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Training and Tracking Goals Help Cultivate a Diesel Dream Team


Pinkelman Truck & Trailer earns its green thumb with staff incentives, quarterly performance reviews and in-house training.

This Recruitment Remedy series spotlights best practices to enlist and retain top talent.

When considering staff stability, it helps to think of your shop as a farm and your techs as the seeds. Planting them into your diesel repair operation is simple enough, but ensuring they’ll take root requires a great deal of time, attention and proper training.

Amber and Luke Pinkelman, co-owners of Pinkelman Truck & Trailer

Luke and Amber Pinkelman, co-owners of Pinkelman Truck & Trailer in Norfolk, Nebraska, with their children.

Luke and Amber Pinkelman have struggled with holding onto employees in the past. The co-owners of Pinkelman Truck & Trailer experienced nearly a complete changeover at their Norfolk, Nebraska, facility in 2016. However, the power couple hunkered down, hit the job sites and devised a comprehensive training and employee incentive plan that’s allowed them to not only find and keep quality hires but also sow the seeds for future growth.

From unexpected transitions to training and tracking goals, Amber shares her insights on the business’ changing landscape.

You recently recruited and hired more techs to boost production. How did the shift go?

It was difficult at first, because we added them so quickly. The biggest problem we had was increasing the amount of jobs in proportion to the boom in workers. There was some catching up to do on the sales side, but we had a few slow weeks while we were adjusting. That gave us more time to onboard the new people.

What were the ups and downs of the assimilation/training process?

We made sure to hire not just for skill but attitude, too, so the crew we recruited fit in well with the existing staff. We already had a plan laid out to run the members through. This helped [bring the new employees] on the same page as far as [mastering] basic skills, getting familiar with our operational process, learning our software and understanding our standards for quality and professional work.

Pinkelman Truck & Trailer

  • Location: 401 E. Northwestern Ave., Norfolk, Nebraska
  • Shop size: 6,000 square feet
  • Number of bays: 5
  • Number of staff members: 11
  • Average monthly truck count: 128
  • Average annual revenue: $1.3 million
  • Average repair order: $1,000
  • Revenue increase from 2015 to 2016: 16 percent

How did you recruit them?

We told the tool truck and parts vendors and non-competing shops we were looking. We boosted a post on Facebook that [said] we were hiring and ran the ad for a month. Plus, we used the services of an employment agency that works exclusively with placing diesel professionals [for more tech hiring methods, view 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Recruit Qualified Techs].

We understand you’re big on monthly goal setting. What targets do you use for your team?

We plan a monthly gross sales mark based on our expenses and the amount we wish to set aside. We help each tech chart weekly production objectives based on his or her skills and how much of a bonus he or she wants. Daily sales goals are set to keep us on track to hit our weekly and monthly ambitions, and we plan quarterly training milestones for all employees to encourage development.

How do you monitor and accomplish them?

We have reports and data for everything, so tracking is easy. We do weekly performance stats, and there’s a graph for us to [visualize] our progress for any particular area of the business. I also do written action plans each week and set targets and tasks based on analyzing the charts and information. Having that reminder each day has been huge for our growth.

Pinkelman Truck & Trailer in Norfolk Nebraska

Pinkelman Truck & Trailer in Norfolk, Nebraska, secures an average monthly truck count of almost 130.

Tell us about your bonuses.

We have an individual plan in place for each position based on production. For example, a diesel tech’s incentive is focused on efficiency, while the service advisor’s is centered on gross sales and profit percent. We also have a staff reward where we set a gross sales objective at the beginning of the month, and all employees receive something if we hit it.

How do they help your operation?

The individual plan pushes each person to achieve his or her own marks and ensures hard work is acknowledged—even if we don’t reach the group bonus. The team incentive encourages them to work together and help each other because, in order to hit that goal, they all have to function as a unit and support one another.

Luke designed several customized stands to train your techs in-house. What was his inspiration?

We had an old axle laying around, and he said he could turn it into a practice tool to perform wheel end jobs with minimal expense. So, Luke set up a training stand where staff can do seals, brakes, axle gaskets and diaphragms—[essentially] all of your basic wheel end projects. Then, he decided we could do one for kingpins as well with parts we already had, so he built that too.

diesel truck repair training stand

Luke Pinkelman repurposed old components to create diesel training tools for his techs.

How do they assist your crew?

They greatly benefit the shop because there’s consistency in the training process. Since we see such a huge variety of trucks and work, it helps to have a tool where a tech can get a lot of practice in on a job that he or she is struggling with. It also improves our hiring process as we now have a hands-on portion of the interview where an
applicant can run through the stands to demonstrate his or her skill level with repairing diesel vehicles. 

What other types of benefits do you offer?

Besides training, bonuses, paid uniforms, holidays and vacation, we also offer health insurance (we pay 100 percent) and retirement (we match up to 3 percent of what the member contributes). Next on the list are dental and vision insurance.

You conduct quarterly performance reviews. How did this come about?

In the summer of 2016, we had almost a complete staff turnover, so we knew we needed to change things. I developed a template of assessments for each position. One of its points highlighted the training the worker had undertaken since the last session and what he or she needed to complete by the next one. We decided to do that more often than just annually.

Also, with the turnover, we wanted to make sure we were handling any issues or upsets faster. We’ve learned that many people won’t tell you anything is wrong until they’re already looking for a new job. We thought giving employees a dedicated opportunity to go over any problems multiple times a year would help with retention.

Many people won’t tell you anything is wrong until they’re already looking for a new job.

What other points do you address during these discussions?

The review goes over an employee’s average production stats from the last session and for the current period to determine any progress or regression. We rate his or her performance [as well as] demeanor, reliability and ability to get along with managers, colleagues and customers. We then document the action we decide to take—if he or she is getting a raise, going on or coming off probation, being let go or just receiving further review in three months.

There’s also a section for feedback in case someone has a concern, or if there are things he or she feels we can do better or implement to improve the shop and job satisfaction.

How have these reviews bettered your crew and business?

Members receive regular assessments on [their ability], and they get praised for the things they’re doing well. They have helped with boosting attitude, retention and efficiency and let people know we care and are invested in their development. That, in turn, gets everyone more involved in the company.

[The reviews] have helped with boosting attitude, retention and efficiency.

You were thinking about starting a second shift. Did that take place?

We did extend our hours. We used to be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday. We have increased the schedules to 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week and kept the Saturday timetable.

How has this decision improved your business?

Our guys aren’t as cramped in our small space, since we’ve implemented the extended hours. They picked the shifts they wanted, so it also increased job satisfaction. Plus, it helped drive additional work into the shop, because we were able to get a lot more diesel fleet accounts that wanted to have their service performed outside of their own operating hours.

You were considering the purchase of a nine-bay facility. Are you still interested?

We’re working on it. We expect to wait another year or three before we move, but just the planning of it is helping improve the business. Now we’re focused on increasing our production and hitting our numbers because everyone wants to get into a new building.

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