Building an All-Star Team in a Small Town
Soon after Paul Smith took over his father’s business, The Car Care Center, in 2014, he started dreading coming to work each day, never knowing what he would find. Comebacks and misdiagnosis on the front end of the business piled up, and Smith felt like he was always putting out some kind of fire.
Smith says that as he dealt with multiple customers angry with issues on their vehicles, he knew that the current staff in place didn’t embody the vision and growth plans he had for his shop going forward.
“My technicians could read a code and throw a part on, but as far as getting in there and diagnosing a vehicle … the vast majority of them could not do that,” Smith says.
The location of his shop, the rural town of Pegram, Tenn., has a population of roughly 2,500 people, and the town next door is the same size, so Smith knew he had a long road ahead of him to find, build and maintain his dream team.
Over the next several years, Smith went through the painstaking process of turning over his entire staff, and bringing in new blood, learning how to recruit, and building a strong company culture along the way.
The Car Care Center was built in 1989, and Smith spent most of his younger years running around the shop and helping out when necessary. When he graduated high school and went to college, Smith got his degree in public health and left the shop for several years. However, he says he always knew he wanted to come back.
Smith eventually returned to the business in 2002, working as a technician and slowly moving up the ranks, eventually taking the business over in 2014. He saw how the shop was managed before, and knew it could grow and generate more than the $500,000 in revenue it had at the time. Throughout his time as an owner, his dad was content with the income he made, and didn’t want to deal with the issues of growing.
Smith, however, wanted to take things in a completely new direction, and rebuild his entire team (which was generally 3–4 employees). Going forward, Smith wanted to build a staff that could thoroughly diagnose each vehicle and find bigger-ticket repairs, in turn making more money for his shop and the rest of his staff.
With his current staff, Smith knew he had to make a change, and had to do it fast. He had to fire a service advisor and lead technician, and after his dad retired, Smith only had himself and two other employees working in the business.
“I knew I couldn’t turn wrenches and be a service writer and try to do the business things,” Smith says. “I had to bring some people on that I could trust that really cared about what they do, that were professional at what they did.”
Smith put postings on Craigslist, Indeed, Monster and his local newspaper, but these efforts didn’t yield any good candidates.
“Because of where we’re at, we have a smaller pool to pull from in our immediate area,” Smith says. “I think that was a part of why those recruitment services didn’t work very well.”
The Car Care Center sits about 15 miles from the west edge of Nashville, from where he was trying to attract talent. Nashville has a population of 1.8 million, but getting someone to drive the opposite way into the boondocks every day for work was a tall task.
Moving forward, Smith had to convince those candidates that his shop was the right place for them, and would be worth the drive every day.
To build his team, Smith worked with three specific keys:
When you’re in a small town, everybody knows each other, and Smith says that you can find a good candidate where you least expect it.
A Snap-on salesman learned of his situation, and told Smith about a talented A-tech who just quit his job and was looking for a new position. This technician was also being recruited by a Ford dealership where his dad worked as a lead technician.
“I sat him down and told him that my job was to help him make money. He had never been in a shop where they were concerned with that at all,” Smith says. “I think simply having a plan for what you’re doing or where you’re going is attractive to people.”
Smith followed this approach when recruiting his other employees, which included a technician from a local Sears Auto Center, who he found from previous networking efforts. One of his utility techs was actually referred to Smith through his wife’s bible study. Smith recommends reaching out to groups or people who you trust and who have similar values or principles, which increases the likelihood of good referrals.
Offer Competitive Pay.
Smith says he tries to stay on the upper end of technician pay, and offers to pay half of an employee’s health insurance, while giving them two weeks of vacation time. He says this pay has been a significant reason why other employees, including his now lead tech, were convinced to join his staff.
Have a Great Culture.
As he started assembling his team, Smith made sure his shop had a great overall culture to make sure he retained his talented staff, and that they’d be happy to come to work every day. He says that when running the shop floor, he tries to be calm in his feedback, and makes sure that tensions aren’t raised.
“You can push without a raised voice; you can push in certain ways that are not as confrontational,” Smith says. “There are ways of doing that, pushing progress that you can do, just talking.”
To show his staff appreciation for his staff’s work, Smith brings in lunch every once in a while. Outside of normal hours, Smith says the team occasionally goes out to dinner, attends a happy hour together, and recently, he brought the team to his family’s house for a big bonfire.
Smith has had his full team in place for over a year, and has seen positive results overall. At one point early last year, Smith realized that things in his shop were getting a little too crowded. He had two technicians, two utility techs and a service advisor, and had to let the service advisor go after realizing he didn’t quite fit his shop’s model. Smith moved the better of the two technicians into the service advisor role, and moved one of his utility techs to a technician role, making him a C-tech.
He now works with an A-tech and a C-tech, along with a strong utility tech to take on smaller jobs. He says his C-tech is picking things up quickly and is willing to learn, but, to make sure the services are done properly, he usually has them work on jobs together.
Efficiency has been up and down as his C-tech learns the ropes, but Smith says the amount of comebacks he has is down significantly with his new staff. He says the improvement of the diagnostic process is a combination of better technicians, full vehicle inspections, and a dedication to doing things correctly while getting paid to do so.
“With the staff that we have now, our diagnostic process is much much better. I feel extremely confident when someone comes in and says, ‘Hey, here’s what’s wrong with this vehicle,’” he says.
Since taking over, Smith bumped his shop’s revenue up from $500,000 to $675,000. Smith says that his new staff, and his staff’s attention to detail is the biggest driver of this growth.
“If someone came in for a brake job, we used to just work on that. Now we’re estimating way more than we used to be,” Smith says. “Now it’s not uncommon for us to do an estimate that’s between $3,000–$5,000 after looking at it from top to bottom.”
To keep and maintain a strong staff, Smith says it’s vital to have a strong plan going forward, and create a great company culture.
“If you can create a good culture where everyone truly wants to be around each other, and you pay well, you’re going to maintain your staff a lot better than some of these other places that have a lot of turnover,” he says.
SHOP STATS: The Car Care Center Location: Pegram, Tennessee Operator: Paul Smith Average Monthly Car Count: 120 Staff Size: 5 Shop Size: 3,500 square feet Annual Revenue: $675,000