you may be in for a tough road. You must be able to delegate the tasks assigned to you to a trusted employee in the event something unexpected were to happen to you. Someone at your shop has to be able to keep up with tracking the financial Key Performance Indicators if you are unable.

11. What sacrifices are you willing to make financially to be able to afford to hire a Coach or Consultant?  Coaches/consultants are NOT cheap. If your business is just hanging on, struggling to make it from week to week, you are going to need to make additional sacrifices to be able to pay for training.. Are you willing to sell some or all of your prized possessions in your quest to become educated? Your motorcycle, hot rod and gun collection etc. Are you willing to sell your newer car to eliminate the payments and buy an older car? That may very well be necessary.  Coaches/Consultants can cost between $1,000 to $4,000 per month or more. Many require that you sign legally binding contracts of between six months and two years or more. The cost of some programs can be so expensive that you may be required to borrow money to finance your training. Additionally, at least one company requires that the “tuition” must be paid in full –PRIOR- to the training taking place. The idea is that if you have that much “skin in the game” you are much less likely to quit. In the ideal world, once you begin to implement the ideas that you have been taught, your revenue should increase to the point where the training is paid for by the increase in sales. That’s the ideal world, reality is often quite different. It can take many months to begin to cover the cost of training. If you fight the program, it can take longer or never happen at all.

12. If you elect to borrow the money needed to finance your training, are you aware that many finance/leasing companies will require a personal guarantee so that if your business fails, you are still obligated to pay the money?  Y/N

13. Are you aware that some finance/leasing companies have a contractual provision that specifies that your debt can be transferred to your “heirs or assigns” in the event of your death?  Y/N what this means is that if you die during the contract period, your wife/ estate will be responsible for the outstanding balance of your loan.

14. Are you comfortable with someone else having access to your company checking account? Y/N. Most Coaches/Consultants require a monthly draft from your checking account or debit card. In the banking industry, this practice of scheduling monthly withdrawals is known as a “pull”.  The process of stopping a re-occurring debit card payment in the event that you decide to sever your relationship with your coach/consultant can be very frustrating and may necessitate closing your checking account and opening another. That can be a hassle especially if you have several different vendors drafting from your account. Debit cards and account drafts do not have the consumer protections built in as do credit cards. You can authorize a monthly payment from your credit card but while better from a “consumer protection” standpoint it is not foolproof. There are two ways to ensure that you as the consumer are more fully protected. The first is a bill pay service where you list each account that is to be paid monthly and each month you authorize that payment. In the banking industry, this is known as a “push”. The second is that you create an account specifically for the payment and ensure that you transfer the funds needed into that account prior to the amount being withdrawn. If your relationship with your coach/consultant can’t be saved then you would simply close the account prior to the next withdrawal. Understand that if you have signed a contract you have a legal responsibility to fulfill your contractual obligation. Depending on the outstanding balance, you may reasonably expect to be sued for breach of contract.  

15. Do you have a preference if your coach/consultant will be a part of a larger organization or will he be part of a smaller company? Y/N

 16. Are you aware that the coach or consultant that you sign up with may not be the person who you deal with on a regular basis? Y/N The person you first encountered during a training class or presentation may be the face of the company who may not have time to work with you.  It’s not uncommon for the responsibility for your ‘education/training” to be delegated to an associate whom you have never met. This occurs more frequently with a larger ‘nationwide’ company than a smaller one or two person firm.

17. Are you aware that your coach or consultant may recommend products or services to you for which he is compensated? It’s comforting to believe that the motives of your coach/consultant are pure and that he is motivated only by the desire for you to reach your goals in the best way possible. That marketing company that produces a newsletter with your company logo, website design company, customer retention management company or uniform company that your coach/consultant recommends may be paying him a commission or referral fee. He might even own all or part of the company. Where I grew up, we used to call it a “kick back”.  The reality is that conflict of interest is just as real and prevalent in the coaching/consulting industry as in any other sales industry. Personally, I have no problem with this as long as (1) I am told upfront and without my needing to ask before any contract for service has been made. (2) I can be assured that the quality of my training will not be adversely affected if I don’t follow the coaches/consultant recommendation.

