How to Deal with Technician Turnover
Owner Reggie Stewart faced major quality-of-work issues with one of his technicians in the summer of 2016—wires were routed incorrectly, parts consistently weren’t ordered, and cars he serviced often leaked oil. One day, Stewart was appalled when he looked at an angry customer’s car and found a cracked coolant pipe, patched together with a piece of fuel hose and some hose clamps.
As a servicer of German vehicles, Reggie’s Motorworks in Noblesville, Ind., built its reputation on a strict attention to detail, and this B-level technician, who Stewart says worked more like a C-level technician, faced comeback after comeback. Still, Stewart and the rest of his staff were wary of the technician shortage and all the problems that came along with hiring a new technician. They kept him as long as they could.
“He was with us about eight months, and we probably could have made the call within 90 days,” Stewart says. “He could turn some hours, but a lot of those hours were boomerangs.”
Stewart eventually fired the technician, but what followed was the stuff of many owners’ nightmares. His base—an A-tech, a B-tech and an apprentice—all turned over in the next five months, and Stewart struggled mightily to recruit solid new members to his staff.
In the past, Stewart says his recruiting strategies were fairly scaled back—trade school networking, posting on Craigslist, and posting on all job sites like Monster. Following his mass turnover of staff, though, Stewart made recruiting his full-time job.
As Stewart puts it, he started fishing with a net rather than a line and bait. He spent significantly more on ads, and networked with everyone he met in the industry to try to track down a lead. Still, he found no results.
As a last-ditch effort, he hired a headhunter who charged a $5,000–$6,000 premium for recruiting a technician. Still, even with this bounty, Stewart couldn’t find his ideal candidate.
Just to get some practice, Stewart began interviewing candidates he knew he wouldn’t hire, making sure he nailed down the right questions to ask, building confidence in how to present his shop’s value to a prospective employee.
After about a month of searching high and low, Stewart lucked into a good resume on Indeed.com. This technician, Travis Todd, worked at a local Volkswagen dealer that didn't provide him enough hours. He was ASE certified, and just the type of tech Stewart needed for his shop.
The team decided to hire Todd, but a few days later, Stewart’s lead technician filed his two weeks' notice, citing long commutes (it took him 45 minutes to get to the shop) and a desire to spend more time with his family. Stewart wondered if the hire of a young, talented tech worried his now-former A-tech, and was a contributing factor to his departure.
Stewart started working as a technician alongside Todd and the shop’s apprentice—partially to make up for the lost work, and partially to make sure it wasn’t just the “new guy” and an apprentice who no longer had a leader on the shop floor.
Constant Cold Calling
With the departure of his lead technician, Stewart found himself right back where he was when he lost his previous technician. This time, however, Stewart had to play double duty as a technician for his shop and a talent hunter. But after going through the same process just a few months prior, Stewart says he was much more prepared and wouldn’t have to “luck into” a resume to find another viable candidate.
He implemented his new strategies, and started talking to every vendor he could, like O’Reilly and AutoZone, to asked if they knew of any good technicians. He decided to take advice from his mentor and fellow shop owner Ryan Clo, getting aggressive and cold-calling technicians on LinkedIn.
“I couldn’t get someone looking for a job that was any good, so I decided to meet people who were not looking for a job, but who were at least open minded,” Stewart says.
He created a form letter that he would send to each target, and invited them to check out his shop and have a conversation about their interests (See sidebar: “A Cold Call Template”).
Stewart says he found a lot of solid prospects from this process, and interest from strong technicians began picked up. He eventually found David Lintelman, an A-tech from a local Mercedes-Benz dealer, who joined the team in January.
Meanwhile, the shop’s apprentice struggled without the presence of the recently departed lead technician, and Stewart admits he wasn’t able to give him the support he needed. He had, as Stewart puts it, a bit of a breakdown. The apprentice gave Stewart a two-hour notice and left.
“Our new technician shows up right as another guy is leaving,” Stewart says. “He didn’t exactly get great vibes, and I don’t blame him.”
Still, Stewart convinced Lintelman to stick things out and trust his process, which he did.
Even with the loss of the apprentice, Stewart says the two techs worked well together, getting more work done as a two-man team than the previous three-man team Stewart had. Still, neither of these technicians were specifically trained in BMW repair, which makes up 70 percent of business at Reggie’s Motorworks.
After about a month, Lintelman told Stewart of another technician at the Mercedes-Benz dealer who was looking for other opportunities. This technician, Shane Grunow, was not only trained at the Mercedes-Benz dealership, but was also a BMW level-1 certified tech. After seeing the culture of the shop, Grunow joined the team in February 2017, rounding out Stewart’s staff.
After filling his team out, Stewart took on more advice from Clo: A shop owner should always keep an eye out for quality technicians, whether his staff is full or not. He continued to network with other technicians in the industry, and kept his Indeed page open, talking to interested technicians from time to time.
Moving Forward with a New Staff
Technician efficiency is now around 110 percent, up from the 50–80 percent range before the changes. And this efficiency has greatly improved the shop’s bottom line.
Stewart says the team now has three great technicians with great attitudes, and virtually no comebacks. The problem now, he says, is finding enough business to feed them all. Stewart says his old three-man team struggled to knock out anything over 100 hours per week, but for his current staff, 120 is the bare minimum.
This February, Lintelman found a new job with Tesla, which was able to offer better benefits and a higher pay. Stewart found himself in the familiar position of recruiting yet again, but he feels much better about his chances this time around. Stewart says he already has some strong leads he can talk to, built through his past networking efforts.
“The No. 1 key is to stay positive. It’s so easy to say there’s nobody and I’m screwed and there’s a big technician shortage,” Stewart says. “The right guy or gal is out there, you just have to find them.”
SHOP STATS: SHOP NAME Location: Noblesville, Indiana Operator: Reggie Stewart Average Monthly Car Count: 104 Staff Size: 6 Shop Size: 6,000 sq ft; Annual Revenue; $1.1 million