The Cornerman by Chris West
by Chris West
June 22nd, 2022

Operating With a Type A Personality

I was a year into running my paint protection film business when my father stopped by to chat after finishing work. I was installing a partial hood, and while we talked, I proceeded to rip the film off and re-do it three times. He didn’t say anything but clearly could see my frustration. As I laid a fourth hood, let some expletives fly and peeled that one off, he stopped me and said, “Why are you ripping this one off too?”

Accepting imperfections is part of progressing forward in the PPF game.

A Silver Lining

I showed him the little line I got in the 3M Scotchguard (it was a tough film to install in 2005), and he said, “Where?” As I tried to get him to see what I was seeing by ducking and bobbing his head around, he said, “Boy, Chris, I am a car guy and for the life of me can’t see what you are pointing out. It looks great to me. If you do this on all your installs, you might want to reconsider being in this business and go back to your civil engineering career.”

Defensively, I asked why he would say that and not be supportive. His reply, “Because you just lost quite a bit of money installing that four times and that isn’t sustainable. You are installing that to a standard in your head, not to the customer who is like me.”

That resonated with me, and he was 100% right. I have struggled with this my whole install/business career. The painful truth is that being Type A is a double-edged sword. While it pushes you to be the best and never settle, it can affect your mental health as you feel you fall short. Business decisions are driven by emotion rather than objective rationale. Here are a few things that have helped me.

There is no Such Thing as Perfection.

I remember reading a daily quote in one of those quote books early on. It was by a Ferrari designer, and it said, “There is no such thing as perfection. But at the end of the day, when I leave, I know I gave my best.” This stuck with me. So much so that I printed it up on a big poster and put it over the doorway, so I saw it every day when I left.

What we do is a skill. Did you know Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player of all time, missed more than 9,000 shots, lost nearly 300 games and missed the game-winning shot 26 times. The moral of the story? We will mess up, and there will always be something we wish was better, but it is okay. It is a skill. The customer is paying you because they can’t do it.

Set Customer’s Expectations

I remember training/consulting at a small shop where the owner/operator has more than 300 five-star Google reviews. He also has surprisingly high gross revenues (for a one-person operation), meaning he works fast, gets work out the door and charges a premium. I remember him saying, “I am not trying to be ClearBraChris or install like you.”

Defensively, I asked, “What does that mean?” He said, “I tell the customer that I am installing a film that isn’t invisible, and I am not in a clean room. I walk them right out to my own Porsche and point out the few specs of contamination in my windshield tint and explain that their install very well could look the same, and if that is an issue, then I am not the right shop for them. Sure, I could have re-done my windshield four times to make it perfect. But I am not in the business of re-doing windshields four times, and rather than hope I don’t have any contamination when I tint theirs, I would rather be realistic and show them. 99% of the time, they have no issue and leave the car.”

Show the customer the limitation of what we do. If they say, “Well, I saw this online or so and so said they would install it to a level beyond what you offer,” maybe this isn’t the customer for you unless you cater to that and charge appropriately for the extra time and wasted material should you have to re-do anything.

Not Every Customer Leaves Happy

I was afraid of a bad review or an upset customer for many years. I had spent so much money to make a customer happy or avoid a bad review, even when they were in the wrong. I thought it would be the death of the business I had put so much blood, sweat and tears into.

I was back East for the holidays at my brother’s house. He was working on the computer at night, and I asked why he had to work late. He is a self-made millionaire in online sales, primarily eBay and Amazon. He said, “I try to respond to all the one-star reviews within 24 hours or eBay begins to open an investigation.” I was taken back and gasped, “You have one-star reviews?” He said, “Of course. Granted, it is only a small percentage of all the great reviews, but you will always get them.”

I replied proudly, “Well, I don’t. I only have five-star reviews.” He said, “Well, you aren’t running your business the best you can. You will always have people who will never be satisfied and many that will try and take advantage of you, especially knowing that you are deathly afraid of not getting a five-star review.” As I wrapped my head around this, I realized he made some valid points.

Granted, he is in product sales, and I was in the service business, but there are still similarities. First of all, a company with all five-star reviews seems phony in this day and age. No one is perfect. A few four-star reviews and even the crazy one-star review have never bothered me when the business I am looking at has 200 five-stars. If we never have anyone frustrated with the company or complain, something is wrong. We either are not charging enough, losing money on giving it away, keeping the car too long to chase perfection or not booked solid.

But if you have a successful, growing and profitable business, it will happen. When it does happen is what is important. My brother always responded to the reviews. If I look at a product or business with a three-star review, I always read the review and then read the owner’s response. Many times, if the owner responds appropriately, I still will use the business. And for those customers taking advantage of you that you won’t be able to please, it is okay to decline future business with them tactfully. I had a particularly tough detail customer back in the day. No matter how much I did and tried to address the minor issues he had on every detail, he was never satisfied. On the final detail, we did an amazing job, but he still had an issue with a window corner showing a smudge in the right light.

I refunded his money and said, “We take pride in ensuring our customers are satisfied. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to give you the satisfaction you want, so here is a full refund. We won’t be able to work on your cars anymore.” Two years later, he said he had used every other detail shop in town, and no one compared to our quality and requested we take him back as a customer. Stand behind your work, and if they aren’t happy, it is okay to fire them. You know you did your best.

Last but not Least … The Three Metrics for Your Business

This one is short and sweet and has helped me manage my Type A behaviors as an owner who has employees. If you have these three things, your business is doing great, and you shouldn’t worry about work quality, employee work ethic or failing as an owner.

1. Are your employees happy?

Happy employees will produce better work

2. Are your customers happy?

Happy customers mean the service is good, the quality is good and the price is good

3. Are you making money (profitable)

This means your prices are right, and your overhead is sustainable.

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  1. Awesome article! Chris hits it spot on with this. We live in fear of the dreaded bad review also and this sheds some light on what is truly important. Also I see what my wife (our chief installer) struggles with as a fellow type A and this makes a lot of sense, Thank you for this.

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