Best Workplaces

March 2, 2020

 Three groundbreaking businesses break down what makes their culture so great.

The average American spends 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetime (Source: Happiness at Work by Jessica Pryce-Jones). 

Ready for another alarming statistic? 

Eighty-seven percent of Americans have no passion for their jobs and 80 percent are outright dissatisfied (Source: Deloitte’s Shift Index Survey).

That can’t be said for the 117 respondents for Ratchet+Wrench’s inaguural Best Workplaces issue.  

“Reinforcing the belief that our work is valued and respected is at the heart of what we do.” 

“Our culture is centered on the principles of creating successful, happy employees.” 

“We treat, care and hold each other to the same level of accountability that you would see in a close-knit family.” 

This is just a random sample of what nominators had to say about their respective workplaces. 

More than 100 nominations were submitted by those in the industry. Employers and employees alike sounded off on their chosen workplaces, answering questions on what the business provides as far as training, community involvement, employee benefits, shop culture and professional development. To level the playing field based on resources, Ratchet+Wrench decided to have three different categories based on staff size: under 10, 10–25 and over 25. 

Narrowing the field down was difficult, to say the very least, but these three workplaces stood out as being purpose-driven, forward-thinking and people oriented. The picks for Best Workplaces know what matters to their employees, invest in their futures and provide the tools they need to succeed. Advanced Car Care Center, Fifth Gear Automotive and BG Automotive have found a way to make work—dare we say it?—enjoyable. 

Under 10 Winner: Advanced Car Care Center   Location: Strafford, Mo.  Operator: Chip Broemmer  Average Monthly Car Count: 200  Staff Size: 5   Annual Revenue: $450,000 

Ten thousand dollars.

That’s how much out-of-pocket money Advanced Car Care Center owner Chip Broemmer is willing to invest in his staff. 

Roughly three years ago, Broemmer took a significant amount—$10,000—of his own earnings to invest in tooling for his entire staff. Why? Because he wanted his technicians, along with young, budding talent, to be able to have access to the equipment they need to succeed in an industry that, at times, demands too much and pays too little. 

“This is a crazy industry where we want our employees to come up with thousands of dollars [worth of tools] just to interview,” Broemmer says. 

Because of that, the typical interviewee, who is 19 years old and can barely afford a car, is discarded. That’s not the case at Advanced Auto Care. 

Look to the younger generation. 

Broemmer has a fairly young staff, and he loves it. 

“Young people are not to run from,” Broemmer says. “That’s the problem with our industry; if they’re not ‘our mold,’ then we run. We need to change.” 

Many in the industry hesitate or complain about millennials. Now, with an even younger generation entering the workforce—Gen Z—repair shop owners need to find a way to embrace the younger demographic or there won’t be anyone left to hire. 

Rather than focusing on the negatives, Broemmer focuses on the positives; for example, their tech-savvy and willingness to change. A few years ago, Broemmer made the decision to go paperless. On Monday, he handed out tablets. By Friday, they had completely made the switch. He was met with zero resistance—something that he may have run into with an older staff. Broemmer’s shop foreman is 25 years old, and though many may doubt his ability, Broemmer is confident in it and is also happy with the fact that he knows he’ll be productive for the next 20 years.  

“He knows as much about a 2019 vehicle as I do at 50 [years old]—I can’t know any more about that vehicle than he does,” Broemmer says. 

Young talent doesn’t just stumble in. Broemmer is actively involved with four high schools near him and is in contact with their vocational programs for recommendations for his apprenticeship program. He is also on the advisory board for Ozarks Technical Community College. Broemmer reaches out to young people who are interested in a career in the automotive field and tells them about the benefits, such as reaching a top pay scale and investing in their retirement while they’re in their twenties.  

To get inexperienced, potential talent up to speed, Broemmer has an apprenticeship program in place at his shop. The shop takes on one per year and has had three total apprentices go through it. The apprentices can start part-time while they’re still in school with the end goal of bringing them on full-time at the shop. The program doesn’t have a set timeline—it’s adjusted for each individual. The first apprentice, William, started two years ago when he was 17 and has since been hired on full-time.

Promote a level playing field. 

Broemmer has an extensive background in automotive, including experience as a technician and a service writer. So, he knows firsthand how expensive tools can be. After a number of bad interviews, Broemmer took a step back and thought about the obstacles standing in the way of good potential hires. One that popped to mind right away was equipment. 

“I can’t give them passion and character, but I can give them tools,” Broemmer says. 

