AKRON (Sept. 8, 2000)—Tire dealers who offer automotive services often ask, "What´s the secret to retaining good technicians?´´
The simple answer: Begin by charging what these workers are really worth!
Savvy, successful owners and managers know there´s no cheating the math. Namely, if you don´t charge enough for skilled techs, you can´t afford to pay enough for good people. If you can´t afford the good people, you either can´t hire them in the first place. Or you hire them but you can´t keep them.
This summer, I met several guys who had moved out of the bays into work such as automotive equipment sales, automotive shop management computer work, etc. Although these conversations occurred in different cities, the same writer could have scripted them.
These techs started out as gung-ho, car-loving kids who relished turning wrenches.
They leave vocational school, dive into auto repair and pretty soon discover that they´d rather chase electrical, emissions and driveability problems than change brakes.
"Before ABS appeared, routine brake work was so-o-o-o-o boring. I´d go batty if all I had to do was change brakes all day," the one ex-tech commented.
Clearly, the challenging tasks were the ones that kept them excited about coming to work every day. Electrical, emissions and/or driveability work provided enough variety that these fellows didn´t have the opportunity to get bored. What´s more, this work forced these techs to work harder with their heads than with their hands.
Going home tired from turning wrenches was to be expected. But these former techs noted how satisfying it was to leave the shop mentally weary from successfully thinking their way through to solutions.
It was particularly sweet when they realized that they´d used their heads—pure reason and knowledge—to solve problems the competition had sent them.
Comedian, writer and director Woody Allen has said, "Eighty percent of success is just showing up." But as they got older, these techs also discovered that the other 20 percent was finding an owner or manager who really, truly valued their talents.
Mind you, employee turnover is an ongoing problem in the auto service industry. Whereas some technicians seem to be born nomads, others such as the ones I describe in this column are simply anxious to better their lot in life.
As far as I´m concerned, a little ambition shows they´ve got pride and character.
These techs claim that eventually they couldn´t find the right opportunity with a service facility that really valued their knowledge and ability. When they moved to supposedly better positions with bigger tire dealerships or new-car dealerships, they were chagrined to learn the service department´s real modus operandi: Volume, volume and more volume!
This was especially true with quickest-turnaround tasks. Bang out the brake jobs. Replace lots of plugs and filters. But for heaven´s sake, don´t sweat the work that requires you to think!
"These service managers tried to approach the more-challenging work as if they were still competing for alignments with the `Joe´ up the street," one ex-tech lamented.
"There are loyal people out there willing to pay to have the work done correctly the first time. But the dealership chased them away."
Bottom line: The bosses didn´t understand how to charge for the time needed to find a short circuit, pinpoint an emission failure or cure a cold-stalling problem.
They literally gave the work away, leaving nothing to pay the caliber of technician upon which service departments´ reputations are made.
"Can you believe a service department that won´t charge more than three tenths (.30 hour) to find out why the car keeps blowing a fuse? This is while the customer´s pacing the waiting room telling everyone he´d pay anything to get this electrical problem solved," one former tech explained.
This situation persists, readers, and these high-caliber workers realize there are greener pastures elsewhere. They leave the service bays and they don´t return because they´re understandably bitter.
Many times within these pages I´ve discussed charging for what techs know. There are plenty of classes available to teach bosses how to charge. The knowledge is there for owners and managers who really want it.