Welcome once again to Speed Across the Nation. This is a unique article format that allows shops from one niche or another to speak to all of our readers across the country. The topics cover a wide range of issues affecting the industry.
In this edition, we talked with a few of the nation’s shops and asked them about their employees. Take a look at what they had to say.
Chop Shop Customs
Lenny Schaeffer, the owner and operator of Chop Shop Customs, claims that they were busy from the very first day they were open-this coming from a tough market outside the Patriot city of Boston.
To start a busy business off the bat, he has to have the firepower to provide the great customer satisfaction his reputation is already building. That firepower comes from his employees.
Friends he has known for more than 20 years were turned into dedicated workers overnight to make this classic car business stand on its own on the East Coast.
Schaeffer started this classic car road show two-and-half years ago. He currently has five full-time, year-around workers.
With his current employees, most of them have been there over a year and half. Those current employees have been close friends with Schaeffer for more than twenty years, and he considers nobody better for a strong work force in this tough industry.
All of his employees are word to mouth throughout his entire life.
He claims he has pulled everybody he has worked with in the past.
The strengths vary between his employees. They are all interchangeable. He has body and paint guys along with himself as the Jack of all trades. They can all interchange with certain jobs with one another and they are good at everything like the owner.
He had certain qualifications for his past hires and his new ones.
Schaeffer says, “I am looking for somebody dedicated to building cars,” and then he adds, “Not as a job, but as a way of life.”
He looks for people that are into the hobby of building cars. He wants practical experience and not somebody too new within the industry. He looks for some management experience and people who are self-motivated. He prefers people that are self-managed, so he doesn’t have to train them.
Schaeffer notes, “I look for solid experience and solid quality work.”
With this high quality work ethic within this business comes the part of keeping the employees happy. He is always flexible with his hours, but he still expects a certain number of billable hours each week. He offers flexible days off if the hours are running long and offers vacation time as well. He also offers health benefits after a certain amount of months with the business. After those months are up, the employee is given an option, very simple and straight forward for a business that is constantly busy.
If his employees are happy, then busy is great. Work constantly comes in and goes out. They are busy; not locally in the Boston area though. The market is tough, but that goes with the territory and Schaeffer’s wife Dana handles the market tasks of the business.
Schaeffer claims that the Boston market is as trendy as the California market is. The seasons are also a lot shorter and more intense than others. Most of their work is out of state. But they are busy, no matter what season it is or how far people are willing to come to have a classic car built for them. The shop stays busy and the employees stay busy. They stay busy because they are enthusiasts as well as builders, and they love what they do.
It all started 20 years ago when Brent Jarvis started his Performance Restorations business. It has grown into something special. His store is located 30 miles out of the self-proclaimed Windy City of Chicago. Two decades ago, there was an older and smaller shop that branded the industry with a unique style of muscle car. A decade after that was a new beginning for the decade-ran shop. Jarvis switched locations to a 20,000 square foot monster facility. This facility pushes out nasty muscle and a nasty classic all in a day’s work. It’s a good thing he has 14 employees to help him run a great business.
These 14 employees average about five years between them within the shop. These are his current employees. Some have been there for 10 to 12 years year around. Jarvis works with Wyo-Tech, which is a highly prestigious trade school for the mechanic industry. They produce mechanic minds to the restoration world that needs them badly. Jarvis has a few mechanics, painters, body guys and fabricators and a couple of floaters that do everything.
It is also very nice to a person that has a lot of experience under his belt. He relishes guys that have 20 years of experience. Like any other owner in the industry, he has certain qualifications that his people have to live by. Jarvis states, “The first thing you look for is a good attitude.” He looks for somebody who wants to listen and wants to learn. Jarvis looks for somebody that thinks their way through a problem.
The biggest problem in this industry is having the right personnel. Jarvis admits, “The single biggest problem any business has in the United States is the personnel.” All in all, he keeps them happy. He offers full benefits including health, dental and life. These are offered after a certain amount of months of good steady work performance from the employee.
Other than everything else the shop is simple within its administrative structure. Jarvis has three other employees working on the administrative and marketing side of his business. He can’t do it all himself. He also has a collision shop that is located within the same building but separate from Performance Restorations. Both shops are considered to be busy and always have been since the place opened years and years ago.
Performance Off-Road Inc.
President and full shareholder of Performance Off-Road Inc., Roy Carl admits that nobody can hit the ground running in the off-road industry. He tried mechanics from dealerships and nobody was on the same page. It is better to just hire somebody new who has a fresh outlook on a tough going industry. From Carl’s view, somebody with experience doesn’t really matter for a future hire.
Performance Off-Road is located in a southern landscape of Kentucky. The shop is 18 years young. The combined shops are 10,000 to 12,000 square feet. Getting down to brass taxes here, this shop is basically the ultimate off-road service and fabrication shop. They all started out as Jeep specialists, then moved on to bigger and better models and makes to fill their needs. For this shop to run on the very high standard that Karl expects it to run, he has to have the employees to get it there. With his current staff averaging years within the shop presently, they have over 50 years of experience between them.
Not all has been fun and games for this off-road magnate. Carl states, “The learning curve is up to two years.” He mentions this because there are so many subtleties and manufacturers for the off-road industry that nobody can learn off hand. In more simpler terms, it just takes time. Even the counter help at the shop is difficult to learn. When hiring somebody new, Carl doesn’t really look for the bright shining light of experience. He looks for somebody who is honest, affable, trainable, motivated, driven and dependable. He also mentions that they can get along with people and has a strong intellect to learn. Karl admits, “They are there to cover up my weaknesses.”
His weaknesses are there and that is why he has an excellent staff backing him up every step of the way. Carl says, “Everybody has functions and they are all important.” Everybody has input to a certain degree to the task at hand. He loves to here everybody’s opinion as well. With that, Carl demands a lot of work and he expects quality work from his guys, no matter what. He demands that everybody is on board and running in the same direction.
Carl asserts that the seven employees, including himself, is the right number, and he notes, “The more people you have to deal with, the more problems there are.” All of them are working for the shop, not for themselves. Carl also says that commission is counter-productive, and they stay at a regular hourly rate that is reasonable for the employees.
Baier’s Engine Service
Jim Baier is an engine builder and an engine restorer through and through. He gives his customers the satisfaction of building the classics, the muscle and the race. They stay busy because within 75 miles of their shop location, there are five dirt tracks and two asphalt tracks. Not to mention a drag racing facility 100 miles out of their location. All within the beautiful state of Minnesota. He has three employees including himself with seven years under their belt at Baier’s Engine Service.
Baier originally opened the shop back in 1975.Sixteen years after that, he moved into his new shop that ranges about 5,000 square feet. Ironically, his current employees were customers in the past. For his employment situation, it works out great.
He says, “You get to know them before you hire them.” His shop foreman, Corey Herman, is a drag racer and his other employee, Mike Roeder, is involved with antique tractor pulling. He has these guys because they are willing to go the extra mile for pure customer satisfaction. The three people that work in the shop are a perfect trio to have, mentions Baier. Then three guys can carry the workload all themselves and not get ahead of each other.
Baier basically lets them do whatever they want to help the business. Baier states, “I allow them to exercise their creative juices.” All of the machine work is done in house. They build motors and they restore them to the best of their ability, and Baier gives them free reign over anything that needs to be done for a customer.
Their market is great because of the large amount of race tracks that are generally in their area. They are constantly staying busy, locally more than anything.
Thanks for checking in with us and our look at shop owners and their employees from across the country. Please join us again next time, when we speed across the nation to look at the performance aftermarket’s pricing policies.