Fullbay held a shop owners roundtable Tuesday. Fullbay CEO Patrick McKittirick and COO Chris O'Brien spoke to Jennifer Callaway, co-owner of Inland Empire Fleet Maintenance and Henry Uribe, owner of OnSite Truck & Equipment in Arizona.
About a quarter of the 250 questions received ahead of time dealt with labor issues.
Callaway started out as a driver, then became a dispatcher and manager and shop manager. In 2019, she and her husband started Inland Empire Fleet Maintenance.
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"It's a baby, still growing, but we're just trying to build that small business that takes care of its people," she says.
Uribe has been in the industry for 25 years, starting in automotive before moving to heavy trucks. He's worked in several states and with four brands, first starting his own business in 2006 and then again in 2011, when he started OnSite.
He says what larger companies have lost is the personal connection with their workforce.
"There's a reason why the bigger companies are struggling with labor," he says. "They don't have the personal touch."
Callaway agrees. She says in a small shop like hers, one person can turn the whole thing upside down.
"It all comes down to company culture," she says. "You want them to enjoy coming to work and have good reasons for coming to work."
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At Inland Empire, they try to be like a small family, Callaway says, doing things together outside of the business. Her door is always open, she says, and she expects her employees to bring their problems to the table.
Uribe's business is bigger and he says with his workforce, he sometimes sees bad habits that come from other shops, and that sometimes, he just has to overlook it.
Both business owners say they work through the interview process to weed out bad apples. Callaway says she uses a service called Jobehaviors to do a diesel mechanic assessment. She says she's taken it herself and also makes service managers take it.
The prescreening returns people with a rating of one through five, and Callaway says she's hired people all along the spectrum. But she allows the one-stars didn't work out so well.
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"I've hired one-stars and fired all of them," she says. "The higher-end guys tend to be really good about adapting. Sometimes they tend to be overthinkers."
Jobehaviors and another company that Inland Empire uses for recruiting services helps fill a chink in Callaway's armor. She's good at a lot of things, she says, but recruiting isn't one of them.
"We're small, but we're super busy, so it's all hands on deck," Callaway says. "When I'm at work every day, I'm under the truck at least one time."
Uribe says the pandemic and other economic conditions have taken a toll on the labor pool. He says you have to pay the technicians really well.
"A good technician is going to save you a lot of money," he says. "They pay for themselves. They're going to generate more sales and make you more money."
Callaway says Inland Empire has a scale and a pay range, and, thanks to California law, the scales are published and a precedent has to be set. Inland Empire invests in their techs, she says, connecting with their techs so they connect for the company and put forth their best efforts.
Both companies are coping with difficult economic conditions. Callaway says high inflation is driving people out of businesses and Inland Empire is finding its balance. Uribe says he's found that economic conditions really depend on the state. OnSite has locations in Arizona and Texas.
"It's scary, not just the economy, but what's happening to our country," Uribe says. He advises business owners to narrow their focus. "Turn off the noise. Focus on your business, focus on your people, focus on your customers."