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Reality in your shop!
John Walker
John Walker

More often than not perception can become reality. If we look and feel successful we will be successful! Years ago while doing some work for a farm equipment dealer I walked into his shop and service department. It was literally a pig pen! Several months ago while doing work for a lift truck dealer, I noticed that one of his service vans parked in the lot was a disgrace on the outside, particularly in light of the fact that all other vans looked very clean and professional. I opened the back door of the van and was not surprised to see that it looked like a garbage truck on the inside.

Reality, as described by Webster is: “The quality or state of being actual, or of being true” . . . Webster

I mentioned to both the service manager and the dealer principal what I had seen while inspecting the van and here were their comments: Joe is a “super” technician and we have talked to him on numerous occasions about the appearance of not only his van but his own appearance, to no avail. Well, the first reality is that Joe is not a “super” technician. I’ve discovered over the years that any technician that neglects the appearance of a) his work-station, b) his service van, or c) his personal appearance is not a “super” technician, but a simple “wrench turner” with a low level of efficiency. The second reality is that Joe is holding the service manager and the dealer principal hostage. Both were afraid to take corrective action because as they told me, “You don’t know how hard it is to find quality technicians in this area of the country!” The third reality is that Joe’s attitude of indifference; his low efficiency is dragging-down the other 20 or 40 shop technicians. The other technicians pick up quickly on what Joe is allowed to get away with and their work habits and attitudes drop accordingly to Joe’s level . . . that’s the reality!

Over the years we have written numerous articles about hiring veterans. I have been pleased with the comments we have received from our readers. Most all the comments have been positive. Most of the negative comments center around the fact that “these Vets” don’t have the experience of working on the equipment dealers sell. That’s probably quite true but let me say this, you will find that they learn a whole lot quicker than someone fresh out of high school because the three years (minimum) time they served us in the military helped them to develop a solid work ethic and a pretty positive attitude about work. And, you won’t find a problem similar to what I said at the beginning of this article. Veterans lived and worked under a system of inspections of their work area and of the job they just finished. You don’t have to tell these people twice about keeping their work area cleaned up. Promotions (pay raises) are given out not necessarily for time in grade, but for their work ethic, willingness to learn and their ability to work as a team. As one client, who has numerous veterans says, “Yes it takes a bit of patience, but we have found that all you have to do is show them or tell them just once and they have “got it”.

A service manager wrote me the following and with some slight editing I have changed it so that the words flow more easily. “If a service department is to market itself for credibility, our dealership feels that service quality is an area that must be strengthened and developed even before a marketing plan is made.”

“It is difficult to maintain a high true labor rate if you are constantly writing inefficient labor off in order to invoice your customer equitably, and are mired down in rework. I believe this to be a more difficult practice than proactive service marketing, since it is so dependent on the individuals that are hired. I have finally gotten this dragon by the tail at my own dealership. After seven years of careful planning, hiring and firing, I am now able to rely fully on my marketing, since I can now rely on the quality of the product (service) we are providing, and the individuals providing that service.”

He went further by saying, “I can tell you that this is the single issue I have grappled with the most, and it is very rewarding to be able to see the fruit of that labor borne out in a runaway marketing program and growing margins and market share. I have had competing dealers tell me that in some cases the only reason they cannot persuade a customer to buy their product over ours is singularly due to the quality and presence of our service department. We learned the hard way that service with a poor reputation is a hard sell!”

Many dealers are learning that the issue of service quality is markedly more difficult than service marketing since it requires a good deal of time, long range planning and basic complex human resource procedures. As we mentioned, too many equipment dealers are held hostage to inefficient and unskilled employees that hamstring their quality and destroy customer confidence in the equipment dealership. Without confidence in your dealership’s service quality, service marketing is powerless.

There have been times when we have asked the dealership’s equipment sales personnel, “What do you think of your dealership’s quality of service?” So many times the sales person’s body language immediately conveys his answer and unfortunately this answer is all too often picked up by the customer.

Good help is hard to find! As often as that phrase is repeated, we will a give you something to remember. Good help is hard to find, but for those of you who don’t work constantly and consistently, taking advantage of outside sources and thinking outside the box, we can tell you that it absolutely won’t get any better in the future. Successful recruiting dealers have discovered just how important people are to their business and have decided they can no longer recruit personnel in the future as they have done in the past. Successful dealers have discovered that the adage, “If you think hiring good people is expensive, try hiring bad people for a true comparison!” For years, if you mentioned to a dealer that he should consider going on the outside to a recruiter in order to find better personnel, the dealer would roll his eyes and say to you, “That will cost an arm and a leg,” never realizing just how much time was being spent by his managers to source personnel. Generally the people hired lasted little more than two to three months, or even worse you hired them, held them in the position for as long as a year, truly realizing you had made a mistake.

Over the years we have experienced dealers who have accepted mediocrity because they truly began to believe that they just could not find someone better to do the job. Our term: These dealers are being held hostage!

Why is it that so many principals, owners and managers in business are afraid to take the necessary steps to remove inadequate personnel and or personnel who continually flaunt the rules? We sometimes believe it would require an employee to commit three cases of excessive fraud or theft before the decision was made to terminate the individual.

Many express the fear that to hire a replacement will be too expensive and, the price you would have to pay to attract that individual would cause the entire department to expect pay scales to increase dramatically. Read our article written several years ago, Where are the great ones going (staying) and WHY?

Today equipment dealers recognize the term Mega Dealers. These are generally classified as dealers with five or more locations. These dealers, for the most part, recognize the extreme need for someone to perform the function of the dealership’s human relations manager; someone who is responsible for hiring, terminating, training, paying for performance, etc. We maintain that hiring dealership personnel is a full time job requiring continuous effort to put together a package that has the where-with-all to attract, hire and hold the best employees possible for the dealership.

You can be assured that hiring professional technicians will only do three things for your dealership: 1) increase your sales, 2) increase your profitability and, 3) dramatically improve your customer satisfaction indexes.

Remember: When hiring anyone to fill a position in the dealership, always look for professionals with strong work ethics who are looking for a long term career and not just a paycheck or not just a job.

If you cannot find a candidate with superior work ethics, integrity and intelligence, all of the experience in the world will not make up for the first three mentioned character traits!

Contact us at: if you would like more information on hiring product support personnel . . . we have a wealth of written material on this area of your business . . .

John R. Walker is president of Aftermarket Services Consulting Co. Inc. E-mail to contact John.