Building Trust For Tomorrow

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Peter Sziklai has been a collision shop owner in British Columbia since 1983 and has owned Tsawwassen Collision Ltd. since 1995. He has been active in the BC ARA, serving on the board of the Collision Repair Division including a term as Chair. Sziklai currently serves on the CCIF Steering Committee. You can reach him at [email protected]. Photo Peter Sziklai

Give techs time to get it right.

Our industry has in the past paid very little attention to the concept of shop or industry culture. But the future demands a different way of looking at things. If you want to set your shop apart now is the time to start to build a healthy shop culture.

The core of the healthy shop culture is trust, which has to be earned over a long period of time.

Today most owners pay their technicians flat rate but that system is an example of a low-trust environment. To the employee, it says that his employer will only pay him for what he produces because that employer does not trust him to work properly. I have even heard many industry people say that you have to pay a flat rate to get good performance from a technician. 

Let’s leave aside the complexity of modern cars and talk only about the healthy work environment grounded in trust. As an employer, I refuse to believe that my employees will do as little as possible each day. They want to leave at the end of the day satisfied that they have done good work. Give them a safe physical environment and good support and they would far rather work steadily than coast through the day.

Entire team benefits

My employees know that they will be paid fairly, so they work properly and the entire team benefits. Cars are so complicated now, that a tech may need to take some extra time to get it right. In a general repair facility, the morning may involve the reassembly of a Kia or Hyundai front bumper, with what looks like about 100 clips and a full wiring harness.  The afternoon could then have the disassembly of a 2022 Ford Explorer door, which looks like a 2021 but has a different retaining system for the door handle. No one wins if the bumper has to come off the car two weeks later because something was not connected right or a new handle has to be bought for the Explorer because the first one broke coming off. 

Looking to the long term, a good, fair business with well-paid employees, can only be developed when the techs are allowed to be careful and slow down on something new without worrying about not making any money that day.

The tech needs a chance to quiet down and move carefully with new procedures.  If they don’t get stressed with a new procedure, they will take the time to get it right, they will be paid for the day and both employee and employee know that the next time that procedure is faced it will move through efficiently.  

Make meaningful changes

That’s one of the biggest drawbacks to paying a flat rate, the trust isn’t there. In an environment where success is measured only in dollars, taking the time to understand how to get it right, and then doing it right, is not rewarded. The flat rate approach worked for a long time, but changes that don’t support this system are coming fast.

The right shop culture can take you and your business into the next era of vehicle repair, which is already here. You have the power to make it happen. If you want your shop to be profitable, your employees and your customers to stay with you, it might be time to stop merely hustling jobs out the door, and instead, think about where you want to make meaningful changes.

It’s not going to happen overnight or over the weekend. But it’s something to start thinking about seriously and taking steps to develop in your shop.