When I read the article, “Where Have All the Auto Body Technicians Gone?” on bodyshopbusiness.com, I was saddened. Why would anyone of any age, intellect or sense of consumer-based urgency want to join such a biased, close-minded industry when articles such as this are published? All of the questions in this article are the same questions that every single business in the working world asks.
Every good business owner knows (or should know) that good help comes with an understanding of what their employees need and want. Successful business owners know that to retain solid employees, you must invest time and money (yes, that precious money) into training them. You will not find someone with experience if you don’t take the time to train them. Experience doesn’t come with putting up a “now hiring” sign or a help wanted ad online.
Falling in Love
I’m a millennial – a 27-year-old female who grew up in the Midwestern suburbs. I thought that attending a four-year university was my only option for success, even though that’s not where my heart lied. I spent six years in universities trying to figure out where to take my life. Then, one day I took my car in for an oil change and a 16-year-old kid almost stripped my oil pan. That was the day I decided I had to do things myself if I wanted them done right.
I fell in love with doing my own service on my vehicle. That was five years ago. I started doing every bit of maintenance on my vehicles and even on family members’ vehicles just for the taste.
I worked for QuikTrip (a gas station located in certain regions of the U.S.) for five years. It was privately owned, we made profit bonuses monthly based on how well we ran our stores and, as an assistant manager, I averaged almost $60,000 a year. The job did not require a college degree, but we were rewarded for our hard work and the company as a whole had a team atmosphere. Everyone did and wanted to do what was best for the company, knowing and trusting that our hard work would pay off.
Our bosses and the company founders cared about the employees, knowing that it took a special kind of person to climb a 30-foot ladder with a 60-lb. box of plastic drink cups on their shoulder, throw it up on the back stock shelf and literally run to go put more hot dogs on the grill. Then, two minutes later, power wash the entire parking lot before coming inside to help customers, check in vendors and double check invoices and product counts so you could order for next-day delivery for EVERY product in the store. Not to mention the training and state licensing you had to renew yearly in order to serve food and alcohol and buy these things from vendors.
The auto body business is far from the only business that must have employees of above-average intelligence and an above-average sense of urgency. Those QuikTrip stores are known for being the best. They do not settle for less.
It seems that not enough people are willing to take the time to find employees like me who have mechanical aptitude, a strong work ethic and strong sense of customer satisfaction. Think about it: If I don’t stock the empty Cheez-Its just once and a customer comes in just for Cheez-Its and they’re not there, we just lost that customer to the 7-Eleven down the road because that’s what that customer wants on their drive to work every morning. That’s just one example of getting it right the first time every time. To do that, you need to enjoy and understand your job and the consumers you’re selling to (who own the vehicles you’re repairing).
Blank Stares and Laughing
I have a real passion for automotive work but little knowledge or experience. I applied to Jiffy Lube and literally got laughed at. (Mind you, I applied in the city I graduated high school in and everyone new I had been on the pom pon squad and danced my whole life). But that judgment of me is exactly what hurts your industry.
Nobody taught me how to change my brakes or how to use a stud welder. When I asked for tips, I wasn’t taken seriously, wasn’t given details about the process and wasn’t given a chance. I was told, “It takes time.” Um, yeah, that’s why I asked. I needed to know if aluminum or copper should be used and if it’s better to MIG or TIG weld a number of different things. And I got were blank stares and someone telling me to go to school. I went to school already, and I’m dying to go to a trade school to get into this business. To see a project completed daily and get that instant gratification of a job well-done is what drives my sense of purpose and contentment.
People with Passion
Find people with passion. No, they will not have experience like all your other bodymen. And yes, you will spend money training them and that will cause a loss in profit for that time. But what you could gain is industry-changing employee morale when you hire people and give them a chance they never would have had before. Other industries deal with these same issues all the time. I think maybe the way most body shops are run needs to be overhauled – at least from what I can see. Ask any great businessman about taking chances. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.