Hiring Outside the Industry
SHOP STATS: Craftsman Auto Care Location: Five locations in Virginia: Alexandria, Fairfax, Chantilly, Merrifield, McLean Owner: Matt and Judy Curry Average Monthly Care Count (per location): 400 Total Staff Size: 55 Shop Size: 4,000-10,000 square feet ARO: $550 Annual Revenue: $10-12 million
For many repair shop owners in the industry, finding quality technicians isn’t their only hiring struggle. While the technician shortage has been well-documented, an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged: “The Great Resignation.” Businesses in industries across the country are seeing a dramatic increase in employees leaving their jobs, and a decrease in applications for new jobs.
For the auto industry, finding qualified candidates can be difficult. Matt and Judy Curry, co-owners of Matt Curry’s Craftsman Auto Care, like to bring on employees with five, 10 or even 20 years of experience in the industry, especially for highly-technical positions like a technician.
However even before the pandemic, the Currys had begun to adapt and have seen dividends on that decision.
The Currys currently own five locations in Virginia. But back in 2019 when the couple operated just three, they recognized they needed someone to handle the back-end work such as HR work, bookkeeping and other financial work.
“We were growing and once we hit that third location, there was no way he could keep going without someone,” Judy Curry says.
Ideally, they wanted someone who had experience in the auto industry. But above all else, for this specific hire, they wanted someone they could trust. That led them to a lifelong friend, Susan Boone. Boone had worked for private developers in the area doing much of the same work: bookkeeping and project management. They knew Boone could be trusted and knew she was a hard worker so they pulled the trigger.
The couple have also brought on several young workers, including their niece, who have little to no experience in the industry to attend to the register and sell basic services like air filters.
It’s always easiest in the hiring process to fall back on someone with experience. But in today’s world, those people can be hard to come by, Matt Curry says. So hiring outside of the industry has become more important. And while it may never be realistic to find a technician from outside the industry, the same can’t be said for other positions like a service advisor or a customer service representative.
Still, that idea can be daunting. What skills and traits should shop owners look for? Are there specific industries they should be looking to? How should they train them once they’ve brought them aboard? Those are the challenges that shop owners face when hiring outside the industry.
Along with Boone, the Currys have hired several cashiers and a cleaner, all of whom had no experience in the industry. Both cashiers, however, worked at a local Sunglasses Hut.
To Matt Curry, it was clear they both possessed strong customer service capabilities. They knew how to interact and help customers with empathy, and they were self-sufficient. When working at Sunglass Hut, both worked as the only employee at a given time, meaning they were good at problem solving. For a simple cashier role that could one day expand to a service advisor, that’s all they needed.
Whether it’s retail workers or restaurant employees, looking to an industry that also puts a priority on customer service is the key. When you go into one of those places, keep business cards on you, Matt Curry says. You never know when an employee may wow you and you may want to hire them away.
In keeping with that, the couple recommends prioritizing attitude and being willing to teach about the industry.
“You can teach someone to install or sell an air filter, but they need to have the right attitude,” Matt Curry says. “I hired the kid in high school because he came in with a resume, came in well-dressed and was passionate.”
In the case of Boone, accounting is accounting. Yes, some new language is involved, but the nuts and bolts are the same. Same thing goes for the cashiers or service advisors. They know how to sell, now they just need to learn about the industry. And if you hire someone who is passionate and hard working, that teaching goes much smoother than you’d think, Matt Curry says.
Since hiring Boone, the Currys have added two additional locations, something that wouldn’t be possible without Boone’s help on the backend, Judy Curry says.
Boone was thrown into the job as COVID hit and was a major help in formulating a plan to keep the business running strong despite operating at 10 percent capacity. Judy Curry called it “very inspirational and notable.”
The younger hires have played smaller but important roles as well. The employee they brought in to do cleaning has begun to change oil as well and the cashiers have provided great customer service, the couple says. Those hires have also been a big help for Judy Curry, who takes on content creation for the shop. She says getting ideas from those employees outside the industry has been “fantastic.”
For some positions, like a technician, hiring outside the industry may never be realistic. But for some of the smaller but still necessary roles, like a service advisor, cleaner or bookkeeper, looking outside the industry is not only possible but can yield promising results.
For the Currys, they had a family friend they could go to. For others, it won’t be that simple. Looking at the retail and service industry may be the best route to success. It worked for the Currys in some of their smaller roles. They looked for qualities like trustworthiness, customer savviness and a good attitude.
“Everything else can be taught,” Matt Curry says.
As the labor shortage continues, businesses will need to adapt. Looking outside the industry is one way. Identifying employees with those unteachable qualities, regardless of prior experience, will make it easier to train them on the specifics of the automotive industry, Matt Curry says.