Editor’s note: We are sensitive to the fact that the economy and the pandemic has made doing business over the past year very challenging. Even if a full vacation is not in the cards this year, we hope these tips will help you prepare your shop so you can take a few worry-free days off as soon as possible.
With COVID19 vaccines becoming readily available for all age groups, it won’t be long before the travel and vacation industry returns to normal. Most travel destinations have already begun to reopen so it’s a great time for shop owners to start planning for a vacation. But how do you trust the running of your business to someone else?
Even before the pandemic, maybe you had been working for years without a break – sometimes six or seven days per week. You told yourself that one of these days you’ll take a vacation … but right now was not a good time. After all, nobody can run the shop like you, and the business will surely fold without you at the helm.
And, even if you did go on vacation, you would probably need to spend hours on your laptop or be interrupted with endless phone calls while trying to go sightseeing or hang out at the beach … so why bother? Meanwhile, your frustrated family wonders why you can’t “unplug” and leave your work at work.
The key to enjoying time off is to make sure you have a plan in place long before you leave for your trip.
What you may not realize is, taking care of yourself is taking care of your business. Why? A break – even a week away – will lift you out of the trenches, recharge your batteries, and help you gain new perspective. Experiencing new things, meeting new people, and allowing time to reflect can spark innovative ideas and help you be more productive when you return. Also, spending quality time with family and friends is important. Take time to relax and enjoy the people around you that make your life worth living.
The following six tips outline ways to help you lay the groundwork so you can take that stress-free vacation you so desperately need.
1. Create an operations guide
One of the best things you can do to prepare your organization for your absence is to develop a simple operations guide. It will set out clear expectations, provide vital information for your staff in case something happens while you’re away and will also serve as a daily guide. The operations guide should include information such as:
- Important tasks that need to happen while you’re away
- What to do or who to call if shop equipment or the Internet goes down
- The alarm code with instructions on what to do if the alarm is activated
- A list of alternative parts houses
- Procedures if someone calls in sick
- Authorizing overtime
- Refund procedures
- Hazardous waste pick up, etc.
Your vacation is a chance for your employees to step up. They’ll embrace it and won’t want to let you down. It may even serve as an opportunity for a rising star to show you what they can do. But it’s going to take coaching. Take some time to coach-up your service writer and shop foreman. Communicate your expectations for daily activities as well as any common situations that may occur outside of the normal activities. Coaching will also pay big dividends in the daily course of your business.
Make sure the person you leave in charge knows what decisions they can make, when they need to contact you, and what situations can wait until you return. They also need to know how to reach you in case of an emergency. Although you’ll assign responsibility for handling problems to one employee, let the others know that if that person is out of the shop, they could and should handle any problems that need immediate attention.
Conduct a few trial runs. Before you go on vacation, practice turning over the reins and take a break from your business. Take a mini-vacation and do something different, such as taking a day or the weekend off. If you can’t take a day off, let them take the reins while you sit back and observe. Use what you learn from the trial runs to further coach your team so they’ll be ready to take over when you take off.
3. Know Your Trends
Schedule your vacation during the time of year when you normally have the slowest activity. The only way you’ll be able to identify that window of opportunity is by taking a proactive approach to tracking sales and labor activities. For most shops, this traditionally occurs during the months of September and December. If you are a one or two-man operation, the best time to take off is usually the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. But this could be different for your shop, depending on your customer demographic and geographic location.
You can install a security camera system that can be monitored from anywhere with your cell phone or laptop. The primary purpose of having shop surveillance is for the protection of your shop assets and your employees. You may also get additional benefits from your insurance carrier such as lower asset and liability premiums.
Furthermore, this approach provides peace of mind while you’re away since you can easily access the webcam remotely to see how your business is doing. We strongly advise explaining the benefits to your employees prior to installation as they might perceive this as a sign that you don’t trust them. A little positive communication can go a long way to put their minds at ease.
5. If you Can’t Completely Unplug
It’s not healthy for you or your business if you are getting called for every little issue while you’re on vacation. Some shop owners can disconnect and completely fall off the grid. If you cannot, make it clear to your employees before you leave what things you should be contacted about and when you will be available. Give them an explicit time frame for when they can contact you about low priority issues (Example: I’ll be available Tuesday and Thursday between the hours of 8:30 – 9:00 am). Of course, in an emergency, they can always call you. But, for your vacation to be beneficial, you need to be free to enjoy your time away and your employees need to learn how to make decisions on their own.
6. Share or Loan-a-Tech
What if you are the shop owner and one of the techs? In this scenario, it’s difficult for you to get away, because with you gone, there are two positions to fill. The solution? If you have a good working relationship with other shop owners in your area, you can agree to share techs when certain situations arise.
If another shop can loan you a tech while you’re on vacation – even if it’s just for your busiest days – the financial impact to your business can be minimalized. How you compensate that tech is up to you and the other shop owner. One popular plan is for the shop owner taking the vacation to pay the other shop owner for the tech’s time. The tech would then receive his normal paycheck from his regular employer.
Be sure to have a written agreement of terms, including conditions in the event the employee may be injured at your business. Also, have a plan for them to use your existing tools and equipment. Reciprocation is an important component for making this option work. Be prepared to return the favor when asked.
And finally, relax. You deserve it.
We all know the importance of taking time off to foster a good work/life balance. The key to enjoying that time off is to make sure you have a plan in place long before you leave for your trip. Once you’ve accomplished that, your much-needed vacation can truly be stress free.
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About the authors
John Lee, ALLDATA Director, Automotive Support, has nearly 40 years of experience as a master automotive technician, shop owner, instructor, and certified business consultant.
Rich Diegle, Supervisor of the ALLDATA Tech-Assist Team, has 35 years of experience as a master automotive technician, marketing and public relations manager, senior automotive editor, and instructor.