Quick Lube Q&A: Bill Snow of Rad Air Complete Car Care

March 1, 2024
Bill Snow offers advice for hiring strategies in a shop setting.

The tall task of bringing on new talent is something that resonates with all shop owners. Finding the right fit for your team and your shop can sometimes go smoothly and can sometimes be a challenge. Either way, it's best to have a good hiring approach in place. 

For this Quick Lube Q&A, NOLN spoke with Bill Snow. Snow is  vice president of franchise development and operations at Rad Air Complete Car Care, and he shared some tactics for hiring and onboarding.


NOLN: Why do you think it’s important for shop owners to develop a strategy with hiring before just jumping straight into the process? 


Bill Snow: One of the things I learned very early on in shop ownership by talking to other shop owners is most people just hire Mr. Right Now (or Mrs. Right Now) because they don't have a plan. A shop owner or manager has a need, they put an ad out, they're busy, (and) they've got a lot going on. Someone comes and … they check all the boxes, and they hire them. And if that’s your process you’re going to end up maybe finding somebody that's good, but you're probably just going to hire Mr. or Mrs. Right Now, when you really need to be thinking about hiring Mr. Right or Mrs. Right. Having a defined process makes sure that your interview process is consistent, it’s not rushed, and it measures every applicant and candidate on the same criteria.  


NOLN: When shop owners go to make the actual job listing, how can they make sure that they have their bases covered?  


Bill Snow: The job description ought to describe a day in the life of what this person is going to do. But then, I recommend having friends and family and even other employees read that job description and ask them … two questions: Does this catch your eye? Would you apply (for) this job? Then you take the job description you've written about the day, and now you need to make it exciting.  


Why would someone leave what they’re doing today, to come and apply for this? (The job listing) could talk about your benefits, you can talk about your shop culture (or) your training. You could talk about your awards. You can even highlight an employee who has moved up from apprentice to lube tech to general tech to shop manager—whatever that case might be. Make the job post engaging. Make it fun. Make it to where someone says, “That's what I want.” And it really should appeal to someone (who’s) not looking for a job right now. It should be that appealing that someone says, “I think I need to go talk to that shop owner and hear what this is all about.”  


NOLN: When shop owners are looking at an applicant, what should they be looking for in that application that they receive?  


Bill Snow: First and foremost, did they follow the rules in the job application? That's actually where you could write the job application to weed out some people. I've seen positions written where (it says) do not send a resume or send a resume with this or include something in your cover letter ... so first off, did they follow the rules for how you want them to apply? That will show you whether or not they can follow procedures and processes in your shop. Then … look for any red flags. Are they somebody who, every six months, is moving?

In most cases that could be an indication that they're only going to be with you a short time or maybe they just haven't found their forever employer yet. And you could be that person because you offer what they need and the type of environment where they’ll exceed. The other thing is, did they skip over anythingIf you're using paper applications, did they write legibly? Because … if you're not using digital inspections and processes in your shop, (a) shop owner (or manager) is going to have to read their writing … so, if the application comes through messy, that could be a red flag. The other thing I've always been impressed (with is) applicants (who) send a well written resume. And what I’ve found out when I’ve hired those folks (who) have a resume (is) they tend to be the rock stars (who) really work well and are career minded.  


NOLN: What about when the applicant comes in for an interview, or to meet the shop owner for the first time? What should shop owners be looking for in these applicants?  


Bill Snow: Did they show up on time? Hopefully, they showed up early. If they're late to the interview and there wasn't something weird like construction on your street, that could be an indication of how they're going to show up each and every day to a shop. How do they present themselves? Do they use … good language? Are they swearing? (That should be a red flag right away.) How are they dressed? If they just came from their current job, I would expect them to be in their shop uniform or something very close to that. But if they have the day off, if you’re meeting them after hours or on the weekend, did they take the time to put their best foot forward? Not saying they need to come in a suit and tie but look presentable because ultimately if you hire that person, they're going to be representing your business and a shop’s brand.  


And the other thing that I look for when they're there is, are we having one- or two-word responses to questions? During the interview you ought to have a predefined list of questions. Are they giving you one- or two-word responses, or are they telling a story? Are they explaining stuff? How thorough are they with their responses? Again, that’s going to help you (or a hiring manager) understand how thorough they’re going to be in their job.  


NOLN: What do you think are some of the main questions that shop owners should make sure they're asking applicants in these interviews?  


Bill Snow: The first question should always be, “Tell me about yourself.” Because the applicant will give you answers to questions you’re not allowed to ask. They will tell you everything about their background … if there's anything negative in their background, a lot of times, that will come up because they don’t know what else to say, so they’re going to tell you everything. I always make the first interview not about money, not about benefits. I make it about the candidate first, the shop second, and based on how that goes, that would lead to a second interview. That’s where we dive into some other great questions like, “Walk me through a front brake job.” Because I want to see at what point do they start the process of explaining a front brake job to me?  


Sometimes, (there are) wrong answers. But I love it when a candidate says, “I review the work order with the service advisor. That’s the first thing I do.” I know that person (is) very thorough. What steps do they walk through when you ask them a question like that? The more open-ended, the better. I think some hiring managers tend to assume things—that the candidate knows this, or you don’t need to ask that question. If anyone’s been in an interview recently, they’ve always heard, “Tell me about a time when … you got in a disagreement, you were patted on the back, you won an award.” Ask a lot of those … a lot of their history will come up, good and bad, in those types of questions.  


NOLN: Although the process may look different for every shop, what are some key components to onboarding a new employee in a shop setting? 