18. Are you aware that as part of your “training’ you may be instructed to violate your moral code when dealing with customers? Y/N Please pay careful attention here because this is really important. Part of your training very well may include Service Writer Sales Skills or some variation on that concept. During this portion of the training for your S.W. (or you if you are the S.W.) your Coach/Consultant will teach you techniques that are designed to increase your closing ratio. Words and phrases that will help you to sell more by overcoming objections with the aim of increasing your average repair order (ARO).  You can expect that they may tell you to “exaggerate’ or “mislead” under the guise of salesmanship. The legal term for this exaggeration is; puffing. An example of puffing follows: “Once we install these new strut assemblies for you Mrs. Jones, your car will ride like when it was new and you will never have a problem with your suspension again” This may or may not cause problems for you depending on if you believe that ‘puffing’ is the moral equivalent of lying. In the example I’ve just used, telling Mrs. Jones that her car will ride like when it was new and that she will never have suspension issues again isn’t truthful; it’s lying. There are those that would say that this isn’t really a big lie, it’s just salesmanship…a little white lie at best. There are, however, disreputable coaches/consultants that teach that lying is acceptable because the important thing is to ‘get them (the customer) in the door’. Here is a direct quote from some printed material distributed by a well known company in this industry regarding inspecting a “vehicle in rough condition and not worth getting involved”. They instruct the service writer to state the following to the customer” Unfortunately we will not be able to help you. We have limited information pertaining to the condition or problem”.  That’s outright deceit, they know what’s wrong, and they just don’t want to be bothered.

19. Do you understand that there may be a huge disconnect between what the Coach/Consultant tells you will happen when you are a prospect –versus- what can happen after you sign up? Y/N There’s a certain amount of reverence/deference that we afford Coaches/Consultants because they appear to be living the type of life that we want. They have proven themselves to be successful and we hope to learn from them so that we may enjoy success as well. Consequently, we are not as critical when evaluating them as we should be. We’re not as inclined to be skeptical for fear of the possibility of offending them. The end result of this deference may be the unwelcome realization that you and your coach/consultant simply aren’t a good fit and that you have wasted a great deal of time and money.

20. Compound question: Do you know what your shops business model is? Y/N .Can you accurately define/explain your shops business model?

21. Do you know what truly makes your shop different from the other shops in your area that operate under a similar business model? Y/N Let’s be honest here: nearly every shop will use the same adjectives when describing their shops: Honest, Trustworthy, Fair, Professional, Reliable etc. Why should anyone take their car to you and your shop? What makes you so special? This is so very important: If you are unable to articulate that makes you ‘special’ to you customers; you will likely be unable to articulate that to your Coach/Consultant as well. It is imperative that you are able to share your vision and your uniqueness with your coach. He must know without any doubt what it is you are trying to achieve.

22. Can you describe your targeted/preferred customer?

23. Can the demographics of your surrounding area support your business model? 

24. Now that you have defined your preferred customer and place in the market, do you have it written down in your business plan/ Y/N.

25. Do you have a business plan? Y/N If you answered ‘no’, why not?

26. Has anyone ever explained to you precisely what a business plan is? Y/N

27. Do you understand how your business will benefit from having a business plan/ Y/N

What I’ve discovered during my process of finding, hiring and ultimately firing coach/consultants is that many are not accustomed to, and most certainly do not welcome being ‘interviewed’ for their prospective position with your company. After they are hired, they like being questioned (no matter how respectfully) even less. Ask too many questions and you will quickly be told that you are being too ‘negative”. I’ve always found it rather odd that someone who is in the business of selling their knowledge and expertise as a service (much like we do as shop owners) would take umbrage at explaining what they do and the methods by which they do it. I have asked prospective coach/consultants to see a copy of the syllabus and curriculum that I would be taught during my time as their client if I were to sign on with them. Remember, at its core, the service any coach/consultant is charged with providing is that of education that leads to meaningful change. I wanted to have some idea of what it was I would be paying for. I thought then that this was a reasonable request; I still do. The response I frequently received was generally less than encouraging. Many coach/consultants couldn’t provide the information I requested. Why? What was I really asking for? A syllabus indicates the subjects as well as the topics to be covered during the course of study. A curriculum refers to the knowledge, skills and competencies that we as their students should learn as a result of their teaching. To me, this was standard, straightforward stuff. As time progressed, a pattern began to emerge. Coaches overwhelmingly did not have the information I requested committed to any formal document. Consultants fared better, much better by comparison, but the numbers were still not great.

