The Value of People

Oct. 16, 2019

An award-winning shop owner shares how he keeps his employees happy. 

Austin’s Auto Repair of North Mankato, Minn., just won its seventh consecutive Reader’s Choice Award Auto Mechanic and Best Repair Shop by the residents of the area. It has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, and achieved NAPA AutoCare Gold Certification 2019. The accolades for owner Lynn Austin’s shop go on and on, but here’s arguably one of its most impressive achievements: 

Two of its employees have been at the shop for over 30 years. 

“We work really well as a team,” Austin says of the group he’s assembled. 

Having dedicated, loyal employees doesn’t happen overnight. Austin, who founded his shop in 1979, has always put a value on his people, which has paid off. Austin shares his tips for keeping employees happy. 

Show Them Their Worth 

There have been a few years that the shop has been in business where it wasn’t as successful as Austin would have liked. But, during that time, Austin and his wife (co-owner Darla, who runs the front of the shop) always made sure to pay their employees a respectable wage, even if it meant cutting back in other areas. 

“We have off years, we make sure that the guys still make money,” Austin says. 

Without a happy team, the customers suffers and if that happens, the shop will suffer, and so will profits, he explains. Austin is consistently evaluating what his staff is being paid and making adjustments to stay competitive.  Austin makes sure to update his technician’s pay whenever labor rate increases. If that goes up, so does the technician’s percentage. 

Best Benefits in Town 

Austin has always made sure that his team has health insurance and “more money than anyone else in town.” How is he able to do that? 

By keeping the shop busy. A successful shop will turn more profit, which will allow you to pay your technicians more, he explains. Austin incentivizes his technicians by paying hourly with commission, so his team is eager to do the more difficult and labor intensive jobs rather than what he refers to as “gravy jobs.” 

“They get credit for working hard, and that makes a difference,” Austin says. 

Austin also invests in the best tools and equipment out there. He bought “every scan tool” he possibly could for what he refers to as “common cars” and the vehicles within his market. This way, he’s able to serve his community and provide his staff the tools that they need to succeed. 

Austin also values employee input and puts their needs above everything. One example of this is the hours of the shop. For 17 years, the business was open on Saturdays, but after hearing his employees didn’t enjoy it—the weekend day was cut. Austin also pays 9 holidays per year, has a state-of-the-art air conditioner, provides uniforms for his employees and shuts down at 4 p.m. every Friday—no matter what—to clean the shop. Coming back to a clean shop Monday morning makes a huge difference for the culture of the shop, he explains. 

A Leader to Follow 

When asked to describe his leadership style, Austin says that the team always tries to work together—Austin’s Auto Repair is not a dictatorship. 

“I try to be on the same level as they are,” Austin says. “I never ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”  

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