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Specializing and keeping score

By Staff | Apr 22, 2015

There is a philosophy that encourages us to stick to our strengths. Sometimes we are encouraged to work on our weaknesses, and sometimes we’re advised to skip the things we do poorly and concentrate on what we do well. In the garage business, this translates into becoming a specialist, or at least into dropping a field or two to have more energy for the others. Medical people do the same thing, by the way. Sometimes this specialization is driven by exploding technology, sometimes by decreasing energy.

I once had a dear friend who was a fitness nut. He ran every day on the beaches of Sanibel and worked out with weights. I also ran a little. Nothing like his regimen. However, we were both in our 50s and no speed demons … and no hope of ever being any better than we were. It can become difficult to stay motivated when there is no hope for improvement. My friend showed me the way. His philosophy was brilliant. When we ran in an organized race, he always had us start dead last. Then he instructed me to carefully and accurately count each and every person we passed as we ran the race. Each number was an increase, and therefore an improvement. An accomplishment, showing that we were progressing and gaining ground on the mass of people in the race. We would barely finish the race in the allotted time, but we had passed all the people who didn’t finish in time. Success.

Back to the garage. Tires are highly competitive. I was making less than $5 on a hundred dollar tire, and kissing a lot of butts to keep checking the pressure in it forever, when the tire manufacturer suddenly advertised a sale at their factory store selling tires for less than they had just sold them to me. I eventually sold out my inventory and never bought another tire to sell. They said they had just put up a 35-foot tall sign at my shop. I told them they could have it back. It’s still there. I win. One small success in that race.

Paint and body shops, to be legal, have to have paint booths with filtering systems to catch all of the fumes and overspray and an environmental lawyer on speed-dial to protect them from EPA inspections. I decided to not do body work. Yay.

Transmission repair is a highly specialized category requiring special training, and using special equipment and a lot of floor space. I opted out. Another pass.

Audio systems, navigation systems, GPSs, CD players, video cameras and monitors and all of the rest of the hi-tech electronics all require a geekiness that garage people don’t usually have, and upholstery work requires clean benches and tables that they also don’t have. These things are more runners passed by.

Finally, down to mechanical and electric repair, we find ourselves immersed in a pile of cars every day that need our special skills. Occasionally, we have to send our customers on to other specialists. We do what we can without trying to do everything for everybody. We’re still in the race.

— Larry DeHays is the author of the book “The Car Care World”, a compilation of his most popular columns. It is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, www.thecarcareworld.com, or at the DeHays Automotive office, 17617 Broadway Ave., Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 37 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law for 16 years. For more information go to www.dehaysauto.com or facebook.com/DeHays-Automotive.