Auto Shop Coaching Blog

The Secret to Building Momentum at Your Shop

Slow, steady progress is better than daily excuses.Robin Sharma

In 1995, Mike Tyson was released from prison after serving a three-year sentence. His promoter Don King was eager to help him regain his title as boxing’s Heavy Weight Champion of the World.

For his first fight, King arranged for Tyson to fight an unranked, lowly regarded boxer, named Peter McNeely. It took “Iron Mike” eighty-nine seconds to knock out his overmatched opponent.

Three months later, Tyson fought another unheralded fighter named Buster Mathis Jr. Mathis fared much better than McNeely by lasting three rounds with the former champ before getting knocked out!

These two fights had one thing in common: They were easy wins! But if the goal was for Tyson to regain the Heavy Weight championship, why would Don King schedule him to fight against the “lightweight” competition?

He was building Tyson’s confidence by doing what’s referred to in sports as “lining up the tomato cans!”  

A “tomato can” is an opponent with diminished skills who is considered an easy win. The secret to building momentum at your shop is to follow Don King’s lead by looking for the easy wins!

In his book The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure, Ian Robertson writes about how your brain chemistry changes after you experience success. He found this “tomato can principle” to be true even in the animal kingdom.

His research concluded that animals in the wild that won fights against weaker opponents, were more likely to win against stronger foes in the future.

In other words, the easy wins created the necessary momentum for the tougher victories down the road.

By now, you may be thinking, “Great information Twiggs, but what can I do to build momentum at my shop?”

Stay with me to uncover the answers.

Ideas to grow your businessDiscover valuable tips and strategies for how to accomplish easy wins, build momentum, improve your bottom-line, and grow your business. Register for ATI’s free webinar.

Recognize Progress

When I first became a district manager, I lived by the following motto: “The beatings will continue until the results improve!”

For example, the standard for average repair order (ARO) was $350, and one of my shops was performing at the $200 level. My strategy was to challenge the manager, “Joe,” until he reached the $350 standard.

What I missed was the fact that “Joe” was making progress with his ARO. One week, Joe had improved to $225, the next week $230, the week after that $265.

After the third week, here’s how I responded to Joe’s performance: “What part of $350 are you not understanding?” As a result, he became disengaged figuring that it was impossible to win.

Knowing what I now know, I would have recognized the progress he was making. I should have “lined up the tomato cans,” by giving him some easy wins to celebrate.

This may have created the necessary momentum for him to exceed the goal. When Joe decided to leave the company, I pointed the finger of blame at Joe.

Today, I see things differently.

If I had taken the time to recognize progress, I could have created momentum instead of turnover.

What’s possible for your shop if you recognize progress?

Focus on Your wins

Imagine being out of town and hopping into a taxi cab and the driver asks, “Where to?” and you respond “Don’t take me to the airport! I don’t want to go there again!”

You wouldn’t get to your desired destination until you changed your focus.

Your intense focus on what you don’t want would prevent you from getting to your goal.

Most people have an intense focus on what they don’t want. 

For example, if I were to ask the average shop owner to tell me about everything that went wrong last week, we would have a long and detailed conversation.

“I can’t find any good technicians, they keep sending me the wrong parts, these millennials don’t want to work, and blah blah blah!”

If I asked the same person to tell me about their wins, I would initially hear the sound of crickets! Here’s the bottom line: You get more of whatever you focus on.

Focusing on your frustrations leads to more frustration while focusing on your wins will build momentum!

I challenge you to start each week by reflecting on your wins from the prior week. If you’ve been averaging a 30% parts margin, but executed at 40% last week, that’s a win!

If you average 40% on courtesy checks but executed at 50% last week, that’s a winIf you average 50% in technician productivity but improved to 60%, that’s a win!

The more you focus on your wins, the more wins you’ll have to focus on!


In March of 1996, Don King’s idea of lining up the tomato cans paid off, as Mike Tyson scored a second-round knockout over Frank Bruno, to regain the title of Heavy Weight Champion!

If you commit to recognizing progress, and focusing on your wins, you can build up the momentum that’s required to knock out your competition!

For more tips on how to turn that setback into a comeback and run a productive shop, check out our free webinar.

Print Friendly
Related Articles:
Eric, the Accountability Coach, is an Executive Coach at ATI and has coached since 2009. Eric came to ATI having managed over 60 different automotive repair facilities and having supervised over 500 employees at a given time. He loves seeing members progress beyond what they thought was possible and improve their shop to the point where they can leave for weeks at a time and come back to a business that's better than when they left.