Since then, Broemmer has provided tools to all of his technicians. The tools stay with the shop, so, if an employee leaves the shop, the tools stay. To keep on top of inventory, Broemmer and his team developed a system to hold technicians accountable. Rather than throwing tools in a drawer, he has an organized system so it’s easy to see if anything is missing. The team also decided that it would be up to them to replace any missing tools. By coming up with the system as a team, it really gives the staff buy-in. 

“It’s great because they developed it,” Broemmer says of the tool tracking system. “I just wrote it down and implemented it.” 

Appeal to top talent. 

“It baffles me that we treat a 50-hour workweek like it’s normal,” Broemmer says of the industry. “If you want professional people, those people usually have personal commitments and deep connections with people in their personal life. You want to give them time to be able to do that with their time outside of work.”

Advanced Car Care’s tech’s hours are 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It may not sound like a big deal, but offering a regular workweek is a big selling point for many potential candidates. The company also offers paid vacation time and—a rarity—sick days. For every year that an employee is with the company, they get that many paid sick days per year, up to five years. If it isn’t used, the employee can “buy it back” at Christmas time for a bonus. The sick days come in handy and were a no-brainer for Broemmer, as it’s a given in many other industries. One of his employees recently had a baby and used sick days he had accumulated to spend more time with his wife and newborn. 

10-25 Winner: Fifth Gear Automotive   Location: Lewisville, Texas  Operator: Rick Jordan, Bill Bernick, Ricky Jordan  Average Monthly Car Count: 357  Staff Size: 22  Annual Revenue: $3.89 million  

Although excited to be talking about their now award-winning workplace, owners Rick Jordan; Bill Bernick; Ricky Jordan (Rick’s son); along with technician Tim Edwards and marketing director John Miller, may be a little tired. 

The night before the members of the Fifth Gear Automotive team spoke with Ratchet+Wrench, they were out celebrating the shop’s monthly recognition program for its employees. Each month, the Fifth Gear Automotive team meets at a nearby restaurant to enjoy dinner in a private room. During the meal, team members are recognized for meeting/exceeding goals, along with various other shoutouts. The night prior, technician Nathan Wagner was recognized for his contribution to the company’s culture. 

In the past, Wagner struggled with the culture, owner Rick Jordan explains. However, the leadership team noticed that Wagner has made significant improvements in his communication and has gone out of his way to help other techs throughout the month with difficult projects. Wagner, who is 30 years old, has been with the company for close to half of his life (13 years) and has grown over the course of that time, Rick explains. 

This is the type of success that the company likes to celebrate—growing its people. By taking young, inexperienced techs and heavily investing in their future, Fifth Gear has developed a pipeline of talent at its enviable workplace.   

Build from the ground-up. 

“The Academy” is Fifth Gear’s apprenticeship program, which brings young, inexperienced people into the program and develops them into experienced techs. Owner and manager Ricky Jordan says it’s the achievement at Fifth Gear of which he’s most proud. Six out of eight of the technicians at the shop have gone through the process. 

“We’re in an industry where experienced techs are declining,” Ricky says. “Having an internal academy is a necessity.” 

The academy, which is comprised of five levels (or “gears,” the group says, with a laugh, when describing it), takes a minimum of five years to complete, although no one has ever completed it that quickly. 

When a tech is hired, he or she starts at the entry level (alignment rack) and spends however long (a minimum of one year) it takes to become skilled in the work and meet the necessary requirements to move to the next level, which is decided on by the leadership team. The academy is run by a non-producing leader whose sole responsibility is to progress the techs through the various levels. 

When hiring, Fifth Gear doesn’t focus on experience, Ricky explains. Instead, it hires for chemistry, potential and attitude. Knowledge and experience is taught through the internal academy.  

The academy is a way to show entry-level employees how they can progress throughout the company, which is a helpful recruitment tool. 

“While attracting young people into the organization, they need a clear career path,” Ricky says. “We over communicate what their key objectives and roles are.” 

Facilitate greatness. 

Many of the nominations for Fifth Gear called out the state-of-the-art facility, which includes climate control, multiple lifts and individual iPads for techs. The dedicated shop helper and parts and inventory manager also allow technicians to focus on what they’re there to do—repair vehicles and turn quality work. The facility was built 10 years ago with the goal of providing the staff what they needed to succeed. 

“We wanted a facility that was small enough to keep that family atmosphere and big enough to support career and financial growth opportunities,” Bernick says.

The space was built to allow technicians enough space to be able to be as efficient as they need to be. By having access to multiple lifts, technicians can go to work on another vehicle while waiting for a part or authorization. The climate control makes a huge difference in the sweltering heat of Texas and is a luxury in the area, the team says, and something that the staff really enjoys. The support staff helps the team out in any way they need and helps the shop turn out the highest quality product, and also keeps morale up as each person can focus on the core aspects of his or her own job. 

