Guest writer Bill Pyles brings us up to the current situation in his blog piece, “Staffing Guidelines.” After being discharged from the United States Marine Corps, Bill started a lifelong career in heavy equipment dealer product support. Starting as an apprentice technician, Bill worked his way up to the General Service Manager for a multi-state Cat dealer. Bill continued to serve in similar roles as General Manager of Product Support to VP of Service for multistate OEM dealers. Coming up thru the product support ranks gave Bill an invaluable education of customer relations, dealer product support and an understanding of the dealers most valuable resource, the product support team. After 47 years of service, Bill has taken on a new career with Mechanics and Techs LLC, a recruiting company for all Product Support employees as well as Product Support Managers. Bill is living in Florida with his wife Diana and golden retriever, Shelby. Bill & Diana spend their time with their two sons and five grandchildren. Bill can be contacted at LinkedIn; www.linkedin.com/in/billpyles or email@example.com
As we come out of the pandemic and possibly slide into a recession, I’m sure there are dealers who need to ramp up staffing or consider a reduction in staff. Today I’d like to share some ideas that worked for me during the good and bad times. During the good times, I’d get daily emails from stressed out service managers needing more techs, today, now. But something seemed out of place after looking at the facts. Facts do a good job of removing the emotional side of decision making. I’m being told we need techs, now, today, but the revenue recovery was very low, no overtime to speak of and some other locations are looking for work.
I’ll focus mainly on technicians for this discussion of adding or reducing the workforce. It seems we’ve had tech shortage issues since the early 1990’s. During the dot-com boom, more and more talent ignored the trades, opting for the glamorous work of internet related jobs. You may remember even the U.S. Army started running recruiting ads showing soldiers launching computer-controlled missiles, running high tech equipment, staring knowingly into radar screens. No more dog faces covered in mud crawling in and out of fox holes! Equipment dealers also had to dispel the myth that the mechanic’s (before they were technicians, notice the upgrade in the title) knuckles dragged the ground when they walked, and anything could be repaired with a sledgehammer and a torch! But dealers got it together, had great tech recruiting plans and business took off!
Until the last horrible recession hit in 2008-2009 and many dealers were forced to reduce technician headcount. A very strange phenomena happened; after the recession eased up, all the techs that were laid off were nowhere to be found when business did pick back up. They likely went into other trades as tech recruitment became more of a full-time job at the dealership. It was no longer build a shop or hang out the hiring sign and they would come. The rules changed, wages accelerated, sign on bonuses where generously offered, the promise of a free set of basic tools were offered after so many days / months of employment and many other hiring incentives.
Trying to forecast a technician reduction is like playing the stock market. Move too soon and you will lose good techs who may not come back when business picks up. Move too late, and your bottom line could take months to recover. I admit I erred on the later side as I wanted to do everything in the company’s power not to lose good techs. But the day would come when the difficult management decisions had to be made. Here are some guidelines I think can help.
Before pulling the reduction in staff trigger, I’d expect to see these items as facts.
- Revenue recovery to be 80% to 85% and trending upward.
Overtime averaging at least 10% in the last three-month period.
- No other locations have techs to transfer over to the location needing techs, now, today.
- Labor sales per day are trending at 90% of your street labor rate.
- This is a technician efficiency cross check.
- Gives visibility to reducing labor rates to keep revenue hours up.
- Operating profit at or above the forecast.
My goal was to support the decision of adding techs, not just adding more cost if not required. Adding techs can add revenues. But if your shop is inefficient (not meeting the requirements above), adding techs will only add to your cost. No need to add techs if another location is slow.
Look at the larger picture, not one location.
I created a short form (regarding the points above) for the person requesting the addition headcount. This forced the person making the request to review and know their numbers and or realize it’s maybe an efficiency issue, not a headcount issue.
Hopefully (by the way, hope is still not a strategy) we will not be crushed by another deep recession. But if the time comes, here are some ideas that worked for me to support a reduction in staffing.
- Recovery rate below 70 and trending downward
- 0% Overtime in last 3-month period trending downward
- No other local stores we can take technicians for the short term
Labor sales per tech per day 60% (what your daily break-even rate is) or lower, trending downward
Downsizing is tough under any conditions. You should be doing everything in your power to keep the techs you have trained and coached on board. Good techs will quickly be picked up by a contractor looking to get a dealer trained and experienced tech at a lesser cost. One possibility is to go to a 32-hour work week. This keeps all your techs working although working one day less a week. This option is worth talking over with all your techs, get their buy in and no one loses their job.
If the downturn is looking like a short term, get your techs caught up on their training. I know you will already have marketing promotions out looking for work. Get your service trucks cleaned up and finally get to all those items in the shop that need repaired. It’s an investment into your dealership or business. Remember it’s your job to keep the shops full. Hopefully the downturn is short and soon your hair will be on fire (again) when the work picks up and you’re back in the tech recruiting arena.
Here are some ideas regarding support staff or as I called it an admin to tech ratio.
Administrative is defined as a Service Manager, Shop Supervisor, Service Admin, Service Writer, any employee charged to the service department as 100% expense/nonrevenue generating.
I suggest a starting ratio of one (service manager or shop foreman) administrative position for the first five technicians. At five techs, one person will be getting stretched to perform all the service department admin functions, i.e., quotes, labor entry, work order maintenance, customer calls, closing work orders.
Once a sixth tech is hired or being recruited, we can consider a second admin person in addition to the SM or shop foreman. Two service admins should be able to manage an additional 4 techs up to a total of 10.
When an 11th tech is required, consider a third service admin. This will cover the admin ratio up to 15 techs.
At face value, this ratio may look a bit on the high side. But I’d disagree, especially if your service administrative employees are doing all the functions required to keep a service department running smoothly and not burning out the service manager or shop supervisor. I’ll not try to list all the daily functions within your service department (but I bet there are many), but I’d suggest getting out a pencil and make a list of administrative activities being performed daily. And don’t forget to add following up after the work has been completed to ensure 100% customer satisfaction, after all, these customers are the ones who can keep your shops working when the slow down comes!
Did you enjoy this blog? Read more great blog posts here.
For our course lists, please click here.