The staff at an independent auto repair shop is just like any other team in any other industry or sport. You have your role players, your star players, your various specialists and your coach – all of whom need to band together under a common goal: generating profits.
Coaching a good team requires skill, discipline and structure. Structure starts at the building stage, like a general manager trying to put together a championship-caliber roster. While some say this is more of an artform than a science, there are some steps you can take to improve your odds of success!
Be Diligent During the Hiring Stage
In order to build a successful team that in turn creates a dynamic shop culture, first you need to find good workers who are motivated to do their jobs well. Then you need to do a good job of keeping them motivated.
This begins at the hiring stage.
When you’re in the process of hiring a new staff member, effective screening and vetting of candidates is extremely important.
During interviews, you must determine if an individual possesses the character traits you need them to have for your shop to be successful. Properly changing a tire or air filter are things that can be taught after you hire someone, but it’s impossible to teach an adult professional how to be a quality, hard-working person.
When you’re conducting a job interview, make sure you write down the questions to ensure consistency. While you’re asking about the candidate’s work history, certifications, etc., you also should be on the lookout for red flags.
If they waver when you ask them about having an up-to-date ASE certification – that’s a red flag. If they’re reluctant to explain why they left their previous job – that’s a red flag. If they’re immediately asking about recreational drug-use policies – yup, that’s definitely a red flag!
Just like anything else, practice makes perfect, and the more interviews you conduct, the better you’ll get at intuitively picking up on who will be a motivated employee and who won’t. Try and be as selective as possible when screening candidates as well – this is getting tougher with fewer and fewer techs entering the industry every year (don’t get me started on that alarming trend) but you still need to set your standards high early, and don’t hire just anyone because you need a body in your shop.
Train and Gain
As soon as you bring a new staff member on board, you must spend as much time as possible with them during their first month on the job to make sure they’re properly versed on your shop’s way of doing things.
It’s important a new employee learns why you do things the way you do them in addition to what’s expected of them. People aren’t pets – you can’t just tell them to get off the furniture or to stop barking. You need to explain the reasons why your shop does things a certain way, especially if they’re veterans of other shops and have picked up some bad habits at some point in their career.
At our shop in Littleton, Colorado, we perform a bumper-to-bumper inspection on every vehicle, every time. It’s something we’re committed to, and there are two reasons why we do this. The first is, from a legal standpoint, if a customer is involved in an accident after leaving our shop, we could be found liable. It’s been proven in court before and we all know how much lawyers love those billable hours. The second reason is simply that it’s good business to take good care of your clients.
Sometimes a new technician doesn’t want to spend his or her time doing a thorough inspection on a car that’s just in for an oil change. They’re used to their way of doing things – not my way of doing things. This doesn’t fly in my shop and it shouldn’t in yours either!
Policies and procedures are critical to creating a culture of training and growth, and need to be communicated in a clear, concise manner. How many sick days does a tech get? When should they clock in/out? What are your shop’s daily hours and what holidays are you closed for? Is smartphone use permitted during working hours? What are the disciplinary consequences for given actions?
All of these questions need to be answered by a written set of guidelines as soon as an individual is hired. Potential pleas of ignorance down the line need to be quashed by your policy and procedure introductions during the onboarding process.
Incentivize and Thrive
In my experience, for a shop to be successful in the long term, an incentivized payment plan needs to be in place so productivity is optimized. Some shops are reluctant to adopt this model, but believe me, it’s hands-down the best way to ensure motivated employees and a profitable shop.
If certain staff members are wary of switching from a salary to an incentive-based model, simply explain to them how much more money they can make under a system that rewards hard work, and they’ll quickly change their tune.
Recognition also is an important aspect of staff motivation. Have an “Employee of the Month” award, take your best tech of the week out for a nice lunch, give your service writer access to the owner’s parking spot for a few days if they’ve been doing a good job lately – these things are easy to do and go a long way toward instilling a strong sense of work-and-reward throughout your staff.
Stay on Target
Performance reviews are an important part of the motivation process as well. After 90 days, your new employee most likely will be around for a while, so you should sit down with them and discuss how they’ve done so far and what you expect of them moving forward.
Your head tech or a shop supervisor also should take part in these reviews – don’t do them solo. You’re creating a road map for the future, and further enabling your employee to be more productive and thereby make more money for themselves and for your shop, so take the time to present your impressions of his/her work and how you think they can get to the next level. Be sure to listen during performance reviews as well – you just might learn something that can help your shop be more efficient.
Disciplinary action is a part of the overall review process as well, albeit much more immediate and reactionary. As soon as an employee defies your expectations, they need to snap back into line immediately. Recommitting employees to your shop’s policies after they violate the rules is a step that needs to be taken, so be prepared for these tough discussions by having a pre-made set of guidelines and regulations laid out for all of you to review.
Set the Standard!
Remember: A well-run shop starts at the top with quality leadership. When you’re hiring/training employees and educating them on your shop’s policies and procedures, you need to demonstrate all the characteristics you want your employees to exhibit day-in and day-out. Honesty. Integrity. Dedication. These are the cornerstones of doing business the right way, and these are the traits you need to show as a leader in your shop.
If you follow these steps for hiring and properly incentivizing your employees and set a strong standard for work ethic and high character, you’ll be well on your way to building a staff that can contend for the title of your market’s most profitable shop!