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Shop: Baker Collision Express (Formerly) Owner: Larry Baker (Retired) Location: Columbia, S.C. Staff Size: 50 Shop Locations: Average Shop Size: 10,000 square feet Average Monthly Car Count: 133 ARO: $2,300 Total Annual Revenue: $11 million

Shop operators in the collision repair industry know how hard staffing for a specific role can be. The technician shortage is real and too big for a single shop to tackle, but what's a practical way to deal with the issue?

Enter Norm Bobay, president and CEO of HireMAX, a hiring firm that got its start using a holistic view of the person to match them to a specific company’s role. 

“My goal in starting my company was to make the hiring process as easy as possible by matching workers to a job by personality, and not skill,” Bobay says.

Larry Baker, the retired former owner of three Baker Collision Express locations, understands the hiring difficulties inherent to the collision repair industry and says he saw immense value in Bobay’s process. 

At Baker’s prompting, Bobay developed a hiring program for collision repair that prioritized personality and work ethic over skills. 

“Once you have the right people in the company,” says Baker, “you can train them up to perform the job.”

By following a person-over-skills model, you can turn any exceptional person you meet into your next hire. 

Where to Start

Bobay says he wanted to create a process that was as easy to use as it possible. 

“But the shops really need to buy in for it to work,” he says. “Our process gravitates around training the shop owners to screen people out.”

By identifying who you don’t want to hire, you are one step closer to finding out who you do want to hire.

“What many people don't understand about hiring the best job-fit employee is that a lot of it is how you make them feel,” Bobay says, noting that the process needs to be about building a relationship with potential hires. 

“The best way to do that is by making them feel welcomed, treating them with respect, and developing their abilities,” he says.

The Process

Once a shop owner has a clear idea of what traits their ideal candidate should have, it enables them to ask the right questions to target those desired traits.

“No one will be perfect for what the shop wants, so their initial skills don’t matter because this kind of system creates a process,” says Bobay, “a process that helps identify areas that shop owners and managers can then strengthen in their new hires.”

Shop owners and managers should strive to create a relationship with their employees, he says. Through this relationship, a plan can be created to develop technicians’ skills moving forward.

Break Down Jobs

Baker, who operated his three shops with a staff of 50 before selling to The Boyd Group, says he also believes that skill level shouldn’t be the determining factor when hiring someone for your shop. 

He explains that the industry at first liked hiring “combination technicians,” who could handle a car from start to finish. Since then, the industry has pivoted to separating body technicians from paint technicians.

“This single breakdown shouldn’t have been the only one that occurred,” Baker says. “If you have an excellent painter who spends six hours a day prepping to paint, why not hire someone to do that for them?”

Every position in his shops, which brought in $11 million per year, was approached with that mentality, he says. “Due to my philosophy, I never had to look very hard for a hire.” 

Evolving the Role of A-Techs 

Larry Baker, the retired former owner of three Baker Collision Express locations, says he didn’t need to look hard for hires because he decreased his shops’ dependence on hiring A-technicians. 
“A-techs in the hiring market are like unicorns, if one of them is unemployed they will be picked up very fast,” he says.
Baker would segment employees' roles, decreasing the need to hire highly skilled technicians and freeing them to focus only on high-level tasks. 
“The norm for an A-tech, whether they be body or paint, is about $70,000 per year. In my shop, we were doing about $250,000 per year per A-tech,” says Baker. “Because we broke the jobs down, our A-techs could focus on high-skilled tasks.”

Positive Hiring

There are multiple benefits to hiring for fit, rather than skill.

“When shops utilize my method of assessing and hiring new employees, they find that they have higher retention rates and increased worker happiness,” says Bobay, adding that his system is built around training, believing, and investing in your employees. 

Baker says that breaking down jobs and finding people who fit them well took pressure off his hiring process.

“Because of the philosophy I use when it comes to creating jobs, I never have had a problem finding my next hire,” says Baker. “There is no ‘one place’ that I go to find a candidate. My next hire is always the next incredible person that I run into. If they really impressed me, I would pursue them as a hire.”

Baker says if someone were very personable, he’d bring them in to work the front end of the business. If they were more inclined to technical skills, they would be hired to work the shop floor. 

“Anybody can be hired for the right price, I was willing to pay so I had a team of high-quality people,” he says. “Other shops weren’t willing to pay and they ended up with staffs full of people they didn’t want.” 

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