Running a Shop Human Resources Staff management

The Buy-In

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Jay King

When Jay King strategizes ways of improving his shop, of providing exemplary customer service, of competing with the dealerships in town, he knows he can’t really accomplish anything without one key component—buy-in from his team.

Easier said than done, though, says King, who opened King’s Automotive in Swarthmore, Pa., 29 years ago. For the first few years, retaining employees was an issue, but as he’s learned the management ropes, he’s slowly developed benefits, an image, and a leadership style that’s kept two of his five employees for 20-plus years, and one of them for the past seven years.

“He promotes camaraderie within the organization,” says NAPA digital marketing coordinator Ryan Flanagan in his Ratchet+Wrench All Star Award nomination of King. “Jay makes sure the team at King’s Automotive completely understands the importance of the customer experience and promotes a clean, professional, friendly environment.”

King details the mindset and perks that keep both his employees’ happiness and his shop’s retention rate high.


Create a Professional Atmosphere.

While King places a lot of emphasis on personal time and having fun, he says one of the keys to ensuring employee loyalty is creating a culture that looks and feels like it stands out from the competition.

“There are so many shops in this day and age that aren't professional, and I want to be a cut above those guys and do it the right way,” he says.

A few of King’s strategies for creating a professional atmosphere are:

  1. A visually pleasing shop. Clutter and messiness can increase stress levels and lower customers’ expectations, King says, which is why he makes cleanliness a priority. He’s also planted an array of flowers in front of his building.
  2. A strict dress code. All King’s Automotive employees have uniforms that are expected to be clean, and shirts are always tucked in. King believes when you “present yourself as a professional,” you’re more likely to act professional.
  3. Sell your professionalism. Don’t be afraid to explicitly state your goals and intentions with your business. King uses meetings as an opportunity to remind his staff about the image they reflect to the customer, and why it’s important to sell themselves as organized and helpful.


Make Work-Life Balance a Priority.

As King puts it, he runs a “pretty tight ship.”

“I don’t have anyone that dogs it,” he says. “They’re all committed to working hard to deliver a quality product at all points of the day.”

The way King sees it: If you make personal time and work-life balance a priority, employees will be motivated to reward you while on the clock. While everyone at King’s Automotive appreciates the 401K and medical benefits he offers, King says the three weeks of vacation he offers per year actually goes further in retaining staff.

“It was tough for me to comes to terms with offering three weeks of vacation, but they really do need that vacation time to recharge their batteries,” he says. “It might put us in a hole when they're gone, but I think it’s actually benefitted our production and our quality in the long run.”


Host Social Excursions.

Go-kart racing, paintball outings, and group dinners are just a few of the perks you can expect as a King’s Automotive employee.

“I feel like that’s important,” King says. “Everybody is busy, and the techs have young kids, so it’s hard for them to get away and do something socially.”

King tries to plan out a social activity involving the entire shop once every few months outside of shop hours. He says it helps management and employees to connect, and makes everyone actually look forward to coming into work.

“It can be fun,” he says. “It doesn’t always have to be about work, and it adds to the atmosphere when they get back into the shop.”


Show That You Care.

It’s the classic case of “showing vs. telling”—and King believes if you really want to show employees you care, then you should be giving back to the community whenever possible.

While King helps out locally whenever possible, working with his church to provide automotive repair to low-income families, he has also taken an active role in natural disaster relief. For disasters like Hurricane Katrina and tornadoes that hit cities in Oklahoma and Missouri, he collects money, then loads up his truck with equipment, supplies and food, and heads down to help out. While it’s an out-of-the-box philanthropic idea that takes him outside the shop, he says it does just as much in earning customers’ trust as it does earning employees’ trust.

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