Part Four: Questions for your prospective Coach/Consultant.

The questions are in quotation marks, the commentary follows.

1.”How long have you been a coach/consultant?” If they haven’t been a coach or consultant for very long, ask “what makes you qualified to teach me how to run my business?’. They may tell you that they are a shop owner who has decided to branch out and teach others how to be successful. This will be revealed pretty quickly in question #3.

2.” How many shops have you helped?” This is important. Do you want to pay for someone’s learning curve? Their inexperience doesn’t necessarily mean that they will not work hard on your behalf. The question is of effectiveness.

3. “Do you currently own an auto repair shop?” If the answer is ‘yes’, then ask the following question.

4.” What business model does your shop currently use? Example: General Repair, Tire Shop, Discount, Performance Shop, European Shop?” It was extremely important that I find a coach/consultant whose business model was nearly identical to that of my own.  In my mind, the likelihood of success was increased if the coach/consultant had real world experience operating a successful business in conditions that were similar to my own. This doesn’t mean that you should automatically eliminate from consideration all those whose business model is not the same as yours. It means that you recognize that there may be some additional challenges you might encounter as a result of the lack of familiarity. Imagine renting a Toyota Prius while on vacation. If you’ve never driven a hybrid before, the odds are good that it will take you a while to get accustomed to it, especially the engine auto-stop function at stoplights.

5. “If you are not currently an auto repair shop business owner, why should I hire you?” This can be a tough question to ask if you are not comfortable with the concept of ‘interviewing’ a coach/consultant. Awkward silence usually follows until the coach can gather his thoughts.  It’s a fair question though and it deserves an answer. Think about it this way: If you were going to take flying lessons would you rather be taught by a Certificated Flight Instructor with thousands of hours of experience –or- an Aeronautical Engineer with who has earned his Phd. in Aeronautical Engineering but hasn’t piloted a plane? Personally, I’d rather learn from the guy that has actually done the thing I want to learn how to do.

6. “How long does a client on average retain your services?” Remember this answer because it is a barometer of how effective their program may be. If, for example, they have a one year contract and their clients willingly stay and pay for longer periods than the contract specifies, this tells you that clients see value in what they are being provided.

7. What type of results may I expect to see to my bottom line as a direct result of implementing your strategies?

8.”How long after I start implementing your strategies will I see a meaningful improvement?” If your business is teetering on the edge of financial failure, you need cash NOW. You can’t afford to wait 3 months for a marketing campaign to kick in.

9. “Do you have a copy of a syllabus and curriculum that I can review for your training?” As I have indicated earlier, I think it only prudent that I see what it is I will be paying for.

10. “Do you create a business plan that is specific to my business?” If so, “Do you have a sample copy from another business that I may review?” If not, see next question.

11. “Why do you feel it unnecessary to create a business plan that is specific to my business?”

The next few questions concern ethics and morals. It’s a big issue for me because of the lousy reputation that the Auto Repair industry has in many cases rightly earned. If morals, ethics and scruples are important to you and the way you operate your business, please continue. If not, just skip ahead a few questions. The point of this is to help ensure that you and your coach/consultant are of like mind on key issues regarding integrity and values. That you are not surprised to find that he does not share your core values. It’s no secret that things go better when everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet.

