Mission IMPOSSIBLE: Finding Service Techs

By Rich Lindblom, YSN

Just about every dealer I talk to says the same thing: “I wish I could find another service tech.”

And odds are if you’re reading this story, you’re one of the 80 percent of all BrandSource dealers that are self-servicing, and that you feel the very same way. But it’s a nationwide problem that is affecting manufacturers, dealers and consumers alike.

So as a dealer you really have only two choices: 

  1. Wait for your Fairy Godmother to hand-deliver a fully trained technician to your front door.
  2. Get out there and find yourself a technician. 

And between you and me, sometimes I’m not quite sure which one is more likely to happen.

The problem is there is no magic bullet that is going to solve this issue, but I do think there is hope. There are some things all of us can do to find more techs, and when I say all of us, I mean dealers, manufacturers and BrandSource.

As a dealer, the first thing I’m going to tell you is that if option No. 1 actually materializes, don’t blow it.  If your Fairy Godmother sends a promising technician through your door, hire them, period, regardless of the cost. Because the cost of lost profit opportunity will always outweigh the couple of dollars an hour difference between what the tech is seeking and what you are offering.  If you figure the average appliance service tech brings in $1,000 to $1,200 in an average day, and you are only making a 20 percent profit (which is low if you ask me), you are losing at least $1,000 every week until you fill that position.

Like I said, lost profit opportunity.

Before we sold our business, my brother and I shared a simple phrase that summed up everything. If we interviewed a potential employee who we really liked, one of us would invariably turn to the other and say, “Don’t let that person out the door!”  In other words, hire that person at all costs.  Unfortunately, I know too many dealers who have let a great-looking technician walk out the door without a job offer because the tech’s salary requirements didn’t fit within the company’s pay structure. 

Let me tell you right now: Pay structure be damned, you need to hire that person.

Now if No. 1 doesn’t materialize, then you need to move on to No. 2 and find yourself a technician.  When you consider that the cost of not having a service truck on the street can be as much as $1,000 per week, you ought to be willing to spend that much every week to fill the position, because the sooner you do, the sooner you’ll recoup your investment.

Where to find a technician?  That’s the thousand-dollar question.  Below is a quick list of suggestions I’d like to throw out there:

  • Military Veterans. Vets typically have a great work ethic and respect authority. Contact your local VA location and see if they have any returning vets looking for work.
  • Trade Schools. Reach out to local trade schools; don’t worry if they’re not an appliance institute. Students in related trades will work fine as well.
  • Community Colleges. Most community colleges have technical programs. Talk to the career counselor about your needs.  And don’t be too picky either — an HVAC, plumbing or electrician program will deliver quality candidates for your needs.
  • High Schools.  Talk to the shop teacher or guidance counselor at your local high school.  Odds are that someone taking shop classes is both handy and not as likely to be going on to college.
  • Set Up an Internship Program. Yes, it will cost you some money because you’ll have to pay them. But if you find a candidate with the right skills, it’s worth it.  Just make sure you get them to sign a long-term employment contract, so they don’t leave after you’re done training them.
  • Look Within. Delivery and installation techs often transition very nicely to service techs.
  • Reward Within. Offer referral bonuses to employees whose recommendations lead to hires.
  • Use LinkedIn. Get out there and scour LinkedIn for service techs in your area and then try to steal them. Trust me, your competition wouldn’t hesitate to steal your techs if they had the opportunity. And be aggressive, don’t take no for an answer.  At least get them to come in and interview with you.
  • Facebook. Spread the word through social media and ask you friends to do the same. Sometimes a friend of a friend is just what you’re looking for.
  • Craigslist. It’s the cheapest thing out there, so for that reason alone it’s worth trying.
  • Job Sites. Sites like Zip Recruiter aren’t cheap, but once again consider the cost of lost profit opportunity.
  • Government Job Sites. Many towns and counties have job placement services, as do all states. Get your name out there, it’s free.

I’m sure I’m missing something that you’ve tried, but I wanted to give you some quick ideas. Hopefully there’s one or two in there that you hadn’t considered.

But as I said up top, this is a nationwide problem and as appliance manufacturers sell more and more units every year that are increasingly complicated and no longer last twenty years, demand for technicians will get much greater.  So I’m also asking all appliance manufacturers to get involved, because we are all in this together. 

Manufacturers could sponsor job fairs at their plants, subsidize appliance trade schools or perhaps offer to help set up appliance repair programs at community colleges. The reality of the situation is that if the vendors don’t step up and help us all figure a way out of this dilemma, dealers aren’t going to be the only ones feeling the crunch.

As for BrandSource, after attending this week’s Service Town Hall, I’m optimistic that your National Service Committee will take up this cause and do so in a big way. They sounded determined to help servicers at all costs and I believe that this is perhaps the most important issue facing every servicing dealer today. Let’s hope I’m right.

I always get a kick out of it when someone reaches out to me after reading one of my articles because it struck a particular chord with them.  So if you have a question or comment (good or bad) about something I wrote about, please reach out to me at egvrich@gmail.com, I’d love to hear from you – Rich