Written by: Lauralee Schmidt, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
In May of 2020, right at the peak of when businesses were either closing up or finding a new groove due to Covid, we made a major business decision that could have potentially hurt us, but we took a leap of faith and committed to our idea. We decided to take our growing auto shop from a Monday to Friday, 8-5 shop and make it a Monday to Thursday, 8-7 shop.
This is pretty unheard of for the auto industry, considering most run a six-day workweek, but I felt in my gut it was important to tell a different story in automotive care, and I’ve always wanted to be able to give our team a 4 day work week. I wasn’t sure how to make that happen. I just knew I wanted it. I’ve been asked a lot over the last few weeks on why our auto shop switched to a 4 day work week from both clients and other business owners, so here you go.
Prior to being Queen of the Auto Gods at Schmidt Auto Care, I had my dream career going in cosmetics that was an 80% travel with a Fortune 500 Company. I made my own schedule in that role, and after a lot of tinkering with it, I learned I was the most productive on longer but fewer days. I hit goals when I worked a 4 day work week, I had more ideas within a 4 day work week, and I felt more energetic in my role. I was happier. In fact, I was more productive in my home life, as well. I felt quite strongly I couldn’t be alone in that scenario. So when I took over Operations at my husband’s auto shop in 2016, I knew I wanted to change how the team worked, but there were other business priorities to attend to first, so the idea sat on the shelf a long time.
In late 2018, I could feel the urge to move the team in a new direction. We had a solid team, a growing customer base, and our brand was solidified in the community, but I still couldn’t comfortably guarantee I could keep the business safe with new working hours. I had a dollar figure and customer count in mind that I wanted to achieve before we moved to new hours, but I still wasn’t sure if it was the right time. On top of that, we were smack dab in the middle of a massive build-out to relocate the shop, so I wasn’t sure moving to non-traditional hours was smart. Looking back, it probably would have been the perfect time to switch hours.
By 2019 we were moved, growing rapidly, and in a sweet groove that you can only hope for in a business. I knew in 2020 I would launch the 4 day work week, but I didn’t even pitch it to Erich, the CEO, until November of 2019. He hates change, and I knew it would be incredibly uncomfortable for him, but it was necessary to evolve, so I came to the table with a whole strategy I deemed “project balance.”
My original idea is that we would move on January 1, 2020, and kick off the year with a “New Year, New Hours” marketing campaign. But we had some staffing issues that needed to be addressed. January ran into February being short-staffed, and February ran into COVID. My full attention switched to the survival mode of our shop finances and protecting our team like a mother hen. It was a very uncomfortable time, but a very important time in business. I hope all business owners took that time to reflect and focus on areas of opportunity inside their business and dissect them. As I was sipping on coffee one afternoon, a statement someone made once hit me like a ton of bricks. I remembered a mentor once told me, “There is no perfect moment to make a move. You just have to move”. And, in May, as we crawled out of the state shut down, we pulled the plug on the 5 day work week.
Two weeks before April was over, and we started dropping hints online something big was coming. We ran a lot of media to add suspense. We launched a team video announcement, and on May 1, 2020, we went to a 4-day workweek. It was one of the best business decisions we could have made in the company. In two weeks, I saw productivity lift, attitudes change for the better, teamwork happen, less groggy technicians, and we were all part of an overall happier work environment. By the end of May we were surpassing goals and shop efficiency was at the highest it had ever been. I’m not one to go off only a month of data, but I knew it was going to work, I could feel it. I just knew it.
When people told me we would lose money thru the summer with our new hours, I wasn’t concerned.I was focused, and the team was too. As a team, we had several meetings to best figure out the path for making a time change work.I value their input because it gave them ownership to commit to it. We all wanted to prove it could work. And it did. We had the best summer of our entire 11 years in business, we were still working a 40-hour workweek so all the same time was there, it was about how we allocated the time. We weren’t trying to swoop up every job in town.
We knew we would miss Friday walk-ins and phone calls. But we also knew we have a loyal client base, a strong marketing plan, and a solid reputation. The long stretches of uninterrupted repair time meant faster turn over on vehicles, which in turn, led to an excellent auto experience for our guests. And that is exactly what we wanted to achieve. It was a win-win to move the hours.
While I do take a lot of pride in the excellence we provide to our guests, this business decision was about the team. Being an auto technician is incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally. I watch my guys do labor that is tedious and frustrating day in and day out. The way cars and trucks are built now is maddening, and it’s a difficult career path to go down, but so rewarding if cars are your passion. And we have a service team that navigates a substantially difficult workload daily.
Their job is so mentally draining some days I could cry for them. I know the people I work with. They aren’t just a number to me or someone to boss around. They are an extension of our family. I want them to take a 3-day weekend trip if that’s what they want. I want them to be able to spend time with their families that they normally wouldn’t be able to work a traditional workweek. I want their bodies and brains to rest and recharge. I want them to be the best they can be, and that means letting them live life in environments other than the garage.
I learned a lot of valuable lessons in 2020, but one of the best lessons I learned is that you don’t need a perfect time to make a change in business. You just need to do it and commit to it. Have we missed out on sales? Probably. Were some people annoyed we closed on Fridays? Most certainly. But I had to stay true to our vision of setting our shop apart in auto care. And for us, that starts inside our doors with the heart of our business, our team. As an employer, you need to take the chance on your team and let them live. The performance you see in return will be outstanding and progressive to your company if you just step back and see what’s best for your biggest asset, your people.
You can also follow her beauty pages here!
Lauralee Schmidt, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Lauralee is a cosmetic guru turned auto care goddess. Her years inside a cosmetic education role with a Fortune 500 company armed her with knowledge and skills that paired perfectly with her passion for branding a business and educating a client base. Her goal is to educate women in car care, change the stigma that surrounds the auto industry, and be a guiding post for branding and business development. From international beauty campaigns to underneath a car, she has successfully navigated the world of business and branding.