Did you ever feel like things were going to overtake you and you just couldn’t outrun the Indiana Jones-sized boulder headed your way? Don’t look now but you’re right in the path. Unless you take the appropriate steps now to avoid getting pancaked, you may quickly find yourself in a difficult situation.
Sometimes it feels like the information, technology, techniques – heck, even the way we reach our customers – have seen a lot of changes in form and function as time has marched on. Frankly, it has, and one thing is certain. The sun will rise and set on even more significant advancements throughout your career as an owner, advisor and technician.
So, how do you ensure that you don’t end up like technicians who decided not to change when carburetors were dropped in favor of fuel injection; when R-12 went to R-134a, and now R1234yf; or when OBD I hit the scenes followed by OBD II? And, the list goes on.
It all starts with a plan.
Assessing the skill sets of everyone on your team – from the general service technician to the service advisor and even the owner – is the first step you must take. It is important that you determine what skills are required for each position in your shop, then assess each of the people in each of the positions. What is covered and what gaps are there? Determine the strengths and weaknesses before they become critical.
Now, armed with that information, you can begin to formulate an ongoing improvement plan that is actionable and measurable. Some shops incentivize training. I think it is a good idea to do so because most training is held after hours, and effort and commitment are required by the person heading out for class. Of course, it’s up to you regarding how you express appreciation – it could be cash or a gift card. One highly effective way to incentivize is an increase in their commission rate as they meet the quarterly goal for training hours.
I work with multiple shops that set a minimum of 10 training hours per quarter and, as the goal is reached, the technician sees an increase in pay. This way, it puts the onus for raises squarely on the shoulders of the technicians. If they attend and participate in the training you provide, they are in full control of when they receive a rate increase. Not bad when you think about it, huh?
Too many times, only the training needs of technicians are addressed. However, Greg Buckley from Buckley’s Auto Care, Wilmington, DE, cautions that it can be easy to overlook another key part of your team.
“Advisors need to be brought to the table as mini owners, per se,” Buckley believes. “They should be more aware of the regular financials and they should UNDERSTAND them just as much as the owner should. This way, each sale they make has a more in-depth meaning to it. Our SMS systems need to present mini P&Ls on every RO to make it easy for them to do so.”
Communication and buy-in are key. You want to engage your employees in what you have planned; don’t come up with a great plan on your own. Select the key influencers in your shop to assist you in crafting your plan. You’ll find their influence will go a long way toward getting everyone on board.
A few key points – have a written required skill set for each position, then a written plan for each person in those positions. Yes, this takes time, but it is worth every minute. Consider a training agreement that lays out what is expected, who pays for what and, should the person leave, what (if any) reimbursement for the investment is required. Be aware that it’s difficult to have these agreements signed after hiring for the position. A training agreement needs to be part of your new hire paperwork.
If anyone doesn’t want to receive the training you might give consideration to their long-term future with your shop.
Your ongoing team improvement plan should address today’s technical and business needs and have a provision in your plan to add subjects and classes as the need arises. As the owner, remember that your plan should focus on your current needs and also monitor upcoming trends and what education will be required to have everyone up to date.
Training methods have changed as dramatically as the content, reminds Buckley. “Virtual has caught on and is an asset that will get better over time. However, when techs get together ‘live,’ that’s when real learning starts. In the future, I see a hybrid with virtual trainers and private team training at the shop or location.”
There are abundant resources available today from in-person events, your local parts suppliers, and regional and national events.
Each year, there are four key events in different regions around the country that include world-class trainers on site to share their vast knowledge with the class participants.
Automotive Service and Technology Expo – East Coast
Automotive Training Expo – Pacific Northwest
Vision Hi-Tech Training & Expo in Kansas City
AAPEX Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo held in Las Vegas each Fall
In addition, suppliers are committed to education as well. “All of our vendors MUST consider us partners and not simply ‘installers,’” insists Buckley. “They have to bring the resources to make us better so we can help them move the units they need to. The days of slapping the catalog or flyer down on the counter, making small talk and exiting the shop are over. And, over the past few years, most of our vendors have done just this – they offer top-notch training, support and business classes, as well.”
Program groups each have vast online libraries of content from technical to management courses. While some are included with your membership, other courses require a fee – but consider this. How much lost revenue is not fully participating costing you, your shop and your employees?
It is critical that you understand the three different learning styles – auditory, visual and tactile – and recognize what style each of your team members flourishes in. Knowing this will assist you in choosing the correct style of classes.
Auditory learning is where you learn best in a lecture-type of environment. Some of you have long attention spans and love to hear an instructor go through the theory of how something works. Others tune out easily and become bored.
Visual learners can absorb knowledge by watching. You will find that instructional videos or working alongside a mentor will be your best path to growing your knowledge of any given topic.
Finally, tactile learning is, simply, hands-on. If you are a tactile learner you probably find that if you read or listen to something, it “just does not sink in” – you get the most out of the firsthand experience. Here you prefer to be literally hands-on in order to maximize your understanding of the subject matter.
While each of these methods differs in their style, none is necessarily a better way to learn than another.
However, it is important that you determine which learning style works best for you and your team members, so learning efforts can focus on that particular method.
One lingering question that keeps many shop owners awake at night is, “What if I train them and they leave?” I think the more important question is, “What if you don’t and they stay?”
The cost in lost revenue, broken parts, misdiagnosis, dissatisfied customers and, in general, a shop whose reputation is suffering will run thousands of dollars in any given year.
Buckley advises, “Since business changes at the speed of light these days and technology constantly alters our service landscape, we need to keep up with all facets of running the business. The shop owner/mechanic model is one that can work if the owner clearly has a great team to manage the business. However, this isn’t the norm and we’ll probably see less and less of it in the future.”
Do you have a success story or issue that is relevant to training you’d like to share? Drop me a line at [email protected]. Anyone who contacts me, even just to comment on this article, will be entered in a drawing for our SMART live online business management and Service Advisor course. It is a $1,600 value.
So my last question to you is, “What is your plan to bring your shop current?”
Vic Tarasik has been an independent auto repair professional for more than three decades and is the former owner of Vic’s Precision Automotive in The Woodlands, Texas. He is the founder of Shop Owner Coach, a coaching and training organization that is committed to helping independent repair shop owners achieve their dreams through the intentional application of best business practices. Vic can be reached at Vic@ShopOwnerCoach.