Bring the Training to You
Paul Marquardt started working at a two-bay gas station in high school. Eleven years later, he bought the place. With added bays and additions, Marquardt is now the owner of Northwoods Auto Techs, a NAPA AutoCare Center, in Rhinelander, Wis.
“My wife and I joke that I’m still working my high school job,” he says.
Marquardt explains that his shop’s investment in tools, equipment, and training is what makes Northwoods Auto Techs successful. But conveniently getting his staff to training posed a challenge for Marquardt.
“One of the issues that we were running into in our area was that the closest training facility was over an hour away, one way. So it was a two-hour round trip for an evening class,” he says.
By realizing that this obstacle affected his shop, as well as the other shops in the area, Marquardt took the issue into his own hands. He began contacting NAPA to get training sessions in his own town.
After years of hearing “no,” Marquardt inquired about the number of shops NAPA needed to make the training location near him viable—after getting his answer, Marquardt got to work.
Rhinelander now holds six trainings per year at a local technical college, with 30–40 attendees—in a town of only 7,000 people.
Get other shops involved.
Marquardt says the key to getting the local training classes in his small town was by working with other nearby shop owners. He explains that, although the shops around him more or less go after the same customer base, he doesn’t quite see them as direct competitors.
“Other shops in my area are not my competition; they are my colleagues,” Marquardt says.
From day one, Marquardt says he has believed in having good working relationships with other local shops and dealerships near him. This core belief aided in him finding the owners needed to bring training to Rhinelander.
“I was actually surprised by how many people were embracing the idea of getting training in our own backyard,” he says. “It just takes a shop owner to take the lead and say, ‘Listen, I want to go around and talk to other shops.’”
Invest in your techs’ attendance.
In order to support his staff in attending the training, Marquardt pays his technicians their hourly rate for the time they are in classes. In the past, he, like many other shop owners, believed that technicians shouldn't be paid to go to training, but, in the last year, has shifted his traditionally “old school” mindset on the subject.
“I came to the realization that in today’s world—especially with millenials and younger people—time is a very valuable asset. We’ve got young technicians that have families, and pulling them away from their family and expecting them to work all day to then go to another four-hour class at night and not get some sort of compensation for it is just not fair for them,” Marquardt says.
The training has given Marquardt’s technicians more confidence, he explains, and appreciation in the fact that Northwoods Auto Techs invests in their training.
Ask for demonstrated knowledge.
To best take advantage of the training, Marquardt has started a new program at his shop. Whenever one of his technicians attends training, he or she is given a week to demonstrate the learned technique or test the shop’s other techs.
Marquardt explains that this has been added to the training process because, all too often, new techniques or processes will be forgotten by the time the technician is actually faced with an opportunity to apply it.
“We’d go to a class and see a new technique or a new test, but we didn’t bring it back to the shop and apply it,” he explains.
Marquardt now has his technicians take 15–20 minutes to demonstrate something they learned during the training. Everyone wants to do hands-on training, Marquardt says, but that’s very difficult to do consistently—so this is his version of having his techs physically run the new test.
Continue the effort.
In order to keep the local training session, 10 shops must be in attendance at the Rhinelander location. Marquardt says they try to keep the numbers to 11 or 12, to cover the cost of the sponsor and food. He says shops come in and out, but consistently has steady attendance.
“The biggest thing we run into is shops not being informed that we have training in our own backyard,” he explains.
To get those shops in and aware of the trainings, shop owners interested can sit in on their first session for free. Marquardt says that once the individual sits in on classes, hopefully he or she will see the value and will sign up his or her shop to get involved as well.