Expand Your Staff’s Knowledge Through Training
SHOP STATS: Hunter's Garage Location: Hyde, Pa. Operator: Doug Hunter Average Monthly Car Count: 85 Staff Size: 5 (2 technicians, auto technician apprentice, office manager, service writer) Shop Size: 2,500 sq ft; Annual Revenue: $400,000
Doug Hunter purchased Hunter’s Garage in Hyde, Pa., alongside his two brothers and father in 1995, but became the sole owner after the three decided to back out of the organization in 2006. From 1995–2006, the team included the four gentlemen, but changed once Hunter took over.
“Once I took over as an owner, I actually did it [by] myself for a year,” Hunter says. “I lived here [and] I was here constantly, and I [realized] trying to find a technician in 2006 was hard.”
Hunter began seeking out employees in 2007, but realized that those who came to his door had little to no knowledge of the auto repair industry, and requested anywhere from $25–$30 per hour.
“My wife and I sat down and we talked about trying to hire somebody,” Hunter says. “We decided why don’t we do the apprenticeship and see how that will work and it actually grew as we had employees.”
Over time, it became easier to hire employees that were going to be successful as apprentices typically started from the beginning.
“It got better and better,” Hunter says. “We came up with better training, we came up with online training for technicians, and we did a lot of seminars with the technicians and it works great.
“We also do evaluations every couple of months so that way they know where they’re at with the position.”
While every day is different at the shop, the business focuses on making constant improvements to not only re-educate those in the industry, but also ensure that they will not leave the industry.
When I get to the shop at 7 a.m., I start assessing jobs for the day. My wife is our business manager, so I work with her throughout the day to go over different elements of the business.
Employees will start arriving around 8 a.m., and we get them punched in for the day before we all meet as a group for a morning meeting. We make sure that employees get the job tickets going for the day and also make sure that parts are taken care of. During meetings, we also go over any concerns they may have and then go through ways to fix those issues.
It’s also important for us to check in with our employees and make sure that they’re in the right headspace; when employees are not feeling the best, it can really put a damper on their work and the customer will see that. As an owner, you have to really talk to your employees and make sure they’re in a good mindset when they’re working on customer vehicles.
Once everything is accounted for, then I can really start focusing on my side of things for the day.
I work on the shop floor and I would say that my day can change fairly often. Since my wife is the business manager, she’ll update me on different items that come up throughout the day: phone calls, customers who want to speak directly with me, or questions she may have. It can be a lot of back and forth—moving from the front office back to the shop floor, but it gives me the ability to oversee everything that’s happening throughout the business. The shop’s main computer is at my service desk, which sits at the front of the shop, so I’m really overseeing everything if I’m at the desk.
We’re really proud of the apprenticeship program we run here. Our apprentice program is a hands-on experience where they work in our shop for a minimum of six months. The program is constantly changing because there are always new things for the apprentice to learn. In our shop, we’re trying to get the apprentice to become comfortable and knowledgeable when it comes to vehicle repairs, so there are often opportunities where we will have an apprentice try to diagnose a vehicle, and then I’ll come over to double-check his or her work. If it’s good, then we’re good to go, and if it’s not, I’ll have the apprentice work through the issues. We also have our apprentice write up SOPs, which has been a tool that we use around our shop with our employees as well.
More than anything, we really look for candidates who are passionate about the industry. Our current apprentice is 18 years old and is in high school, and we spend a lot of time looking over his work and ensuring that he’s on the right track. He’s eager, and for us, age really isn’t an issue. We’ve had apprentices in their 40s and we had a 26-year-old veteran who only knew how to change oil when he got here and was later hired on with our team as he progressed. One of the most successful apprentices that I hired on was a young lady who graduated from college in Ohio for auto tech and was unable to get a job anywhere. I had to give her a try and she was with us for around eight months, and she was probably one of the best we’ve had in our shop.
We try to stay up to date with the latest technology, so we use a DVI system during our inspection process. The digital vehicle platform is set up through our NAPA TRACS system, and whenever a vehicle comes into the shop, we do a full inspection on the vehicle—even if they just come in for an oil service. There’s a full checklist that we use that’s provided by the DVI, so the team is able to stay on top of the inspection process.
To get our customers on the same page as us, we take photos of the vehicle and then send those on up to the front office where they connect with the customer. It’s been really nice because we’re able to get approval for a repair while still standing in the shop. A lot of our customers will even respond by texting back and confirming the repair, which has really saved us time around the shop.
After working in the shop for 20 years, I still have customers that are interested in speaking with me directly, so I’ll step away to explain a repair to them. If the customer has a question, is second guessing the repair, or maybe not understanding things exactly, then I will set my things down and meet with customers to explain why something failed on their vehicle or why they should repair their vehicle.
To make sure our employees are on top of training and industry trends, we’ll make time in the shop to go over new procedures. On one Saturday during the month, we have employees meet in the shop at 8 a.m. and clock in; then from there, we’ll go over training for the day. We might cover diagnostics, or researching or even just focusing on repairing brakes—it really depends on the month. I’ll have my employees come forward with questions they have before that Saturday. It’s been really beneficial to see what they might be struggling with.
One thing that we’ve focused on with our meetings is creating SOPs that are updated and accurate for staff members. If there’s ever a problem that technicians run into, we go over how to fix the issue, and then we have them do research on it. Afterward, the technicians will create their own SOP of it. If the SOP isn’t entirely accurate, I’ll tweak it and go over what was wrong and why. Once the SOP is correct, we’ll send it over to the office manager, and she’ll put it in the SOP book.
As a shop owner, it’s really beneficial for me to sit down with everyone during these meetings and really gauge where my team is at. We’re trying to bring back positive change to the industry, and we are always trying to think of ways to make our team more professional in all that they do.