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How to Create a Culture of Advancement in Your MSO

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It’s no secret that recruiting is one of the biggest issues in the collision repair industry. Not for Joe Martin, however.

As the market manager for the seven Gerber Collision locations in Southwest Florida, Martin has worked to create a culture of advancement in his shops that not only ensures growth, but also loyal employees that produce quality work efficiently.

“No individual wants to come to a company that says, ‘We haven’t been growing. We don’t have things going on,’” he says. “The younger adults that are getting out of college and people that aren’t really sure what they want to do, they want to know they have options.

It’s a concept he says was first ingrained during his 12 years at Michigan MSO Collex Collision (acquired by The Boyd Group in 2014), where he began as a detailer and worked every position in the office up to management.

“We started a long time ago getting [technicians] a little younger and people that haven’t been in the industry but wanted to get there,” he says. “We are creating jobs for great people with strong work ethics and have a system that provides advancement from day one.”

Martin explains the process at his shops and the advantages MSOs have when it comes to advancing employees in the company.

1) Don’t steal employees from other shops.

Martin says it’s something that comes up in every Gerber upper management meeting across the country: The issue of stealing technicians from other shops.

“It’s just bad for the environment,” says Martin. “Don’t steal from people. Purposely calling people and trying to steal them, that’s just bad business—in any industry.”

A FUTURE IN THE SHOP Southwest Florida's newest Gerber Collision location in Estero, Fla., follows market manager Joe Martin's principles of promoting from within and outlining a clear career path for all employees.

Martin acknowledges that finding technicians is a problem that every shop is facing, but notes that just luring techs away from other shops isn’t solving the root problem.

“To me, the industry is supposed to be staying together and getting stronger and these kind of things are weakening it,” he says. “All we’re doing is ruining the industry by thinking it’s OK to jump ship for financial reasons or whatever reason. And so, we’re just going to play that game because we’re hurting for technicians? Now we’re just going to fight instead of creating a process to create more and joining together? That’s an integrity issue.”

That’s why you need to have a culture of advancement, Martin says. Plus, he says that having such a culture will mean that your staff is less likely to be lured away because they know they have a future—and a plan for that future—at their current company.

2) Get your staff involved in recruiting.

To promote, you need good people in the first place, says Martin. And what better way to find those good people than by starting with your existing employees?

Martin’s shops offer gains and rewards for employees that refer job applicants. And while he says that you certainly still have to do your homework and weed through the applicants, the sheer volume of applicants that came in after the reward system was implemented proved to Martin that employees are willing to step up to the plate. The rewards don’t have to be large, he says, and can be as simple as a gift card or a monthly raffle.

“Little things like that go a long way with people who are only making $20,000–$30,000 a year,” he says. “It’s a big deal to win $1,000.”

3) Start looking toward the future during the interview process.

Each job applicant goes through three interviews at Martin’s shops, two of which are onsite. Martin says that, like most interviews, he starts by talking about the position and the applicant’s qualifications, but after that, he focuses on where the employee sees him or herself, their goals and how the shop can help them achieve those goals as quickly as possible.

“We’re going to hire people we trust but also that want careers,” he says. “Even my recruiter is a little surprised when she says, ‘This guy has 30 years of body experience, he’s done it all’ and I’m like, ‘Well, I guess he doesn’t need us.’ If he’s done it all, then it’s really not our forte. I’m trying to grow a large area. I can’t do that with people who are on their way out of the business.”

Then, Martin walks them through the building, explains what happens on a daily basis and also has the applicant talk to people who have grown with the company.

“We say, ‘Come and meet some of my guys and ask them what has happened to their lives. He’s getting married and starting families and buying cars and he’s 25 years old,’” he says. “We are able to show them, here’s your career path. We have some great people that are still in their 30s that are making more money than their parents.”

4) Look for unique training opportunities.

Martin says that, for a long time, his stores had a traditional apprentice program. The problem with that, he says, is that he had to feed work to his veteran technicians first, which meant there weren’t always a lot of small jobs left for those apprentices.

STAFFING NEW LOCATIONS When opening a new facility, such as the Estero, Fla., location, market manager Joe Martin will frequently use the opening as an opportunity to promote employees who are ready for a new challenge.

“I was very limited on what work I could give them,” he says. “Sometimes when you’re a detailer, you’re making more money than being a body man because there’s just not much of that type of work.”

That’s when it occurred to Martin: The large Enterprise fleet accounts that many of his shops had were the perfect training tool.

“They don’t do any welding. If it’s a certain dollar amount on the car, [Enterprise] pretty much totals the car. It’s not worth it to them,” he says. “It’s all small work. This is a perfect training tool and apprentice tool to get these guys moving up in the process.”

Instead of having two dedicated technicians working on those vehicles like he was before, Martin now has seven C-level body techs who work exclusively on the Enterprise vehicles, which include bumper covers, small dents, scratches and disassembly and reassembly. A lead A-tech looks over all the work for those technicians, and at the beginning, acts as a mentor.

“Enterprise is getting great results from us and these guys are learning and getting paid to do it, instead of the opposite,” Martin says. “When they were apprentices, we were losing money as a company trying to figure out how to pay all of these apprentices across the board and they’re not generating any revenue.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s a rental car company, a fleet account or an express lane, Martin says that looking critically at unique ways you can create training tools in your shop has been hugely beneficial for his shops.

5) Outline a plan of advancement for different positions.

At Martin’s shop, new hires start as a detailer before going on to briefly apprentice with a lead technician and then moving on to the Enterprise work, where they typically stay for roughly a year before moving up. Before moving to a B-level technician, Martin says that the lead technician needs to vouch for the tech’s ability, the tech must go through I-CAR welding training and they must show improved efficiency.

“When they first started, it may have taken them a full two hours to fix a two-hour dent, but when he can fix that in one hour, now we’re talking about someone who is starting to mature his skills and can beat the clock,” he says. “Now we go, ‘OK, when we open a new store, now he’ll go there as a B-tech.’”

In the front office, Martin says a common route is to go from CSR to learning the parts system before moving on to becoming an estimator. In fact, Martin has used the Enterprise account for training estimators, too, since most of those estimates are for small hits.

“I would never put a new writer on a tow-in,” he says. “Enterprise doesn’t have tow-ins; it’s all small stuff. They’re doing repetition and learning on small-type vehicles, but still generating revenue.”

As an MSO, Martin says you have the ability to get creative and explore other options or routes for employees. For example, when it comes to the CSRs, he says that they could go into the accounting, recruiting, operational assistant or management side.

“There are different roads they can go down based on their strengths,” he says.

6) Reward financially as the employee advances.

Martin is a believer in rewarding financially as the employee advances. For example, for all technicians, their rate increases with each new level of responsibility.

“I’m a big believer in you start small. You prove yourself and then you get more responsibility,” he says. “That same model follows through the whole region. The rewards come after you’ve proven yourself with those opportunities and you’re given more responsibilities, which comes with more financial reward. You just earned that and it will come. Just come and prove it. As you do your job, people will notice.”


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