An Ego Trip?

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An Ego Trip? by Terry Greenhut

Another word for “ego” is “self”, as in “self- worth” or “self-esteem”. One of my seminar attendees asked me why I thought transmission shop owners were so reluctant to raise prices even when they know they need to. I answered by asking, “How important do you feel your job of fixing transmissions is?” His answer was, “In the grand scheme of things, not very, I guess?” I proceeded to let him know that I thought his attitude toward his profession was part of the problem he had asked about. He didn’t understand.

I went on to explain that so many of us in the transmission and auto repair industries don’t think of what we do as having much value. Many of us feel that because we were not lucky enough to become one of the world’s more recognized professionals like doctors or lawyers, that what we do doesn’t fall into the “professional” category. Some of us think that if we didn’t graduate from college or even from high school, that we don’t deserve to consider ourselves on the same level as those who have.

If perceived professionalism is one of the keys to determining price, then the question of professionalism must be addressed. When we think about doctors we picture individuals who have completed many years of schooling and training to reach their level of expertise. Some of us are in awe of these people because they can diagnose and repair the human body. All we do is diagnose and repair cars. But let’s look at the differences between them and us.

When doctors finish medical school and an internship they open a small business, just like you do, but theirs is called a “Practice”. The word in itself indicates what they do. They practice on people. These people are their customers. Even though they are referred to as patients, they are customers. Unfortunately, in many cases they are not treated like customers. After all, a customer is usually someone who pays money and receives a service or product that has a written or implied warranty.

The major differences between a visit to a transmission repair shop and a visit to the doctor’s office are that:

1) Doctors don’t give you any warranty. They aren’t required to do so by any government agency.
2) Patients, in most cases, don’t actually pay doctors. Some insurance company usually handles that.
3) If doctors don’t get it right the first time they get to try again and get paid again.

In a transmission shop:

1) A warranty is always either issued or implied. The law says that if we take the customer’s money we have to provide a service or repair that actually works, whether or not we issue a written warranty.
2) Most of the time customers are paying for the service or repair out of their own pockets.
3) There is no second chance. If the shop doesn’t diagnose and repair it right the first time they don’t get paid.

So the question is, “Why would we look up to people who take our money for not necessarily doing their jobs properly? Are we in awe of them because of a degree they have happened to attain? Is it because we think they know things that we don’t? Is it the way they carry themselves and the aura of superiority that surrounds them?” The answer could be, “All of the above.”

What then do we think of ourselves, the people who have to do it right the first time? Do we think we are anything special? In many instances the answer is “no”. When you ask people in our industry, even those who are presidents of their own corporations, what they do for a living, they are very likely to answer by saying something like, “I’m just a mechanic.” You’d never hear a doctor say, “I’m just a doctor.”

When I was stranded in Florida, shortly after 9/11, I played golf with a lawyer, not on purpose. We were teamed up because we both showed up at the golf course as singles, so they asked us to play together. During the game he asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I taught people in the transmission and auto repair industries how to make money. He asked, “Why do you have to do that? Don’t they make enough? I always thought they make a lot of money.” I asked what made him say that and he answered by telling me how he had just spent what he thought was a considerable amount to have his car repaired. So, of course I had to ask what he had repaired and how much he paid. When he told me, I asked if he remembered how much the shop charged for labor. He said, “$50 an hour.” I asked if he thought that was a lot. He thought it was. So I had to ask the magic question, “What do you charge an hour?” His reply, “$255.”

I said, “Wait a minute. Do you think what you charge is a lot of money?” “No, I think it’s about right”, he said. “I don’t get it”, I said. “What makes you feel that what you do is worth over $200 more an hour than what that technician did for you?” He said, “Well, I’m a professional.” I wanted to smack him with my 9 iron, but I held my temper.

I guess he had said it all. He thought he was a professional and therefore what he does is worth a lot of money. Even when I ascertained that all he had in his law office was a fax machine and a computer, and went on to explain that the automotive shop had thousands of dollars worth of equipment and spent a bunch of money on training, his mindset didn’t change. In spite of everything, he viewed himself as the professional and the auto technician as something less.

So, back to the original question, “Why don’t transmission shop owners charge what they need to?” Because most don’t see themselves as true professionals. Now, I could be wrong, but I always thought the true professional was the one who had to do it right the first time. If that is the case, then we deserve to get paid a lot more than we do.

I have witnessed far too many shop closings over the past several years. They all have the same thing in common. They closed for one, or a combination of these three reasons:

1) The owner did not possess the entrepreneurial expertise and/or drive necessary to promote enough customer flow through the facility.
2) The owner lacked the management skills needed to operate the business in an economical or prudent manner.
3) The owner did not charge enough to make any kind of a profit.

Since nobody ever closes a business that’s making money, it’s obvious that when one closes the owner has exhausted his or her limited skills and resources and decided to call it a day. It’s sad that they never reach their potential. With a little help in the form of reading a few books, listening to some tapes, or attending a couple of seminars, pretty much any one of them could have turned it around. But you’ll never convince them that some self-esteem therapy and learning some sales and management technique could have made the difference between losing and winning.

The ultimate goal is to be able to stagger into the bathroom in the morning, look directly at your reflection and say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most confident transmission professional of all? When it says, “You are”, run out of there as fast as you can because mirrors shouldn’t be talking back to you. Then head for the shop telling yourself that today you will begin to do business in a way, and charge a price, that’s commensurate with your professionalism and capabilities. Once you’ve done that the only thing left is to carry out your commitment to stay with the program.

About the Author: Terry Greenhut is a highly sought after Automotive Aftermarket Sales Trainer and Key Note Speaker. He has authored numerous Automotive Aftermarket Sales Training Articles in many of the major automotive trade journals over the years. His best selling Automotive Aftermarket Sales Training Course is recognized as the industry standard. You can learn more about Terry by visiting his website at