21 Jun 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

BIG shoes to fill?

Russ reflects on the pressure a new owner feels when taking on the mantle at a family business

By Russ Houlden, Owner, Billingborough Cars and Commercials


Many garages are family businesses passed down from generation to generation. Here at Billingborough Cars
and Commercials we are on the third generation.

Taking over from those who went before you can be daunting. For some there is a long period of preparation, with a gradual transfer of skills that sets a foundation for you to move forward. Others find themselves in charge without much warning, and then it is a case of sink or swim. Unfortunately for me, I fell into the latter camp. Following an abrupt change of family circumstances, I was thrust towards the helm.
I followed in the footsteps of two incredible men who had solid reputations in the local area. In the local community they were characters who were known by many and respected by all.

I was always told that the first generation starts it, the second builds it and the third destroys it. One, two, three…oh dear. No pressure then.

The panic then begins to form, the realisation about how unprepared you are. A nagging feeling that you aren’t going to be as capable as they were. Then there is the worry that the customers are coming in purely because of their skills and that they are all going to disappear as soon as they realise it’s you running the show now. You then consider the possibility that you won’t have the respect of the employees or customers. Your mind jumps to the worst conclusions.

The truth is much rosier. Customers continue to come through the door, and technicians continue to fix vehicles. The basic business doesn’t change, but you gradually find your feet. You slowly reach the realisation that you don’t have to be the same as those that came before; You can do it your way.

In my personal journey I was thrown in at the deep end. Sinking wasn’t an option. I had to deal with the personal and family pride of ensuring that the garage continues, with a family member still at the wheel. You feel the pressure of expectation, but in reality, you create that yourself. I guarantee no other family member would be worrying about whether it stayed in family hands. They just want to make sure that you as an individual are doing what’s best for you.

Having known the individual so well, you create an internal pressure or expectation, but it is all within yourself. Your family see you as your own person that has their own life to lead. Your employees see you as a completely new manager, with a different style and capabilities. Your customers know you as a different person. You are your own person and always have been.

Stepping into a new role is a process of discovering your own capabilities, personality and individual style. The saying is true, that people buy from people, but if you show them your own uniqueness then they are likely to warm to you. The saving grace is that you are selling a service that already has a good reputation behind it.
It is less a case of stepping into big shoes and more making your own pair of boots that fit you perfectly.