 12.”Tell me about your business philosophy? Does the end justify the means to obtain a potential ‘new’ customer?” This is a basic ‘scruples’ question. There are coaches/consultants that advocate engaging in what I describe as unethical business practices to get a customer “in the door”. They didn’t want to commit the “sin’ of pre-qualifying a potential customer over the telephone (especially if they appear to be price shopping for fear of losing a potential sale) but have no problem lying to get him to cross your shop door threshold.  This caused a problem for me because I didn’t want to compromise my sense of right and wrong just to get a potential customer to my shop. If you’ve been around the industry for long enough, you know that this doesn’t present a problem for many shop owners, they figure that getting a customer into your shop is a game and they intend on winning. They subscribe to the adage that ‘all’s fair in love, war and business’. Do you and your coach/consultant agree with this philosophy? What I believe in this case doesn’t matter, what is important is that your thoughts and those of your coach/consultant are congruent on this subject.

13. Ask the coach/consultant the following “A customer comes in my shop with a car that is 7 years old and has 77,638 miles. Her CEL is illuminated and the DTC is for Catalytic Converter Operation. Evaluation reveals that a catalytic converter has failed and requires replacement. The total replacement cost of the catalytic converter (parts, labor, tax etc) is $1,500. What should I do?” This test serves two purposes: first it lets you know if the consultant is familiar with the fact that Cats are covered under Federal Emissions Warranty of 8 years and 80,000 miles (which he should be if he’s in the business) and as such will be replaced free of charge at the dealership. Secondly; it will be a test of his honesty. Will he tell you to have her bring it to the dealer for warranty repair –or- will he tell you to sell her the job and then wait a week or so and then call her with “Great News”. The great news being that she can apply for reimbursement from the OEM Dealer since the cats were under warranty at the time you replaced them (after you pocketed the $1,500.00)

14. Ask the Coach consultant what he would advise you do under the following scenario: A customer reports that his front brakes are making a squeaking noise and since it has been several years since they were last done, he tells you to “just go ahead and change them”. Your tech removes the wheel and notes that the cause of the “squeak” was a bent backing plate that was making intermittent contact with the rotor. There are 5mm of friction material remaining and the rotors are in great shape with ample thickness remaining according to specification. You say “tell me, what should I do?” There are those who would tell you that since the customer asked for it, you owe him no other responsibility than to do what he asked for. He didn’t ask you to check his brakes, he told you to change them. That you must “trust” that the customer knows what he wants and your job is to provide it. Simply put: taking advantage of the customer’s ignorance or mistaken belief is all part of the game. He’s offering you money, it’s you job to take it because if you don’t someone else will. This too is a test of character and honesty. I know what I would do (and have done) in this case. How about you?

Cost and Contracts:

15. “Am I required to sign a contract?” If the answer is yes, then proceed to questions 16 and 17. If not, just skip ahead to question 18

16. “How long is the contract period?”

17. “What is the total cost of the contract?”

18. “What is the payment schedule?” Monthy, Quarterly,etc.

19. “Is there a deposit or first month’s payment that needs to be made in advance?”

20. “What are acceptable payment methods?” This is where I refer you back to question 14 of “Part three- Questions Shop Owners need to ask themselves’. That question covered paying by credit card –vs- drafting from your account as well as using a bill payment service.

21. “Do I have a right of rescission within 3 business day of signing the contract if I have second thoughts?” Depending on how impulsive/and or desperate you are, this can be a blessing. Many a shop owner has attended a seminar and been caught up in the excitement only to realize later that a mistake had been made.

22. “Can I cancel this contract before its specified duration is completed?” If so, “Under what conditions?”.

23. “Is there any guarantee of performance if I follow your instructions and I do not see the results that you claim will happen?” “Can I get my money back?” I always thought it ironic that a keystone of the coach/consultant relationship is accountability. Yet, coaches, much like weathermen are very seldom held accountable when they fail in their jobs.

24. “If I need to finance my training for your program, will I need to sign a personal guarantee?” This was always a sore spot for me. As a shop owner, nobody guarantees that folks will want to avail themselves of my shops services but for some reason other businesses think that they are immune from the uncertainty of the marketplace. With the exception of my mortgage, I don’t sign personal guarantees for my business.

25. “Can my debt be transferred to my heirs or assigns in the event that I die unexpectedly?”As previously discussed, this can be devastating to the survivors of an unexpected tragedy.

