CLEVELAND—Are you fortunate enough to have camels working in your shop?
No, not the desert animals.
According to A.C. Guarino, owner of AC Auto Service Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., there are three types of employees in an auto repair shop—mercenaries, camels and sponges.
"The mercenaries are the ones you do not want. The camels are the ones you want and the double-hump camels are even better. They are the ones who will carry the company. They understand that the company has to be profitable in order for them to be profitable. And the sponges are the rookies, right out of school."
Sponges can soak up valuable lessons from a "camel" but they may get run off by the mercenaries, Mr. Guarino added.
He spoke at the recent ITEC show in Cleveland on how tire dealers can hire and keep the "camels" in their businesses.
"The hard part, to me, is not finding technicians but keeping technicians," he said, adding, "If we think about technicians as being internal customers, we take a whole completely different outlook on it."
A dealership can attract quality applicants by first making its facility and working environment attractive. Employment ads should promote the benefits of working for the dealership, such as its community location, pay scale, state-of-the-art equipment and training opportunities. And the print ad should be large to attract attention.
"Lead with what they want to buy. What do you have to offer?" Mr. Guarino said.
If a dealer wants to "steal" technicians from competitors, he suggested the dealership create a trifold pamphlet about the tire dealership that would attract customers as well as job applicants. He said such pamphlets could be distributed through tool delivery trucks and at local restaurants.
Once job applicants have answered the ads, he advised dealers to conduct "pre-chats" over the phone to narrow the field. The phone interviewer should ask if the applicant has a valid driver's license and any DWI convictions, and if there is any day during the week the applicant cannot work. A lot of mercenaries are eliminated in the pre-chat, he said.
If the applicant passes the pre-chat, invite him or her in for a first interview that involves three to five questions.
"If they interview well, there's a reason. They're good at it. So beware. They know what to say," Mr. Guarino warned. Warning bells should go off when an interviewee tells a dealer or service shop owner exactly what he or she wants to hear.
Rather than asking about their quality of work and other such typical interview questions, dealers should ask questions that prompt the applicant to talk about him or herself, such as: "Tell me something that you would like to change at where you work today."
With this question a dealer can get a feel for how the technician thinks about managers and fellow employees, Mr. Guarino said.
Another question could be: "What do you like about working at your current job?" The best answer to that question should be, "I really like the people. The people there work their hardest and we all get along when we work together."
"That's a camel," he said.
Other questions that can reveal an applicant's personality and attitude are: "Tell me something in your life that you are extremely proud of," and "Tell me something in your life you are disappointed about."
The second interview is when the dealer can ask the applicant technical questions. "The most important thing you can do (is ask): 'Please bring some check stubs from where you work now.' You can tell like that whether they are lying to you or not (about their labor hours)," Mr. Guarino said.
Once a technician is hired, time will tell if the dealer made the right decision. But if a dealer wants to keep the "camels," Mr. Guarino offered several tips to boost morale and maintain a good working environment:
c "For goodness sakes, guys, buy lunch every once in a while! It's not going to kill you," he told the ITEC audience. "It is important to them. It shows them that you care…. We average eight to nine grand every Saturday. We can't afford to leave to go to lunch. We got to get the food out of the kitchen. We go get Chinese. We go get burgers. Whatever they want, we go get."
c "Dress them good. Get them nice uniforms, not the grubbiest things you can find."
c "Keep the area clean. Don't have your hot rod, boat and batteries packed up in the corner. That's their space. Let them have their space. Give them room to work because they are making you money."
c Know the average income in the market for auto technicians—dealers should be paying that or above, he advised. "If a technician is a master technician and you determine that he's a camel and you want him, don't be afraid to start him out at top level, because he'll show you what he can do and he'll make you money."
c Offer health insurance. Mr. Guarino said his employees pay for their own policies but he puts the premium amounts back in their bank accounts.
c Reward employees, but don't just give them money, he advised. He suggested giving tangible rewards, such as putting a restaurant gift card in an envelope with a letter of thanks and mailing it to the house, where the technician's wife is likely to open it.
"Trust me, the next time he comes home and says, 'I'm tired of this place, I'm gonna leave,' and she's going to go, 'No, you ain't. You get back out there and go to work!' That's a reward," he said.
Mr. Guarino said his dealership also rewards employees with an all-expense-paid three-day trip to the local mountains or beach for the whole family. "I send (the trip reward) home and the wife is going to open it up and they are going to be excited. Think about little things like that."