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Got your attention? Good. The truth is, there is no such thing as the perfect technician pay plan. There are countless ways to create any pay plan. I’ve heard all the claims and opinions, and to be honest, it’s getting a little frustrating. Claims that an hourly paid pay plan cannot motivate. That flat rate is the only way to truly get the most production from your technicians. And then there’s the hybrid performance-based pay plan that many claim is the best.
At a recent industry event, a shop owner from the Midwest boasted about his flat-rate techs and insisted that this pay plan should be adopted by all shops across the country. When I informed him that in states like New York, you cannot pay flat-rate, he was shocked. “Then how do you motivate your techs” he asked me.
I remember the day in 1986 when I hired the best technician who ever worked for me in my 41 years as an automotive shop owner. We’ll call him Hal. When Hal reviewed my pay plan for him, and the incentive bonus document, he stared at it for a minute, looked up, and said, “Joe, this looks good, but here’s what I want.” He then wrote on top of the document the weekly salary he wanted. It was a BIG number. He went on to say, “Joe, I need to take home a certain amount of money. I have a home, a wife, two kids, and my Harly Davidson. I will work hard and produce for you. I don’t need an incentive bonus to do my work.” And he did, for the next 30 years, until the day he retired.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So, here’s mine. Money is a motivator, but not the only motivator, and not the best motivator either. We have all heard this scenario, “She quit ABC Auto Center, to get a job at XYZ Auto Repair, and she’s making less money now at XYZ!” We all know that people don’t leave companies, they leave the people they work for or work with.
With all this said, I do believe that an incentive-based pay plan can work. However, I also believe that a technician must be paid a very good base wage that is commensurate with their ability, experience, and certifications. I also believe that in addition to money, there needs to be a great benefits package. But the icing on the cake in any pay plan is the culture, mission, and vision of the company, which takes strong leadership. And let’s not forget that motivation also comes from praise, recognition, respect, and when technicians know that their work matters.
Rather than looking for that elusive perfect pay plan, sit down with your technician. Find out what motivates them. What their goals are. Why do they get out of bed in the morning? When you tie their goals with your goals, you will have one powerful pay plan.
Chris Cloutier is co-owner of Golden Rule Auto Care in Dallas Texas and CEO of Auto Tex Me. He spent many years in the software industry developing solutions for companies like Southwest Airlines, and Wyndham Intl. He’s worked for companies that understood the marriage of service and software, and have applied it in an effective way. Chris has his ASE C1: Automobile Service Consultant Certification Test (C1). He brings the business side to the business and his brother Pat brings the Braun. Chris is also a musician. Hear Chris’s previous episodes HERE. Autotex.me website HERE.
Key Talking Points
3D printing will change the way shops do business and how parts are delivered Customization- printing car in future? Speed of delivery with parts Voice technology. Having conversations with technology instead of keyboard use Intuitive user interface- “point, swipe and talk” technicians can talk faster than they can write on paper for DVI’s Ask Alexa who’s the best auto shop in your area- get your name in voice results Consider getting an Alexa and using it in your shop to acclimate your employees to emerging technologies Google search AI/ML- Artificial intelligence and machine learning Machines are learning and becoming ‘smarter’ Data models- your data is important because it “feeds’ models AutoText.meBaywatcher.io- real time based statistics with cameras and license plate recognition Shop efficiency 30-40% of time your shops making money in bays 60% of time bays aren’t making money Bay management- how long has car been in bay? Free brake check- is it really free? Hour diagnostics- is it really an hour? Thanks to Chris Cloutier for his contribution to the aftermarket’s premier podcast. Link to the ‘BOOKS‘ page, highlighting all books discussed in the podcast library HERE. Leaders are readers. Listen for free on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spreaker, iHeart Radio, Spotify, Podchaser, and many more. Mobile Listening APP’s HERE Find every podcast episode HERE. Every episode is segmented by Series HERE. Key Word Search HERE. Be socially involved and in touch with the show:
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Building a Canoe
Have you ever noticed when you’re relaxing at home, or at work trying to accomplish something, sooner or later somebody comes along and asks, “So, whatcha doin’?” It happens to me all the time. Around my house though, there’s a typical answer you’ll get if you ask such a question, and that’s, “I’m building a canoe.” Meaning, “It’s not all that important what I was doing. Thanks for caring, but I’d like to get back to what I was doing.” It’s a running joke at my house. Nobody takes it seriously. It seems at my house, no matter what the situation is, somebody is building a canoe somewhere. Now at the shop, well, I’m not sure anyone would understand “building a canoe”, and it definitely wouldn’t be appropriate. But, I’ve certainly had my fair share of chances to shout it out from time to time.
Take the typical phone call that asks, “If you’re not real busy right now, I’ve only got a couple of questions I’d like to ask.” Not a problem, nothing is as important as helping the next person in line. Go ahead and ask, but if the questions seem to be from the far side of the lake I might start answering with nautical terms or what size oars I’m carving out. By then, you’ll know I’m probably not following your line of questions too closely.
Let’s face it, I’m just a mechanic. According to some, I’m supposed to have more in common with a Neanderthal than a rocket scientist. Figuratively speaking of course. But, at the same time, I’m supposed to have the solution for any type of problem at a moment’s notice, and know exactly the cost of each and every part from each and every manufacturer cataloged in my brain, and if I can’t answer their question with the answer they expected I must either be a Neanderthal, or I’ve spent way too much time building canoes and not on my chosen profession.
