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Find a Wrench

Business is Picking Up and Shops Need to Adapt

auto repair shop

As our country makes progress toward opening up, business seems to have followed suit.

Hiring is obviously a good indicator of how busy shops are, and we have noticed a significant uptick in hiring the past couple of weeks. The phones are ringing again, and offers are going out. Personally, my conversations with shops have taken on a different, more positive tone. Certainly a welcome sign of shops starting to crawl their way back out of the chaos that the pandemic has brought to us.

Business is Picking Up — Some Shops Aren’t Prepared

As I talked with people in the industry throughout the pandemic, I started to hear more and more from people wanting to “get out in front of this” in terms of hiring. They saw opportunities to be aggressive while others were sitting on their hands. I highly recommended that approach as it was an opportunity to get some great talent in your doors to set your foundation of skilled people for years to come. In a lot of our content, we talked about how you handle the pandemic could impact the next decade at your shop… and I think that’s starting to become more evident.

While the people that were out in front of it from the start are doing well right now, I’m starting to see a different story from those that weren’t as proactive. I’ve heard multiple stories about shops that were forced to lay off some key employees. The expectation was that once business had picked up, they’d bring them back onto the team. What we’re seeing is that those key employees that the shop laid off aren’t available when they are wanting to bring them back.

It’s causing quite a headache as my feeling is that business picked up faster than many shops anticipated. Shops relied on the fact that the staff they laid off would easily be able to transition back. but when they called them they found that they had moved on. Based on the uncertainty of the situation, it’s hard to blame the techs for moving on to find some stability. We’re all doing our best to make decisions to take care of our families and any uncertainties that might come along with us for our climb up.

The problem facing shop management is that we’re now too late to get out in front of it. With the exception of a few hot spot areas in the United States, shops are getting busy again. Many are struggling with a rebound in customer demand and not enough techs to take on the work coming in. It creates yet another headache in not being able to capture the revenue needed from the extra work to help in recovery efforts.

Where Do Shops Go From Here?

So, where do you go from here? I think it’s important to first take note of lessons learned throughout this pandemic — Not only from the hiring aspect, but also how your business was affected in general. Although we hope we never have to go through another pandemic (or another spike in coronavirus cases) in our lifetime, it’s almost a certainty that we’ll see other times of uncertainty in our professional lives. Taking the time to document what your approach to navigating the pandemic was and what you’d do differently, or what worked really well, is a great way to take lessons out of this. This isn’t an exercise that’s going to help you in the short term, but should help you at some point down the road.

As for the here and now, you have to expect that it’s going to return to normal in terms of how hard it was to find technician talent pre-pandemic. Although some of the larger dealership groups did mass layoffs, it sounds like technicians were some of the least impacted by the layoffs. (Although there were definitely techs that felt the impact.)

In some cases, it might actually be harder to find qualified techs right now. As a business, we saw more applicants in March and April to the jobs we had posted than at any other historic point in our business. Toward the end of April, we started to see that number slow and, in May, levels are now at about what we saw pre-pandemic. (Check out our market update for more data on this.) While this is good to see shops getting busy again, the drop off in applications to our job posting shows that we’re back to the days of shops having a tough time finding techs.

It’s Go Time — Moving Forward with an Actionable Plan

Regardless of where you’re at with your business, you need to start getting proactive in figuring out how you’re going to staff your shop. Even those of you that have your shop staffed perfectly right now need to be considering this. Something will inevitably happen to rock the boat at some point in the future. The time for “getting out in front of it” has passed. People are hiring aggressively right now, and the sooner you come to terms with this, the faster you work towards a resolution.

Do yourself a favor and put together an actionable plan that not only helps you climb out of this thing, but also helps you thrive when things return to normal. Make this plan around the understanding that techs aren’t going to be easy to find. It’s still an issue and one that you need to take seriously.

With that being said, look for opportunities where a tech might not be happy with how they were treated during the pandemic. Everybody handled the chaos differently. We saw really good examples of people taking care of their team and some that weren’t so great. That tech you’ve been desperate for might not be as loyal to their employer as they were prior to the pandemic. Make sure you’re doing a good job of marketing to these folks. Use social postings, job boards and anything else you can to gain exposure to job openings. We talk about this constantly, but just posting a job ad and hoping that good talent comes to it isn’t a good enough strategy anymore.

Lastly, keep your attitude in check. The pandemic has taken its toll on everybody, and we need to be sensitive to that. Your job is to lead your team through this and to provide leadership. This is a time where you can gain a lot of loyalty from your team. Show them what a true leader looks like, and drive a positive vibe within the building. Do your best not to show the ups and downs of what you might be battling. Keep calm, and help encourage your team to be at their best.

It truly is go time. Time to get aggressive and get back to business. Our experience through coronavirus will be one that will show our scars for a long time. Things are going to start moving whether we’re on the train or not, so now is the time to shift from survival mode back to growth mode. I look forward to the challenge and to watching the miracles you are all going to work in getting things back on track!