Auto Shop Coaching Blog

How to Hire & Train a Second in Command for Your Auto Repair Shop

You’ve spent years building your shop, but it’s nice to have someone who can step in and run the day-to-day operations now and again. That way, you can take a sick day, go on vacation, or just get a good night’s sleep. Hiring a second in command can also help you free up time to grow other areas of your business.

In this article, we’ll take you through how to hire and train a second in command while avoiding many of the most common mistakes.

Start with Requirements

Start by identifying your weaknesses and parts of your job you don’t love. For example, if you prefer managing a P&L to managing employees, maybe an ideal candidate could handle the employees on a day-to-day basis and help you focus on finding ways to cut costs. Striking the right balance can help grow the business and make your job more enjoyable.

Some areas to consider include:

  • Customer service
  • Training employees
  • Insurance negotiations
  • Finance and bookkeeping
  • Marketing and sales
  • Managing employees

In addition to filling in gaps, you want to ensure candidates have the baseline skills needed to run the business. If you only have a few employees, you might need someone capable of being a service advisor, technician, and bookkeeper. But if you rarely step into these roles, you might prefer someone with more business experience.

Get ATI’s FREE Second in Command Hiring Checklist to find the best person to effectively run your business, while you work on your business. Download here:

Some desirable skill sets to think about include:

  • Operational skills—Workflow scheduling, creating accurate estimates, parts and inventory management, and insurance negotiations are essential to the success of your business. Experience in these areas can help ensure things continue to run smoothly or even improve upon your existing operations if you don’t necessarily have experience in some of these areas.
  • Financial skillsBudgeting, forecasting, and financial reporting skills make it easier to ensure that your operations are profitable and growing. If you’re not measuring these KPIs, it’s difficult to know where to invest marketing dollars or what areas you may need to increase prices to preserve profit margins or grow the business. Are you charging enough for labor? Are you covering the cost of supplies?
  • Technical skills—P-pages, inventory management, scheduling, or service advisor software solutions can help streamline operations. In addition to saving time and money, these tools can help ensure that you’re properly billing, promote timely follow-ups with potential leads, and reduce the likelihood of human error.
  • Hands-on skills—Repair techniques, tools, technologies, or certain specialties may be helpful if you want to grow the business in these areas. For instance, a second in command could help you expand from just collision into broader repair services, providing a way to grow the business over time.

It’s easier to start looking for the right candidate after considering exactly what you want in your second. You’ll need clear expectations when you find someone, so invest your time developing requirements beforehand.

Hiring the Right Candidate

Hiring a second in command is a lot like hiring other employees. You want someone with experience doing what you are hiring them to do rather than someone who’s merely qualified. After all, you would never hire a mechanic who has never touched a vehicle, so why would you hire a business “expert” who hasn’t run a successful business?

On the other hand, intangibles matter a lot more with managers. A great mechanic just looking for a paycheck is fine, but a skilled second in command you can’t trust could sink your business. You need someone you can trust beyond a casual and professional level—you’re trusting them with a company you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into.

Keep in mind that the right person may already exist within your business. By hiring internally, you get someone already familiar with your processes (and potentially your shortfalls) and can step in immediately. The drawback is that you won’t get a true outsider’s perspective on what you could improve, and sometimes, that can be worth its weight in gold.

Develop a Protégé Plan

You’ve hopefully hired someone with experience managing and growing an auto body shop who’s excited about your business. The next step is getting them up-to-speed on the day-to-day operations and introducing them to the rest of your company. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and during their spin-up, you’ll need to shift from a “manager” to a “coach” role.

Start by creating a handbook with everything they need to know, from software systems to human resources to health and safety requirements. Then, spend some time reviewing the handbook and coaching them on critical areas of the business, while addressing any initial questions or concerns that may pop up.

The handbook provides must-have documentation if you plan to step away from the business for any period of time. With these rules and procedures in hand, it’s easier for a second in command to keep things running smoothly. Plus, if you already have employee handbooks, you can repurpose parts for other roles and responsibilities.

Some key elements might include:

  • Day-to-day operations. Daily tasks and expectations are listed, including opening and closing procedures, staff meetings, and workflow management.
  • Reporting structure. A diagram of the organizational structure, including who will report to the second in command and where to go to address problems.
  • Policies and procedures. Detailed guidelines for human resources, operational policies, and emergency procedures as a critical reference.
  • Appendices. A list of essential contacts, a glossary of unique terms, and an acknowledgment form to sign saying they received and read the information.

Next, start including them in your day-to-day activities and introduce them to the rest of your team. As they become more familiar with the business, encourage them to get more involved in the day-to-day activities—especially those you don’t enjoy or require a unique skill set that complements your own. Eventually, they can start taking over.

And finally, work with your second in command to set tangible goals, milestones, and key performance indicators. For example, if you’re coaching them to take over the sales team within the next month, you might set a sales target or close rate for them. Setting these expectations and goals ensures you’re both on the same page and avoid conflicts down the road.

Trust + Communication

One of the hardest things for business owners is letting go of the reins. If your second in command starts doing things differently, you may feel tempted to jump in and correct even the most minor things. But getting in the way and micromanaging is almost always a mistake. It’s critical to start trusting them to do their job, even if it’s slightly different.

On the other hand, you can’t just hire a second in command and check out from the business either. Build time into your calendar for weekly one-on-one meetings outside the workplace to discuss strategy, core values, and any problems. You should have a good relationship with your second-in-command built on regular communication and trust.

It’s also a good idea to set expectations for that communication. For example, you may want to discuss your preferred communication channel and set response time expectations. That way, you won’t be surprised if it takes them a day to get back to you or be annoyed by short text messages when you expect a phone call to resolve an issue.

The Bottom Line

Hiring a second in command can help you scale your business and take some much-needed time away, but the process can be challenging. You need someone with experience managing a similar business and someone you can trust. Successfully onboarding your second requires setting good expectations and solid communication.

If you’re ready to hire a second in command, download our Checklist on How to Hire the Right Second in Command to take your shop to the next level. You’ll learn to think through and prepare for your SIC role while ensuring a smooth transition. Download your free checklist here.

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The ATI Experts comprises a collective effort of ATI's seasoned coaches, harnessing their extensive knowledge, hands-on experience, and track record of achievements. This collaboration aims to deliver actionable strategies tailored to enhance the performance and success of repair and collision shop owners.