Northern California shop owner Judy Lindenmuth reflects on the challenges of building a strong team.
By Rhonda J. Wilson
This Recruitment Remedy series spotlights best practices to enlist and retain top talent.
Judy Lindenmuth and her husband Todd specialize in heavy duty diesel repair. “We maintain fleets and keep them running properly 24/7,” says the co-owner of The Truck Shoppe in Sacramento, California.
Todd, who started tinkering with trucks when he was 15 years old, mostly worked for dealerships and other smaller facilities until he opened his own shop in 2001. “It grew into a very busy place,” Judy says. “Within five years, we moved three times because we needed more room. He has been working with and training techs ever since.”
Like other heavy duty shop owners, the Lindenmuths struggle with recruitment and retention issues. The couple, who has been married for 32 years, employs four techs, one foreman, one service writer, one parts person and is currently in the process of hiring two more mechanics.
We recently asked Judy about what it takes to hire and harmonize a stellar team.
What’s the toughest challenge you face when it comes to recruitment?
Finding qualified techs. There’s a shortage of good diesel mechanics. Then there are the ones who lie about their skills. It’s very frustrating, and that’s why we have applicants participate in a working interview so we can get to know them and see if they can perform the job properly.
Why has it become so difficult to find qualified techs?
They’re a dying breed. No one wants to get their hands dirty anymore. The new generation wants to sit behind a computer. They just want to know what’s in it for them. They show no gratitude or professionalism.
Which methods do you use to find techs?
We usually recruit them through our vendors and customers. We also post a sign in the window of our shop and offer a $500 finder’s fee to refer someone for a tech position. The person who refers the employee gets the first half if the applicant is hired and the other half if the worker stays longer than 30 days. Plus, we also use Indeed, Craigslist, Monster and CalJOBS, [which is part of the California Employment Development Department].
Which strategy works best for your shop?
The most effective way to recruit qualified techs is word of mouth through our customers and vendors or by scouting the dealers. However, I’ve seen some shop owners reach out in other states. That’s how desperate people have gotten.
It’s so difficult being in business and not knowing who to trust.
What’s the biggest obstacle you face when it comes to retaining skilled techs?
Dealing with the drama and different personalities. I had to get rid of two techs who were bringing the shop down. It was a tough decision to make and get through. There were so many lies, and I had put a lot of trust in them. Their attitude kept getting worse, and sales eventually went down. After they were gone, I noticed tools were missing. It turns out one of them helped himself to our service carts and equipment. It was a very slow progression, so that’s why we didn’t notice it right away. It’s so difficult being in business and not knowing who to trust.
What did you learn from the experience?
I’ve learned to trust no one but myself. This is why policies and procedures have to be put in place. Any tools that cost more than $200 now get placed in the parts section, which is located in a caged area. There must be an organized flow to your business practices to keep confusion out of the shop.
Where did you recruit your replacement techs?
We replaced the two techs with four others. We found one from Indeed, one via word of mouth from a dealership, one from a coworker and the other one is my son who was working at a dealership.
What’s your interview process like?
We set up a time, and my manager and I meet with them. We have an interview sheet with questions that we follow. We try to make them very comfortable, so they will open up to us. I tell them about our shop and what we’re looking for. We ask if they have any questions throughout the interview. Our manager then takes them in the shop, shows them around and talks about the jobs we’re in the process of performing. It’s a great way to see what they know and what they can do. We finish up with any last questions and what expectations they have of the shop.
What types of benefits do you offer your employees?
We offer vacation time. Employees get one week after one year, two weeks after two years and three weeks after five years. They also receive three days sick time. I pay for six holidays and offer a bonus plan. My goal by the end of the year is to have medical and retirement plans.
Are your employees on a flat rate or an hourly fee?
Hourly, plus a bonus after so many billable hours.
There’s no such thing as too much training. Things are always changing in any industry, so you have to keep on top of it all.
Do you offer any training incentives?
We encourage the employees to go to training at the dealerships or private companies. I pay for smoke testing school and for them to get their Class A license. I encourage the guys to attend training, and I will pay for it if there’s a fee. There’s no such thing as too much training. Things are always changing in any industry, so you have to keep on top of it all.
Do you participate in any team building exercises? If so, how do you keep your employees engaged and motivated?
Yes, we do. I provide lunch and sometimes breakfast as a surprise treat. I also offer gift cards for good performance. I try to motivate them by finding things that inspire them. Right now, it’s fishing trips or maybe even a car show or race. We mix it up a lot.
How do you build and maintain a strong team in general?
We look for employees who are family-friendly and want to learn. We offer a lot of training here because we want them to grow and thrive. They need to have a good work ethic. We’ve found that it’s amazing what can be achieved when you put the right team together, but it only takes one person to break all you’ve built.
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