The Art of Employee Retention
By Tyler O’Hara
This column won’t be about cool tips and tricks or our industry’s latest and greatest fads. But I feel this is one of the most overlooked pieces of our industry that plays a quintessential role in your business’s success. I genuinely hope every business owner subscribes to this magazine, reads this column in full and takes what I have to say to heart. It’s easy to get consumed by money,
greed, social media, your competitors and the chase for more.
I’ve seen and heard countless stories from shops, installers and reps about employees being mistreated and underpaid. The biggest assets we, as shop owners, have are our installers. Without them, there is no scaling or growth, and you will be completely capped by what you can do yourself.
I want this column to focus on three parts that play into the equation of employee retention—wages, employee happiness and your team’s future.
We all work to make money. We all need money in today’s world to survive. My shop is located in Southern California, arguably the most saturated market in the world for PPF, tint, detailing and ceramic coating. It’s also one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. If my shop can thrive and grow, so can yours, in an arguably better market.
All of my employees are paid at least $30 per hour. Many receive bonuses on top of that. They also have room to grow, produce more and make more. I am not saying you start someone who is completely new to the industry at $30 per hour if you’re training that person from the ground up.
However, I never hold back when I have a newbie. I have written pay plans, and I show them these from the start. I want them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Learning PPF is a marathon. It takes years to become even proficient, so I want them to see that if they make it to being a “trained installer,” the reward is worth it.
You must also set goals with them and then give raises as they strive to meet goals. Have employee reviews and take notes on them to talk about and hold them accountable. I don’t want anyone to read this and think I’m advocating for you to hand money out blindly. I am all for accountability and honoring my word.
The bottom line is that most people aren’t dumb and will start to catch on or figure out what kind of profit they are making your business over time. Provide a path for them to grow on, as they continue to work hard and produce more. Reward great employees, or you will lose them.
Happiness Above All
Most people would rather spend their lives happy. I emphasize most because we all know those who always seem negative or unhappy. As the business owner, it’s up to you to sniff that stuff out early on and decide to keep that person or terminate their employment.
Ask employees about goals, their home life and show them that you care about them and they are more to you than just a warm body working in the shop. Say good morning and good night to each other and ask them how their weekend was and about their spouse or family. Speak kindly to them. How you, as the leader, speak to someone is critical.
This industry is hard, and I ask a lot of my team. I’m asking them to fill my boots. I can’t expect them to be me overnight. I’m constantly having to coach them and lead them. I use every mistake or problem as an opportunity for growth and learning. I may be furious inside and dread how much the mistake will cost the business, but I always speak to them as best I can.
Do not belittle them or make them feel stupid. Cursing at them is not the answer either. The way you speak to your team is something that takes practice over time. It’s something that I have learned over time and is dependent on the individual employee. Learn to read and handle everyone individually.
The future is inevitable—we cannot stop it from coming. We can’t freeze time and prevent aging. Our needs in life, including money, typically grow as we have spouses and children and a desire to buy a house, move out on our own or buy a new car. It’s rare, in my experience, that people today are content just plateauing and staying in the same spot. As a leader or business owner, you must clearly outline the future for employees.
Identify traits they may not see in themselves and present ideas to them on how they can move up in the company. Some employees may want to install forever. There are days I miss just putting my headphones on and not having to talk to a single person—just me, my film and the car.
Some employees may exhibit leadership. Maybe you see them interacting with other employees well, leading them, helping them and instructing them on how to do things. I see some employees being personable with customers; being courteous to them, acknowledging them, answering questions and talking about products.
It’s your job as the leader to identify the character traits in your team and then present ideas of growth for the individual employees. See if they want shop manager, sales and customer relations roles. Show the employees there is a future for them inside your operation aside from just being an installer. No hard-working, ambitious person will stay long-term at a dead-end job. If they see no future, they will eventually leave or take a better opportunity if one comes along.
Public Service Announcement
This is a topic I hold close to my heart. This is the biggest issue in our industry, and I am sick and tired of the greed and mistreatment of installers. Every single owner needs to wake up and realize that without your team, you will only ever be an owner-operator, and there will be no future for you.
Tyler O’Hara is the owner of American Wrap Co. in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
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