Strategy+Planning

Star Power

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Get Your Employees Invested in Training

Look behind the scenes of any successful shop and you’ll usually find a healthy roster of superstars—those A-techs or estimators that get the job done better, faster, and easier day in and day out. But those top team members usually know they’re among the elite. That can bring out feelings of entitlement, or intensify competition between them and other team members.

However, superstar team members can also be a tremendous resource for a shop. Their wealth of knowledge, experience, and energy are potential means of improving other team members and fostering a positive environment throughout the business.

For example, superstar techs can train and develop entry-level techs, elevating their skills and increasing their value. At the same time, those top techs can support and encourage people to maximize their potential and develop their skills, encouraging a positive environment for everyone in the shop. 

To find out how to channel the energy of superstars for the good of a shop, FenderBender  reached out to the Giarizzo family, two generations of successful collision repair shop owners who have mastered the art of managing the energy of team members.  

Michael Giarizzo Sr. operated a chain of shops in Cleveland, Ohio, for more than 30 years. He’s currently the business advisor for LJI Collision Center, a chain of two shops owned and operated by his daughters, Jill Strauss and Lauren Angie. Giarizzo’s son, Michael Jr. is the former vice president and chief operating officer of Sterling Auto Body Centers, where he led operations across 10 states. He’s currently the CEO of Ohio-based DCR Systems, a dealer-based turnkey collision repair model co-branded with auto dealers.

Here are their recommendations for how shops can begin using their best employees as resources to enrich other team members and improve the overall business.  


Create the right culture.

In any business, the way team members act is largely just a product of the environment they work in. And so, before superstar employees can contribute to the betterment of others in the shop, a positive, supportive culture has to be in place. 

“Our stores are aligned and incentivized around the customer,” says Giarizzo Jr. “We all celebrate together on a job well done. We all know when something goes wrong. If there's an issue, we all join together to correct it and determine the root cause. It develops that family-like atmosphere.”

And no matter how good your superstar employees are, the right culture has to start at the top. Just like a champion sports team, a successful shop culture is built by example, with good leadership, clear direction, and unwavering attention. 

“The owner or manager has to be engaged,” says Giarizzo Sr. “Watching football or basketball, you can tell how well a team will do based on the people who are managing it. It's just that simple. I apply that to our business.”


Realign compensation.

To create an environment of sharing and mentoring, expectations have to be aligned with the way employees are compensated. As a result, both LJI and DCR have abolished all forms of commission-based pay. 

“A lot of technicians on commission feel that if they’re being interrupted, something is taking them away from their ability to earn,” says Giarizzo Jr. “So we pay our technicians in a way that compensates them for their skill level, versus them having to fight it out in their bays for billable hours.” 

Employees at his shop are paid either a straight hourly rate or, for some team leaders, salary. 

“It gives them the incentive to share,” says Giarizzo Jr.” Team members also get monthly bonuses based on store profits. 


Maintain the culture.

An effective culture for sharing and mentoring has to be maintained and nurtured continually. The entire team needs to understand the essential mission of doing everything to serve customers better, whether they’re working on a car or training a new tech.  

“It’s really critical that people really believe in our cause, and why we're doing what we're doing,” says Giarizzo Jr. “We have to all be aligned around the idea that it’s a noble cause, because what we do isn’t easy—the passionate approach of fixing cars correctly and improving.”

Our culture is reinforced every day,” adds Lauren Angie of LJI. “We never need a ‘spring cleaning.’ Our environment is cleaned real-time throughout the day.”


Rethink recruiting.

Building a shop culture around superstars as training resources requires having the right team members. And this doesn’t necessarily apply to just A-techs. The successful team approach requires the whole shop to be onboard. 

“Each team member has a different skill level and can work as a superstar at their level,” says Jill Strauss of LJI. 

That said, many techs simply won’t be interested in working this way. 

“The traditional commission model is very profitable and successful in a lot of cases,” says Giarizzo Jr. 

But while there will inevitably be some team members who won’t want things to change, there are plenty who will find a more open, cooperative work environment to be ideal. 

“Some technicians that have made their living in a commission-based world may not work well for us, or us for them,” says Giarizzo Jr. “But there are commission-based technicians out there who are frustrated with that world, because they're seeing bigger paychecks around them, but with more shortcuts being taken. So, those folks may work well in our roster, where they really get to share what they know and the proper way of doing things.”

To recruit techs and estimators that are willing to work in a team-centric environment where sharing is expected, owners and managers will probably have to rethink their recruiting. 

“We realize that tomorrow's workforce isn’t coming to us,” says Giarizzo Jr. “We've got to create that. We really look for team-oriented people that enjoy working with others. Those people can even come from outside the industry. Sometimes we look at just basic mechanical skills or interests in the automotive field.”


Make the leap.

Although there are clear benefits to creating a culture where superstar team members can mentor and train others, the change can be jarring for employees. According to our sources, the move needs to be highlighted and announced as a major shift in how business will be done from then on. 

“We believe it should be a formalized event,” says Giarizzo Jr. “We've successfully helped a number of shops make that transition. But it's a big leap. If you're going to change your store around—especially when you're changing it from a compensation standpoint—you’ve got to make sure that the change isn’t going to negatively affect anybody. 

“Then you need to bring everyone into why you’re changing, and show them that they’ll not only survive but thrive in the future.”

By creating an environment in which employees feel free to share their time, ideas, and expertise, superstar team members can become one of the most valuable assets a shop has. And, when managed effectively, their efforts can create a self-elevating circle of improvement, in which the culture fuels team members, who in turn enrich the culture. 


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