26. ‘Will I be dealing with you as my coach/consultant or will you delegate that responsibility to someone else?”

27. “If you will be delegating that responsibility to someone else, may I meet them prior to signing on with you?” I think it’s really important that you and your immediate coach get along well together. I’m not saying that you become ‘besties’ but you need to be able to work well together. Sometimes the reality is that personalities do not mix. The transition to achieving your goal can be difficult in and of itself. You don’t need the aggravation and stress of not getting along with your coach.

28. “If I do not get along with the coach that has been assigned to me, is there a mechanism in place to replace him with an equally qualified replacement?” This is a definite benefit of being with a larger coaching firm. More staff equals more opportunities to find a better fit.

29. “Will you as my coach be spending time touring my shop, meeting with employees, analyzing the finances, reading all company materials etc?” While most shop owners focus their efforts on improving the shop finances it’s important to remember that the culture of the shop plays an enormous role in its success or failure. I want my coach/consultant to have the best, most complete picture of the shop as possible. That means he will need to meet my employees, monitor interactions with customers and staff and monitor workflow and shop efficiency.

30. “Will you as my coach or any member of your staff make recommendations for products and services that will result in payment of a commission fee or kickback?” This can cause you to wonder if what you are being told is legitimately good for your business or just his.

31. When you’re speaking to a prospective coach for the first time to introduce yourself and express interest in their service; note what he does. Is he asking questions about you and your business? Does he express interest in your motivation to pursue change? Or is he on the phone telling you how wonderful he and his program are and how many lives have been changed because of it? If you have a 45 minute preliminary telephone conversation and 35 minutes were spent because the Coach was the person doing the talking, that’s a red flag.  He isn’t talking to you, he is talking at you.

32. When you are interviewing a coach and he is sitting across the table from you, check to see how much pressure he is exerting on you to sign up. If that coach employs high pressure sales tactics, what does that tell you about how he views business? If he is going to pressure you in this way, it’s not a stretch to think that he will tell you to act this way with your customers. Is that the environment that you want for your business?

33. Did that coach bring a “closer’ with him to your face to face meeting? Does the process remind you of buying a new car at the dealership? If so, do you really think that the coach and his company have your best interest at heart or are they just interested in the sale? Remember; talk is cheap. Listen to what they have to say but WATCH what it is they do.

34. Do they want the entire contract to be paid “upfront”. This troubles me and I hope it causes you pause for concern. As I alluded to earlier in this guide, I understand the rationale behind this tactic. Those organizations employ this tactic say that it is a measure of your dedication to the program. Personally, I see little benefit to it. It’s seems hypocritical to me that a coaching firm that advocates NOT paying a technician a salary or hourly wage because you have removed motivation for him to work should seek to be paid five figures in advance. Where’s their motivation to work?


There is a great deal more that I can mention but my intent was to produce an introductory guide that would get people to start to think critically about the process of hiring a coach or consultant. This is a big deal. At its core the process is simple: choose the right coach, follow his instructions to the best of your abilities, remain focused and on track. If you do these things, your future can become what you long for. But it all depends on your finding the RIGHT coach for you.  Not getting sidetracked by fancy presentations and motivational speakers and testimonials from people you don’t know or will likely never meet. Ask questions…follow your gut instincts. If you get the feeling that the coach you are interviewing, or the techniques they are advocating, and the ethics of the program you are being asked to join makes your skin crawl, don’t sign! Here’s a helpful link from the Automotive Management Network that lists over twenty coaching service providers. Take your time, contact them, ask for information but DO NOT SIGN until you have done your homework. 

Many thanks to Tom Ham for providing the link to the members of the Auto Shop Owners Group Facebook Page:

Happy Hunting.

About The Author
Robert Silverstein

Robert “Dutch” Silverstein started A&M Auto Service, in Pineville, NC, over 19 years ago. He started working part-time out of a rented single bay in the back of a body shop. 

As his business continued to grow, Dutch soon recognized the public’s need for an honest, integrity driven, low sales pressure repair facility. 

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