Learning to Let Go: Empowering Your Staff to Become Leaders

Wednesday, March 22, 2023 | Spring 2023

Outisde Cool Springs Automotive in Brentwood, TNBy Leah Marxhausen     Photos by Haley Maria Smith



KIM AUERNHEIMER HAD A successful career in real estate property management when her husband, Rob Auernheimer, opened Cool Springs Automotive in Brentwood, Tennessee in 2006. Rob Auernheimer had worked at a dealership as a master technician and had the technical experience to build a successful business.

Auernheimer worked behind the scenes, helping out with paperwork on the weekends, while still maintaining her career in real estate.

This worked well for the Auernheimer’s until the shop came to a standstill in 2012.

“What he knew to do is just work longer hours and more days,” says Auernheimer. “Thinking that was going to fix the fact that we weren't getting ahead in the business. We were just surviving day-to-day.”

This was a turning point for the family business. Auernheimer took a leap of faith and quit her career in real estate to help the shop.

With a background in property management and a love for learning, Auernheimer thought she might be able to help get the shop back on track.

Kim Auernheimer, co-owner of Cool Springs Automotive“I love to learn,” says Auernheimer. “I started attending every training, every seminar, every export-oriented training expo, sitting in any class, listening to anything I could find on the internet, whatever I could do to figure out how to run this business because it was so different from my previous experience in commercial real estate.”

Auernheimer saw the opportunity to attend an in-person training expo, and she did whatever it took to make it happen.

“At that point, I came to work for the business full-time, and we attended an industry training expo. We had maxed out our credit cards. You know, we had no money in the bank. We did everything we could do to get to that training.”

Previous to attending this event, Auernheimer and her husband were stuck.

“My husband and I felt like a hamster in a hamster wheel. You run, run, run, and all you're doing is going in circles,” says Auernheimer. “Every once in a while, the hamster will fly off the wheel, and like a big ol’ dummy hamster they get back on the wheel, but the wheel never goes anywhere. That was the mode we were in until I got some coaching and mentoring.”

By 2014, Auernheimer and her husband had put their training to good use and were able to purchase a new building, upgrading from three to 10 bays.

Cool Springs Automotive is still in the same building to this day, although Auernheimer’s involvement in the shop has changed.

In 10 years, they have taken what was once a struggling shop into a huge success. The next step of their journey is letting go of the reins and letting their staff take the lead.

“My husband and I have stepped back from the day-to-day operations. We've spent the last year readying ourselves, preparing ourselves, and making sure that our business can run without us involved in day-to-day business.”

To see if the business could be self-sufficient, Auernheimer and her husband put it to the test.

A white car for repair inside Cool Springs Automotive “Last year, we tested the shop to make sure it can run without us involved in the day-to-day business,” says Auernheimer. “Our sales still increased by almost 20%.”

Auernheimer and her husband have used the skills they developed through training and mentorships to grow their business, and now they are ready to pass these skills onto their team.

“I really want to expand on my team and have the right people in place at the shop,” says Auernheimer. “One of the highlights of this last year is me and my husband both learning how to let others take the lead in our business.”

This isn’t an easy step for any small business owner to take, but the outcome makes the struggle worth it.

“We've run the business since 2006, and now we're asking our other people to help us do it and learning how to let go,” says Auernheimer. “It has been challenging. It's been frustrating, but it's also been extremely rewarding.” During this transition, Auernheimer has set up her foreman and general manager with coaches and peer mentor groups to guide their leadership development and hold each other accountable.

Auernheimer’s husband has taken a step out of operations and into facilities and project management, while she has taken on the role of CEO/CFO. Creating more of a corporate hierarchy has allowed their general manager and foreman to be the main line of defense, filtering staff questions before they come to Auernheimer.

Shop co-owner Kim Aurnheimer with an auto technician at Cool Springs Automotive tending on a car“It's a mental and emotional challenge to learn how to let others lead within your business,” she says. “It's kind of like letting your kid drive while you’re in the car. You don't know how they're going to make the right decisions, but you're in the car with them and you're going to help them and guide them along the way.”

Auernheimer has developed a passion for helping struggling business just as her mentors helped hers.

“I'm very passionate about helping others,” she says. “I'm not a coach, but I have mentored many shops in any way because I just love to help people.”

In 2020, Auernheimer was named Women in Auto Care’s Shop Owner of the Year, and it’s easy to see why. Her passion for mentorship has helped herself, her business, and now the entire industry.

“I love to share what I've learned from others and from my own experience and pass that on,” says Auernheimer. “My biggest goal is to improve the industry, the image of the industry, the lives of those within the industry, from the owners all the way down to a lot porter. If we all improve our business and do what we need to do to get our business running right, we're not just helping ourselves, we're helping everybody within our business and the industry as a whole.”