Article > Opinion

Some ‘Wasted Days’ Are Better Than Others

By Gerald Wheelus

Every day is a learning adventure and no time that is spent investing in people who care and want to learn is a ‘wasted day.’
Gerald Wheelus
Ever wonder were the time went and how a day is wasted? My boss and I have sat and wondered this very thing on many occasions. We are both veterans of the business, started at very young ages and learned under the hard-nose owners of the later independent golden days.

We were forced to learn things. We often discuss the opportunities to learn from those guys and how these guys who work for us now would never have made it under those guys. We were using our minds to look through the old paper catalogs when we had a free moment. We would take the Motormite book out and turn it page by page to learn what was available. I am certain that we thought at times, “what another wasted day.”

Those wasted days turned to years and then to decades. The “wasted time,” though, was what set us apart from the new generation, as their wasted time is spent texting their various multitude of friends on their phones. If you have Internet access in your store, they spend that wasted time searching YouTube videos or whatever else you may or may not wish to think about.

But it is still wasted time. The fact is, these folks could be spending time looking to learn something about our business. As we have duly noted in another article, there is at least one true parts person in almost every store out there. So why do our employees waste those days on the Internet and texting? Well, that’s our fault as managers.

However, it is not about our ability to manage. It’s about our ability to have meaningful duties for our technology-crazed new team members. We have to keep fresh, new information in front of our teams. This information has to come from somewhere, right?

My boss and I looked over the training opportunities we have made available to our fellow team members and it turned out to be a small book of ideas and things we have conjured up over the past four-plus years we have worked together. This process is something that almost every Tuesday we have sat down and looked over. The time we have wasted doing the simple little tasks at times has seemed almost ridiculous. We often sat at the end of a Tuesday and discussed the fact that we accomplished very little today and had yet another wasted day. But, at the end of four years as we set up a new store and train a new crew of team members, we see the fruits of those “wasted days.”

During a new store acquisition, my boss and I trained a new manager. During this process, we discussed many different issues and those included all the usual things that go along with an acquisition. As always when a new store comes along, we have to consider the obvious — who will be our employees? Luckily, we have many in our organization we can promote from within. However, this is not how we decided to go for this particular store. We did transfer some people around so we would have a good team of people to run the store. But those decisions were fairly easy and the particulars around that are not the important parts for this subject.

Our concern here was how we get everyone ready for opening day. Hiring a manager with little to no experience is a bit scary, but we transferred a strong person over to offset that lack of experience of our new store manager. With that issue solved, the new manager had to be trained. In this instance, we sent him to spend a little time with a strong manager that has training experience. He learned the daily routine of how to get the paper shuffle done, but this doesn’t help him to sell parts. So now what?

We train more. But, this training has to come with the door open and the keys in hand as his customers come in and ask for those difficult and hard-to-find parts and that is the tricky part. We wanted to offer this store a leg up on opening day and we have been successful in doing so, but, we did not realize it was not by the efforts of the past few weeks of getting the store ready. It was an accumulative effort of years. It was by those “wasted” Tuesdays we spent on getting information out to our other stores that help them to be successful by sharing the years of experience and those new things that come along each and every day.

A while back, many of you will remember that we covered the subject of the “Lost Art of Associated Selling.” In this, we discussed putting notes on the shelves to remind the counterpersons to offer those items to earn more sales from the customer. This led us to another training process that we were able to use. We walked the store of a veteran store manager and stole notes from his shelves. How does this get a store manager with no experience ready? It doesn’t. What is the point then? It is this: We took those notes and transferred them to the new store’s shelves. Those notes include many different things, but they were relevant to the hard-to-find parts not everyone can find.

This is the same logic of attaching notes to the shelves for hard-to-find part numbers such as a small tapered seat spark plug for the small Japanese four-wheelers, or the number for the carburetor kit for an 8N Ford Tractor that is no longer in the paper catalogs we veterans are accustomed to using. This is only one small way to share our knowledge with store personnel after we are gone. And it all came from leaving little notes on the shelves.

In this new store setup, we also discovered why they say Rome was not built in a day. Those “wasted days” pay off when we can print different pages that explain why an aftermarket radiator hose adapter is a less expensive way of fixing that late model Dodge than going to the dealer. We were able to consider the counter flyers we built to better suit our smaller markets and customize them to relate better to our customers.

Every day is a learning adventure and no time that is spent investing in people who care and want to learn is a “wasted day.” Days are only truly “wasted” when people spend them wasting company time with their phones and computers and not spending them learning the finer arts or the business many of us have chosen as our profession.

Gerald Wheelus is general manager of Edgewood Auto Parts, Edgewood, Texas.

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