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Hiring the right detail employee

October 11, 2010
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Hiring a detail shop employee could be one of the most expensive mistakes you make. According to many studies I’ve seen, the average cost of replacing an employee is upwards of $35,000 per position, every time you do it. This includes advertising for the position, loss of sales and productivity while the position is empty, and further loss of sales and productivity while the new trainee is trying to get up to speed — which sometimes can up to a year. Add to that the cost of detailing uniforms, taxes, insurance, the typically expensive “new person” mistakes, and the time required to get everything in line, and you have a big investment in each of your team members.

So, hire the wrong person, and you’ve basically shot yourself in the foot. But how can you prevent this costly mistake?

Recruit the right way
Well, for starters, put extra effort into doing the proper recruiting. You must look for an employee who will stay and who will meet your expectations.

Does your ad look like all the others out there? Be more specific and seek a personality that fits. Think about your offer and compensation: does it speak to the personality that you’re looking for? For instance, I offer insurance benefits that are paid for a percentage of the entire family. I find family types are more stable, so I want to attract them.

When you screen (on the phone or Internet) before the interview, ask questions related to the person’s values. Try to determine if they are more or less like the best employees you currently have on the team.

Make sure to project the culture of your healthy workplace: Make it clear and verbalize to the new potential hire, that we do not allow in-fighting, gossip, or game-playing; set an example of enthusiasm, dedication, and positivity; recognize individuals and teams within the organization when they achieve; pay them well and offer great benefits; test your own policies to make certain they help protect the culture you wish to develop and don’t conflict with it.

Also, emphasize that the new employee will be learning new detailing procedures and perhaps even new detailing methods. The detailing industry is also changing, advancing and evolving. New technology and equipment is coming out all of the time and employees need to be open to change.

Making the offer
When you do make an offer, make sure to get a commitment. Depending upon the time of year that a person comes on-board, they may experience the first few weeks or even a month or so of a seasonally slow time, and if they don’t stick around long enough, they may never realize how good it can be when the entire year is over, and the dust settles over their total income picture.

I always ask each candidate if he can give me a minimum of a one year commitment, and I never hire anyone who will not look me in the eye and give me that promise.

Define the position
One of the easiest ways that you can make a big difference in your shop is to change your notion about what makes a good service advisor, because it’s not their knowledge of cars. No, some of the best service advisors in my shop I hired with absolutely no automotive experience at all because their primary job isn’t to know how a car works.

In our shop, anyway, their job is to provide excellent customer service, and to take the time with every customer so that they can make an informed decision about a recommended repair.

Yes, knowing about cars is important, but that information can be taught. Having excellent customer service skills, on the other hand, can’t be taught as easily.

I meant what I said about hiring people with no automotive experience though … it works. Case and point: in the past, I hired some of my best service advisors away from their jobs as a gas station attendant, a Burger King® assistant manager, and a grocery store produce manager.

I’ve also found that when I hire customer service specialists over seasoned automotive industry advisors, they’re much less likely to “burn out” quickly because they’re used to providing great service to even the most unpleasant customers.

The idea here is to get the interviewee to open up and talk. So do not just read through the question and accept a “yes” or “no” answer; it’s important that you use these to open up a dialogue so you may begin to get a “feel” for who this person sitting across from you might truly be, and how they might fit within your organization. If you just coldly ask questions and record answers, you might as well not ask them at all.

Remember also that some people interview very well, but are not nearly so cooperative and helpful once they are hired. One of the ways I avoid being caught up in that is to make certain that every reference is checked, and that all references are from previous employers, not “guys they worked with in the past.” Who cares how many other techs or service writers a guy can convince to say nice things about him? I am only interested in what the previous bosses have to say.

Checking references
We all know that the previous employers are not supposed to reveal anything in the reference call, but there’s a key to getting the truth out of them. It’s all in how you ask, and it’s up to you read between the lines. For instance, I don’t ask if the candidate is eligible for rehire, I ask “If you could only have one [technician/detailer/bookkeeper] would this person be likely to make it into the position?”

The hesitation — or outright laughter — is often all the answer I need to know that there was something much less than perfect about this supervisor’s experience with their former employee. Many times it’s possible to get the previous employer to open up if you do a good job of building rapport with them over the telephone before asking the key questions anyway.

Hiring the right people doesn’t have to be difficult — and it goes a long way towards making your shop successful. As long as you begin the process knowing exactly the type of person that will help make your shop successful, you can help prevent staff turnaround and save thousands of dollars in the long run.

David Rogers is the president of Auto Profit Masters, an active member of the National Speakers Assn., and is operator of Keller Bros, Inc., a CarQuest National Excellence Award-winning quick lube shop. Rogers is the host of a weekly television program in Denver called “The Monday Morning Mechanic” and is also a published author.

He can be reached at, toll-free at 1-866-826-7911, or

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