By Joe Legato, Bill and Rod’s Appliances & Grills
If you were to ask appliance dealers what their number one need has been over the last decade, you would most likely hear one answer: appliance technicians.
Somewhere along the line appliance repair training was set aside, repair technicians were taken for granted, and appliances themselves were commoditized to the point where repair didn’t make economic sense. I even remember hearing at a meeting that service departments were considered a cost center instead of a profit center.
Today, we are seeing the aftereffects of these deficiencies playing out before us. The future of our service departments hinges on a single person. If that one person leaves or retires, then the department is forced to shut down until a new technician is found. The customers we have worked so hard to attain are now leaving because we cannot get them the service they have come to expect.
What Can We Do From Here?
We have all run ads for technicians and spent buckets of money trying to find one. However, it seems as though there aren’t even any out there, and if you do find one it is like finding a unicorn. Often, not always, when you find someone who already has been trained in the trade, they have bad habits or there is a clear reason they no longer work for their previous employer. Now you are back where you started.
It is time for appliance sales and service companies to take matters into our own hands. If you want to see your department flourish it is time to invest in it and take the time to develop it. The only way you can increase your team of technicians is to train people who already have foundational skills.
Where Do You Start?
The first step is to identify people who may be good candidates for training. Start within your own organization. Appliance installers and service writers are also good places to find candidates. Other careers that we have found make for easy transitions are property managers, auto mechanics and cable installers. These types of candidates tend to be familiar with electricity, plumbing and basic mechanical functions and catch on quickly.
There are many paths to training your next technician. A year-long apprenticeship with your lead technician or rebuilding used appliances with your in-shop technician are two great ways to learn basic diagnoses and common repairs by model or brand. During this time, they will also see how to interact with customers in a professional manner. After the first year, if the lead technician signs off, have the trainee start running a limited route on his own, and increase calls based on confidence and accuracy.
Another approach is to utilize online training courses from Master Samurai Tech or the like. These are in-depth courses that tackle basic diagnosis, electricity, thermodynamics and a host of other topics needed for the job. After successfully completing the sessions students are certified as appliance repair technicians.
There is also an on-site training center called Fred’s Appliance Academy in Madison, Ohio. Here trainees are immersed in white-goods repair for three weeks and come out with a solid foundation for appliance service. We have utilized both options with success.
Within our own organization we use a combination of these methods. What we have liked is the online training combined with on-the-road experience with another technician. Our technicians-in-training will have a half-day of online classes and then meet up with a technician for hands-on training. This includes reviewing the paperwork process and customer interactions. In our opinion, this process can build a well-rounded technician who is ready to meet the needs of our customers.
Now it is your time for action — time to rebuild your service departments and remain the neighborhood experts. Identify, train and develop the appliance technicians that will help carry you through for years to come. Service will always be what sets you apart from big-box stores, and the only way to widen the gap is to take action today.
Joe Legato is Chief Operating Officer of BrandSource member Bill & Rod’s Appliance & Grills, a retail and service company in Livonia, Mich. Now in its third generation, the family-owned and operated business provides appliances, mattresses, grills, and appliance parts and service to the greater metro Detroit market.