It goes back to the old school of thought that it doesn’t take a lot of brain cells to do this job. I’m not sure where that comes from, or how it ever got started. But, if you’ve watched a few old TV shows from the 50’s and 60’s it’s pretty clear that the portrayal of a mechanic is almost always one of a dopy guy with a greasy rag hanging out of his pocket who couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation with anything beyond a boat oar. That perception has gotta change, these days it takes a highly trained, technically savvy mechanic to diagnose and repair the modern car.
Like many professional mechanics, I don’t spend my time under the hood of a car to answer questions. I’m there to do my job, and that’s fix the car. But, there are those occasions when one of those rubberneckers is leaning over the fender and you know at some point they’re going to ask, “Whatcha doing now?” I seriously want to break out into a long dissertation of how I’ve been building this canoe. It’s probably best I don’t paddle in that direction, as I’d have to explain the canoe thing.
Being so involved in your work is one thing. Being asked questions while you’re working is another. Sometimes it’s not a problem, while other times it throws you so far off you’ve got to regroup your thoughts and start all over again. I’ve often wondered how a psychologist would interpret some of the things I hear at the shop. Maybe I really don’t want know, maybe I’m the crazy one and everyone else is just building their own canoes.
A perfect example was a hot afternoon with several jobs going all at once. The shop was buzzing and everybody was super busy when this guy came to the service counter. “Ya got a second? OK, OK, like… I changed the starter, the battery, and the ignition switch. Then, I changed the window switch, all the relays, and the fuel pump. I was told it could be the power steering pump, so I changed that too, and while I was at it, me and a buddy replaced the heater core. So, so, how much do ya charge to look at my car?”
For me, I prefer the logical approach to answering customer’s questions. That is to answer each and every one of their concerns correctly and professionally. But in this case, which end of the canoe are we talking about? I’m not quite sure what I was really asked. There I am just paddling along (working out in the shop), doing my thing, and when I pull up to the shore line (run up to the service counter) somebody starts telling me about what parts they changed on their car and not necessarily problems I’m capable of solving. Do I ask this guy, “I take it the car doesn’t start?” or do I answer the only question that I actually heard? Is there more than one canoe involved in this story, or have I been paddling on the wrong lake all this time?
By now, I should have a whole fleet of canoes. But, I never ever seem to finish the first one, before I’m swept downstream on another adventure. There’s always another job, another phone call, and another, “Hey, do ya got a second to answer some questions?” Which usually leads to another canoe.
Working on cars, and all this high tech razzle dazzle stuff can be a trying effort, but it’s what mechanics do every day. It’s one of those jobs that seems easy, but in reality, it’s not. It’s something that not everyone is cut out for. It has its rewards as well as its down sides. But for the most part it’s a great career choice and if you’re like me, finding and fixing the problems is what it’s all about. However, I wouldn’t mind building canoes as a career choice either. It’s another one of those jobs where working with your hands is the only way of getting things accomplished, and I’m definitely a hands on type of guy.
We all could use a little more time to just float along and enjoy the gentle current and scenery. You know, take in the big picture for a change, and realize none of us really have it that bad after all. Maybe a little less of that rush-rush and hurry up-stay-on schedule in our lives. Mechanic or canoe builder, every trade has their issues. But, when the day is done, and we have that moment to sit back and forget about the shop or that next car we’ve got to work on, it’s the perfect time to day dream about a leisurely float down a lazy river. So, as you’re sitting there in your easy chair, smiling, taking in that imaginary scenery and somebody comes along and asks, “Whatcha doin’?” just tell them… “I’m building a canoe.” It’ll be our little secret.
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Hello, I been a service tech for 11 years now and its my dream to own a shop some day. I ran a 6 bay shop earlier in my automotive carrier and in the past 8 years I just been wrenching. I am really happy that i came across this forum lot of good info on this forum. I have a lot of questions so i will be browsing the forum quite a lot and reading all the threads relating to owning a business. If you guys know any good thread or article that would shed some light on (running a business, buying existing business or starting from scratch) please post a link so i can read through it. Thank you guys
For the past 18 months I have noticed that the overwhelming advice for shop owners is to get the customer in ASAP. If they want an oil change NOW you accommodate them. I have been using this method for the past year and for the most part it has been a miss for me and I will explain...
In my shop we work on a high ARO and smaller car count. We are also mostly appointment based. This has worked well for us because we can spend quality time on an inspection and repairs to provide the best service. The thing we do best that has generated high dollars is our ability to properly inspect and sell the inspection list which many times can be thousands of dollars in additional work. What has been a problem for us is the waiter oil changes and the people that want NOW NOW NOW. Generally these are people who want nothing more than an oil change. They want to wait around for their oil change and have little time to spend if additional work is necessary. The probability of that customer leaving and coming back to get the estimate work done is rather low. The highest percentage we have for selling work is absolutely when customer drop off their vehicles and can authorize work from the comfort of their home or work. The NOW customer and the waiter oil change become more of a waste of time than an opportunity. Have we generated some good clients from the now customers? Yes. The percentage however is low compared to all the NOW and waiter customers we serve.
What I am working on now is explaining our value for every possible NOW customer and oil change. We explain to them we provide an oil SERVICE and don't perform oil changes. We explain and sell the value of our inspection, people, and culture. We do the best we can to convey why we are very different from any other shop and why they are making the right choice in bringing their vehicle to us. If after all this is explained and the customer is still insistent on NOW and waiting then we say NO and we are better off for it.
Our business model may be slightly different than yours but I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you found trouble with selling to NOW and waiter customers?