Stan Elmore doesn't know what the expression technician shortage means.
For the owner of Stan's Tire Service in Lafayette, Colo., closing his store the week of Christmas 2001 is a prime example of why he never has to seek out new talent. To the contrary, techs are always phoning him about job opportunities.
If Mr. Elmore's name rings a bell with you, it should. First, he and his crew have been first-rate sources for many years and, in fact, were profiled last summer in a feature story in Tire Business. Among other accolades Mr. Elmore has earned is Carquest's prestigious Top Shop award.
His 12-bay shop has been at its present location for 22 years and employs six ASE-certified technicians as well as two lube-and-tire techs. The company did $2 million in sales last year, $150,000 of which were tires. Visit Stan's Tire Service and you notice two things immediately: The place looks great and the positive working atmosphere inside it is downright infectious.
During the 12 years I've been writing this column, I've repeatedly urged readers to get a lot from employees by giving them a little. I've carped that fundamentally good people respond in kind to plain old kindness. I've argued that common courtesy and respect for workers seems to be distinctly uncommon. I have also urged bosses to recognize that family time has become a bigger and bigger issue for two-income households.
Last Christmas, Mr. Elmore applied these principles in one fell swoop by closing his business the entire week of Dec. 24, 2001. The store used to remain open for a half-day on Dec. 24 and close on Christmas, but Mr. Elmore began a policy of closing on both Dec. 24 and 25.
Sometime last fall, his managers suggested the ``week off'' concept during one of the company's weekly leadership meetings. They accurately predicted that employees would enthusiastically support the proposal.
So three to four months in advance, Stan's workers knew they'd get three unpaid days off (Wednesday through Friday after Christmas). Where applicable, employees could take some or all of these three days as paid vacation time.
In the beginning of December 2001, Mr. Elmore put posters on the front door and around the customer lounge notifying people that the store would be closed Christmas week. He also updated its voice mail and on-hold messages with reminders of the closure. The updated voice mail included telephone numbers for AAA as well as the local towing company Stan's always recommended.
But the message also included the cellular phone number of a service writer who lived nearest the store. Coincidentally, the same fellow had volunteered to field any emergency calls that occurred during Christmas week. Once again, Stan's crew called it right because the few calls that came in were not anything near urgent. The service writer answered some questions and arranged for a customer to leave her car at the store earlier than expected.
``The important thing is that customers don't feel deserted,'' Mr. Elmore said.
No customers bellyached. The earth didn't stop turning nor did Stan's Tire Service fold up.
``My staff got time off-which they deserved and needed. If you've been bringing in the right quality customers and explain what you want to do and why, no one argues with it. In fact, customers identify with your values,'' Mr. Elmore explained.
When the crew returned to work the following week, people were beaming. They said their families were delighted to have Dad home for more than a day or two. Many workers commented that the week off was the longest Christmas break they had ever had at any job.
``I think the issue with many shops not doing this is they're more worried about the dollar than about their people,'' Mr. Elmore said. ``They don't recognize the value of these things over the long haul to their people.'' He anticipates closing for Christmas again this year.
At this point, I think that arguing this point with Mr. Elmore would be like trying to tell Barry Bonds how to swing a bat. By the way, how is your batting stance, Mr. Tire Dealer?