Create a Welcoming Atmosphere

Feb. 21, 2022

Shop owners Erich and Lauralee Schmidt place emphasis on creating a thriving workplace culture for team members.

Not everyone wants to be their own boss, but the best bosses know that the best way to offer a positive workplace may be to gain experience working for someone else first. Husband and wife team Erich and Lauralee Schmidt of Schmidt Auto Care in Springboro, Ohio brought elements to their Dayton suburb shop that they wanted for themselves, and it works well for their employees.

The Backstory

Erich Schmidt didn't actually set out to be the boss. He began his career as an auto mechanic at local dealerships, but over time found it wasn't the right fit. 

"I worked with a dealer when a dealer was a great place to work," Erich reflected, adding there was a shift where dealers became more corporate and it was no longer a good work environment. "At that point you don't become an employee anymore; you become a number for profit."

In 2009, Erich started his own business as a "one-man shop" with little intention of expanding. He was his own boss, and could run the business in a way that worked for him. As he realized he couldn't handle all the business that was coming his way, he expanded Schmidt Auto Care and with the addition of each employee, Schmidt resolved to extend the business practices he held dear, and to make the business one that people would want to work at.

The Problem

"The dealership life was really good to Erich, but it also taught him where there were holes," explained wife Lauralee, who runs the business alongside her husband.

Those holes became the goals to build a business on. The Springboro shop was built up slowly, and is now in its third location with about 10 employees that are treated like family. As Erich and Lauralee foresee problems, they look to address them with solutions that benefit the business, employees and customers alike, not just the profit margin. 

The Solution

As the shop grew, the Schmidts were able to offer more benefits and amenities to their staff. This signifies the value they place on their workers. Technicians are encouraged, but not required, to take part in training and continued education funded by the shop, and on company time. In addition, Schmidt Auto Care has become a pioneer in the four-day workweek, which offers every employee a three-day weekend. 

Amenities usually reserved for tech giants like Facebook have been adopted – including drinks and snacks available in the education and entertainment room; while the shop also boasts an arsenal of Nerf guns, which are often used to blow off steam. In addition, every employee gets his birthday off, and often find gifts on their toolbox or some other surprise waiting for them. 

"I came from a very giving company, very accommodating for employees," Lauralee said. "I try to bring a little from that." 

Having previously seen the benefits of a four-day work week from her past employer, Lauralee was inspired to implement the schedule at the shop, which currently operates Monday through Thursday each week. Technicians clock in for 11-hour days in order to get those long weekends. The four-day week first began early in the pandemic when Lauralee considered how everyone at the shop had campers, boats and wanted to take part in weekend activities. The decision was made to offer longer weekends and encourage the downtime, which helped to address the pandemic fatigue. 

"Ohio was hit really hard," she said, "We were all shot mentally, we have to have a way of recharging." 

The year-round schedule commenced after polling customers to be sure it would work in practice. Customers have been supportive of the decision, and willing to work around the schedule.

The Aftermath

Even as a modest shop, Schmidt Auto Care has several bays to work on cars, but it has the aforementioned entertainment and education room, which is somewhat like a break room/meeting room stocked with food and snacks as well as a laptop where employees can log into a class or look something up. In addition, employees are provided access to the shop's office equipment for their own needs, and technicians are also able to use the shop to work on their own vehicles during free time.

Erich and Lauralee have strived to be open to requests and suggestions from their staff, but also look for and anticipate problems to solve. After moving into the shop a new air conditioning unit wasn't in the budget – and while it will be installed this year –Lauralee made sure the staff remained hydrated, especially in the summer heat.

"I knew we had to bring in drinks. We do expect a lot from our team," said Lauralee. 

A grill is also permanently set up behind the building, so employees can use it to make lunch, or even to host their family during the off hours. Erich and Lauralee have also remained open to staff suggestions

"We let them have a lot of input," Erich said. That could be in the form of "products, equipment, and processes that would benefit us. We take their voices seriously." 

The advice has included rearranging the layout, and the new placement resulted in improved workflow, which benefitted the shop. 

Education is another area where Schmidt Auto Care benefits by offering the benefit to employees. Technicians can take educational classes and training. Pre-pandemic, techs often went out of town to attend classes to advance their knowledge. Much of the offerings shifted to online in the past two years. 

"I'm at the mercy of the vendors on education right now," Lauralee said. 

Classes are attended on company time, even if they happen in the evenings. Technicians can go home and have dinner, then "clock back in and do their class."

Giving a Little Extra

While Schmidt Auto Care employees regularly come in to find gift cards and other goodies, the holiday season becomes extravagant. The shop's holiday party was held at a local steakhouse and employees were invited to bring a guest.

"I celebrate Christmas all month long," Lauralee told Ratchet + Wrench. She loves giving gifts. "Every week we got something, a gift bag, and gift cards. I gave a slew of gift cards I put on top of their boxes, and bonus checks as well."

The Takeaway

While Erich intended to open a one-man auto shop, he expanded and Schmidt Auto Care has grown into a business that is good to its employees as well as the community. The auto shop participates in local events, works on promotions with other small businesses, hosts classes and events at its shop, and gives back to the community. 

The best benefit might just be the pets policy. "I do think there's one thing every shop needs, a shop dog," said Lauralee. "It takes some of that stress off. A dog makes everybody happy."

It is often said if you're doing what you love, you never work a day in your life, and Erich and Lauralee certainly would agree.

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