Bill Snow: At the very beginning of this, there should be an offer letter stating everything that you've agreed to with … that new employee. What is their start date? What are their hours? What is their pay? When is their … if you’re going to do a 30-, 60-, and 90-day review (which I highly recommend)? When do the benefits kick in? That should be black and white, given to your new employee, and signed by that new employee. Hopefully, there’s an employee handbook that exists for that shop. Or a binder that has all the standard operating procedures. That needs to be reviewed with the new employee as well. Part of the onboarding, to me, starts (with) that offer letter. Once that’s received and signed … hopefully that candidate that you hired is giving two weeks' notice. So, you’re not going to see them again for two weeks. You ought to be working with them during those two weeks. Here’s your tax paperwork, and here’s a link to fill out our onboarding materials. Or here’s a packet I need you to fill out. Here’s where I want you to park when you come on your first day.  


On that first day, there ought to be a welcome card from every employee signed. There should be a sweatshirt or a T-shirt or something with your brand on it … give them as much branded things as you can to make them feel welcome. That first day is less about turning wrenches as it is about getting to know the team, getting to know the building layout, getting their tools set up and established (and) understanding the workflow. All too often, new technicians and mechanics get hired into environments and they are set up to fail because they're not taught any rituals or any processes that exist within that.

I’m a big fan of that first week of onboarding, that employee is getting to the hiring manager or owner of that business (to) talk to them at the end of each day. What questions do you have? What worked, what didn’t? What do I need to know? They have fresh eyes on your business. You’re going to learn more from that person than you’ll ever learn from any business consultant or anything. Then after that first week, you're checking in every couple of days. Then after that, it’s every week. And then you get them into your regular monthly one-to-one discussion that every employee should be having with their boss 


NOLN: Is it necessary for shops to have a "trial period" for new employees? What should shop owners be looking for when new employees start?  


Bill Snow: I do like the probationary period idea. The way we do it is 30 days, and it’s followed by a 30 and then a final 30, so a full 90 days. In the first 30 days, it’s all about, “This is everything you said you could do. This is everything your references told us about you. Let’s see if you can live up to that.” And that’s really what that 30 day is about. It's also about ... your new employee seeing if everything you told them about your business is true. Does what you say about your culture … match what they live each day in your shop? And at the end of 30 days, you sit down and assess with them. Hey, did I live up to my end of the bargain? Did you live up to your end of the bargain? And sometimes, we will put a pay increase after that first 30 days.  


So, if we decide to hire an employee at $30 an hour, we might offer them $28 (an hour) to start. At the end of the 30 days, if they (do) everything they said they could, then they move to $30. So, there’s a little incentive for them to bring their best self. But that needs to continue for the next 30, and the final 30. And then, of course, throughout the rest of their career. The other thing too is to make sure you’re keeping in touch with your existing team members and what habits or behaviors are they seeing that are either consistent with the culture, or that goes against the culture so that those can be adjusted or corrected as quickly as possible? 


NOLN: What are some of the biggest challenges for hiring in today’s industry?  


Bill Snow: One is … getting applicants. The other is differentiating yourself from everybody else. I meet with a lot of young students who graduated high school (and) they’re in a local tech program. They’re thinking about where they want to go and they have preconceived notions that a particular big chain is the way to go, or a dealership is the way to go, or a performance shop is the way to go. And there’s a lot of misinformation out there about shops that offer benefits versus shops that don’t 


And I think also the mindset of shop owner can sometimes get in the way too, “Oh I can’t afford that employee.” Or “I don’t have attractive enough culture or benefits. I think that's where shop owners really need to dig into their existing operation and highlight what's best about them. Why would someone want to come and work? And lastly, always be recruiting. You never know where your next employee is going to come from. And always be ready. Particularly at my shop, I hired a an assistant manager for the shop without having an opening because I met a rock star, and … he wasn't working in a in a shop. He was working at a high-end used car dealership. I said, “I (have got to) have this kid in my shop.” So, always be recruiting, always looking for those employees and then finding a way to get them into your environment and it'll pay off. Your organization will benefit.  


NOLN: What does the future workforce look like for this industry? Where will shops be sourcing talent from as the years go on?   


Bill Snow: There (are) two areas I see this happening. One is, I’ve seen an increase in students getting involved in the trade at the high school level and the interest (in) those is growing from what I see in our marketplace. So, shop owners need to be developing relationships with the schools so that they can get those students funneled to them. And change the mindset of a shop owner where I can take somebody that has no experience and mentor them into what I need them to be. It might take two years to get a good student into a producing technician. So, one is vocational students and folks who are coming out of school with very little experience, but you invest in them both time and money, you're going to have a great employee. And if you do that, why would they want to leave? If you help them along their career. 


The other is looking for where (we can) find potential technicians that are already out in the marketplace but are not (in) shops. Sometimes we see appliance repair people or people working at stores like Harbor Freight where they have an interest in mechanics and working with their hands, just nobody's presented them the opportunity. And I'll tell you one of our great employees was flipping burgers at McDonald's and needed to do a job shadow experience, walked into one of our locations and said, “I'd like to shadow you for two weeks, can I do that?” The manager said, “Sure thing.”  


I think we're three years … after his high school graduation. He's been certified to work on hybrid vehicles, and he’s just a great producing technician. There's somebody (who) had ambition but didn't have anyone to take him under … a wing. So, look for folks like that (who) have the ambition, (who) have the skills, (but) just haven't had an opportunity to use (them) yet.