Running a Shop

How to Be a Team-Building Leader

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David Rogers, president and founder of Auto Profit Masters and COO of Keller Bros. Auto Repair in Littleton, Colorado, has been helping shop owners grow and repair their businesses for about 30 years. Between his experiences helping others and his tenure at Keller Bros., Rogers has learned the only sustainable way to build a winning team and culture is to train, hire and promote from within your shop.  

It's beneficial for shops, particularly now as it’s been difficult to find and keep technicians, to promote from within. Turnover in the industry is frequent, but that hasn’t been the case for Rogers, who says his average technician has been with him for 14 years.  

Why?

A culture that supports employee training, learning, and growth.

“It’s so critical to create systems and processes for growing your own techs and the path for them to continually grow their career,” Rogers says. “[And] it’s not just techs.”  

“The first thing to know about training is it’s critical,” Rogers adds. “You can’t be in any industry or any job or career and not train if you actually want to be successful.”  

Cecil Bullard, owner and CEO of The Institute for Automotive Business Excellence, says the key to keeping employees is providing those opportunities for learning and growth.  

“I think any time that you have a dead end, and your employees start to think, ‘This is a dead end, and there’s nowhere for me to go. There’s no way for me to make more money, there’s no way for me to learn something more,’ you’re in trouble,” Bullard says. “And you’re going to lose people.”  

The goal for shops is to retain employees and promote from within, and that requires providing opportunities for training and growth. Luckily, the options aren’t limited.  

From in-person, in-house opportunities, to seminars, to training organizations, to online training videos, there are plenty of opportunities to explore. 

Here’s a look at a couple of those opportunities made available by shop owners and why their training approach works for them.  


Culture of Learning 

Rogers has engrained training into what they do at Keller Bros. Auto Repair—it’s a part of their culture, not simply something they pick up every so often.  

“We’re a culture of learning and caring for others,” Rogers says. “It’s what we do … We don’t do anything in our shop unless it helps everyone involved in the transaction.” 

Rogers says that’s exactly why he’s been able to retain employees.  

“There’s so much for everybody here. That’s why my guys don’t leave. They don’t have to lie, they don’t have to cheat, they don’t have to steal,” Rogers adds. “They do have to train, they do have to learn, they do have to grow all the time. Even if you’re 55, it doesn’t matter, you still study and grow. Me included.”  

Rogers takes more of an in-house approach to training to ensure what’s learned aligns with his company’s culture. His approach provides opportunities to train daily.  

For example, if someone makes a mistake in the shop, rather than call them out, or even simply address it privately, Rogers will use it as an opportunity to teach the whole staff. 

“If I approach it that way the employee gets to retain his dignity and the team gets to learn (what) … I should have taught him before,” Rogers says. “Me taking responsibility as the leader is the first key.”  

Rogers will send employees to certain training events, but because as he says, “all training is not created equal,” he makes sure to pin down what’s being taught in advance, intentionally seeking and choosing trainings that align with his company’s culture.  

When he does send an employee to a specific training, he expects them to come back with what they learned and bring it back in-house, sharing the information with the shop.  

The primarily in-house, in-shop training approach gives Rogers a chance to cast a wide net and teach the whole team at once, not just one or two employees at a time.  


Times Have Changed 

For David Marshall, owner of Marshall’s Garage in New London, N.H., in-person trainings have been harder to come by since the pandemic, but there has been a significant increase in online and Zoom trainings available.  

Those online trainings have exploded in the last two years, with them becoming higher quality while offering more specific trainings. Marshall has seen the growth firsthand.  

“I think the people that produce the training have put more energy into that side of it, which is nice,” he says.  

Advantageous to Marshall at his shop is that online opportunities allow you to know exactly what you’re getting.  

“Some of these companies will hold an in-person training seminar, but it is what it is. You don’t get a choice of what it is; they decide what they’re going to teach,” Marshall says. “Online Zoom classes are better just because you can set up systematic training.”  

Additionally, technicians can choose trainings for specific skills they need or want to learn. 

“You can pick and choose as you want them. You sign up for their training, their program, and then you can go on to the computer and pick and choose,” Marshall says. “The individual technicians can pick and choose the training that they want.”  

Marshall says specificity, flexibility, and the sheer amount of options are the benefits of online training, but he acknowledges not everyone learns well over Zoom. He says many on his staff are hands-on workers.  

“It’s not as effective as actual hands-on training is, but it’s certainly, considering the times, better than none,” Marshall says.  


Best of Both Worlds 

Rogers doesn’t handle all of his training in-house, and Marshall can’t rely on Zoom for all of his trainings. Bullard says it’s naïve if a shop thinks they can commit 100% to just one type of training.  

“I think if you’re only internal, you’re in trouble. I think if you’re only external, you’re in trouble,” he says.  

If you’re outsourcing the majority of your training, you still need to impart to your staff the way things are done at your particular shop. If you’re majority in-house, it’s still critical to get an outside view.  

“You need to go outside,” Bullard says. “Because you don’t know what you don’t know.” 

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