Make the most of Covid 19 Downtime and unusual circumstances

expert witness, James E. Lewis

expert witness, James E. LewisWhen Covid 19 surfaced, most of us thought it would go away quickly and wouldn’t put much of a dent in our businesses – we were wrong!  However, it’s a great time to begin streamlining your business through training, cost savings, and bolstering your reputation and business footprint.

Have you ever had a customer meet you at a shop when you drop off their vehicle? Or maybe the guy who runs the service shop sees the vehicle as you tow it in? Do you think for a minute that the shop owner wants to take responsibility after you or one of your people ran a chain through an alloy Audi wheel?  What would happen if that person would take a photo of it and report this scenario to the vehicle owner, if the owner wasn’t present? That wheel is $474.00, by the way.  Plus, the loss of business from that vehicle owner and perhaps even the shop.

I credit the photo to my friend Ed, but also to the lunkhead who damaged the wheel on the Audi Q5 and his boss – you can’t tell me for a second that the boss doesn’t know what this cat is doing while he’s running around.  The guy is shortcutting and doing dangerous and damaging things, and keeps doing it because he (a) didn’t get decent training, or (b) did get training, but thinks you don’t care or both.

How about a new angle on the training and responsibility idea?

Generally, I prefer not using analogies, but I need to make this comparison.  When I was in the military and one of my troops made a mistake, and I got called into the commander’s office beside my soldier.  I was equally responsible for that mistake because I held responsibility for training that person. That failure was also my failure.

There’s another analogy about the new puppy wetting the carpet. The puppy continues to wet the carpet if you don’t correct him. Sitting back and blaming a driver for doing an unsafe shortcut is pretty silly…because you have allowed that shortcut to live in his mind.  Training isn’t 5 minutes to begin with and never again. It is a steadily ongoing process.

When you have car damage, whose fault is it? The young man who legitimately didn’t know what he was doing, or the person who didn’t train him?  Could it be the person allowing him to continually get away with bad habits?


I’ve talked to a bunch of people in the industry recently and have gotten similar responses to the question of how business is going.  They all tell me it’s slow, tough to keep their people engaged, and things like that.

I can’t think of a better time to institute a paid training program.  Train them!  Work with them.  Build scenarios in your tow yard and work through a difficult recovery or rollover.  Have one of your people who is good at lowered or exotic cars show the others the tricks of the trade.  Buy pizza for lunch.  Make it fun.  As much as I’m a strong believer in formal training courses, when you have a crew sitting around goofing off and playing on their phones watching TikTok videos, what have you got to lose?  Some hourly pay, plus pizza and sodas is much cheaper than sending your whole crew off to a class, and you can have a training session anytime it’s slow, and possibly a few times a week.

My suggestion, if you need training topics, is to pay close attention to the areas where we are losing drivers to death and injury. Have your drivers work from the non-traffic side of the road, and maybe have them pretend that the driver side controls don’t even work.  I know that concept has been drilled into us all, but every day I see an operator standing on the white line working the controls on the left side of the truck with his back to traffic nervously glancing back every few seconds. There’s another set of controls on the other side!  Use them!  The only way we build good habits is by repeating good practices.

Concentrate strongly on quick clearance, and even though we like a good solid hook up with many attachments, it makes sense in many scenarios to hook quickly and safely and get the vehicle off the road. Then continue your hook up with safety chains or straps and all of the other tie-downs.  You’re likely not going to lose a car driving a half a block to a parking lot, but you may well lose a driver on the side of the road while they’re taking 15 minutes to hook up and do everything by the book.

One last thing is to get into the mindset of never doing a tire change on the side of the road. If the vehicle can’t be moved safely off the road, tow it. While you’re towing it, just take it to a tire shop. Most of us get paid the same for a service call or a tow, so it makes a lot of sense to choose the safer option.

Get with another towing company and have a joint training session.  People love to show off what they know – use that to your advantage – have your buddy from the other company split the cost of pizza and sodas with you.

As a business owner, my biggest fear wouldn’t just be taking a hit on income from less business, but also not taking advantage of the downtime to produce more knowledgeable, safer, and efficient drivers.

Another thing you can do as an owner or manager is make sales calls – use the time to reinforce your commitment to your existing customers.  They may not have seen you (personally) since you landed the account months or even years ago.  Bring donuts and coffee!  Make calls on new accounts.  You can never have too many accounts, and my hope for each of you is to come out of this mess in better shape, business-wise, than when you went in.

One final thing – train yourself.  Self-improvement should never stop.  Take a leadership course.  Learn how to communicate better.  There’s a plethora of webinars and seminars, as well as self-help books.  By using a few minutes or even an hour a week, you can become a better leader.  Feel free to contact me and I can point you in the right direction. I’m at

Be careful, be considerate, and train your people so you can trust them. In reference to the last column about whether you have a business or a job, with your people trained up and confident, you can take that weekend or maybe a week you’ve been wanting to get away.