“I’m proud of the facility and having all of the support is great,” Edwards says. 

Provide constant feedback. 

Every morning, the team gets together for 15 minutes before the day starts to go over the game plan. It’s one of the many touchpoints that the team has that keep everyone on the same page.  

Every person on the team also has a mentor that is assigned internally. That mentor (part of the leadership team) promotes the culture through one-on-one meetings. The leadership team isn’t exempt from feedback, either. Every 90 days, the entire staff reviews how they can improve.

“It’s nice to know and be told if you’re doing things well,” Edwards says. “It’s nice to be able to give feedback.” 

25+ Winner: BG Automotive   Location: 2 locations in Fort Collins, Colo., and one in Longmont, Colo.  Operator: Bryan and Cendi Gossel  Average Monthly Car Count: (combined): 800  Staff Size: 29 Annual Revenue: $4.835 million  

Visit BG Automotive on a Friday morning and you’ll likely be greeted by the smell of crisp bacon and the sound of laughter. 

Every Friday, members of the leadership team prepare and serve breakfast to the entire staff. Gossel, a true believer of servant leadership, says that the breakfasts are a great way to empower the team and make it a true family atmosphere. 

“As you’re breaking bread and talking to each other, real stuff comes out,” Gossel says of the conversations and bonding that occur during these weekly meals. 

What began with Gossel ordering and bringing lunch to the team has become a weekly ritual, involving preparation and individualized orders. Everyone’s orders and preferences for breakfast are known, and they’ve got the art of getting it ready down to a science. Gossel has passed the chef hat to Phil Christensen, chief operations officer, as a way to delegate work and allow him to step back from day-to-day operations. 

There aren’t many business leaders that take the time to cook for their staff on a weekly basis—but giving back and fostering an atmosphere where co-workers truly enjoy one another is how Gossel and crew have been able to create a family-like team. 

Find the Right People 

You can’t force people to get along; you can only provide an environment that allows them to bond. That’s why, in order to create a good culture, the right people are key. 

The first, and perhaps most important person, is the leader. Gossel prides himself on being a servant leader, which means he aims to serve rather than have power. This isn’t for everyone and achieving his type of culture is difficult, he explains. So, for a shop owner that isn’t able to lead in this way, he suggests finding someone to manage your people that can. 

“If you don’t know how to be nice, you need to find someone who can be nice for you and empower those people,” Gossel says. 

The key, he explains, is that you need to want to be a team. If you don’t, you’ll never achieve this level of workplace culture. 

Gossel has found people to surround himself with that have a similar style to his own that are able to lead the day-to-day operations and allow him to focus on the bigger picture, like Christensen. 

“Phil and I were blessed—we can complete each other’s sentences,” Gossel says. 

That doesn’t just happen by luck. It’s all about finding people that you’re compatible with. Once the person is hired, they are required to spend a minimum of two weeks at the main store (Webster) to get a feel for the culture and how to carry it out.  

Create Consistency. 

It’s an achievement in itself to have one great workplace, but to have three is a true feat. Gossel’s onboarding process is one way to get the staff acquainted to the workplace, but he has other techniques for creating a consistent culture across his three locations. 

One way he does this is through the “BG Fundamentals,” which is 25 different fundamentals that are important to BG Automotive. Every week, there is a focus on one of the fundamentals and all of the locations take part in discussing it. On Monday, the fundamental is sent out and on Wednesday, each store has a staff meeting where they discuss the fundamental, what it means to them, and discuss various situations and how that fundamental could come into play.  The leader of the meeting is rotated, to get people out of their comfort zone. During the meeting, the staff also discusses a safety topic. 

Another way is by clearly communicating the goals of the business through a mission, vision and purpose statement, all of which are displayed and gone over at each location.

  • Vision: Look for BG Automotive to reach five destinations by 2025 and continue to have a culture that everyone envies  
  • Mission: It is our duty to change the automotive industry and its public perception 
  • Purpose: To create further opportunities for growth and fulfillment of our team members 

Encourage success outside of work.   

For BG Automotive, it’s not just about excellence in work. The way you are in your business spills over into your personal life, and vice versa. 

“If there are problems at home, they roll into work,” Gossel says. 

A number of the nominations for BG mentioned how the culture at the shop has improved their personal lives. Gossel says he’s had wives of his staff break down crying in front of him out of gratitude for the impact the positive work environment has had on their home lives. 

Gossel makes it a priority to know his teams’ goals—both professional and personal. His shop foreman never thought he’d be able to own a house. Gossel coached him through the process and helped him save and make better financial decisions and he just closed on his first house.  

“It’s my duty to make everyone better in life, not just in business.”

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