Find A Helping Hand

Oct. 20, 2021

When does your operation get large enough to hire an office staff member?

SHOP STATS: Bobby and Steve's Auto World   Locations:  8 total  Operator: Bobby Williams  Average Monthly Car Count: 1,000  Total Staff Size: 297 (across all shops)  Average Ticket: $260  

Independent shop owners have to focus on a lot more than cars. Everything from finances to human resources, recruiting to advertising and more goes through the owner. 

“When you’re a small, independent business owner, it’s you, you and you,” says Brad Burley, recruiting and automotive director for Minnesota-based Bobby and Steve’s Auto World.

When the workload becomes too varied to keep close track, seeking outside help may be a tempting proposition.

Drawing on Burley’s 35 years in the business, when has he found the right time to hire a non-tech position to help with day-to-day tasks at the store?

The Challenge

Burley has extensive experience in both building a shop from the ground up and helping  smaller businesses expand. While every shop faces its own unique challenges, Burley says one constant hurdle is figuring out if hiring a new person is really the best move or if that will add stress to both daily workflow and the owner’s pocketbook. 

The Solutions

Trust Your Gut

Burley admits it’s a bit cliche, but he says most times managers or owners will have a good instinct if their business is doing fine or if they need to hire someone to help with administrative or other non-tech tasks.

“You’ll know when the timing is right to do things. It’s a gut feeling that you know you’re losing business because you can’t say ‘yes,’” Burley says. “I always tell our guys on the automotive side that if you can’t say yes, you’re either staffed improperly or you’ve got your priorities wrong. That’s just observing your business.”

Managers can’t rely solely on that feeling alone, however, because not every problem in productivity or workload management should be solved by hiring someone. 

“That’s a moving target business to business,” Burley says. “I always (measure) our success as a business by if we have the right systems in place, great store traffic in place and the right people in place. If any one of those breaks down, (you’re not successful). Typically it’s staffing, so if you don’t have the right staff, either quantity or quality, it’s hard to do the other components of the business.”

Find the Passion

Burley joined Bobby and Steve’s Auto World around five years ago, well after the chain had already become established in the Twin Cities metropolitan area -- the most recent of the company’s locations was opened some three years before Burley joined.

Despite being a more recent addition to the staff, Burley says he’s already taken several opportunities to bring in non-tech staffers to help guide the company to a more technologically savvy future. 

He specifically mentions three former colleagues from his time working at Tires Plus that he hired to lead teams at three individual stores in the chain. Those hires, he says, helped revitalize those stores because of the passion those new additions brought to each of their respective teams. For chains that have several store fronts, Burley says getting the right people in to lead those individual shops—those who are excited to come to work and do everything they can to help that store succeed—can help fix some of the inefficiencies of day-to-day shop operations without having to hire an additional staff member.

“You’ve got to get the leaders to change, or you’ve got to change the leaders,” Burley says. “You can tell in a relatively short period of time if someone is passionate, not just about their job but also about life.”

Know the Numbers

Burley says there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to determining if you need to hire someone, but the place to start is by knowing your books inside and out.

“You better know your numbers. Our largest controllable expense is our payroll,” he says. “When people come to me and say ‘Hey, what do you think about adding this person?’ The first thing I ask them is what is your payroll-to-gross-profit ratio? The second question I ask is how many dollars a day are you losing by being short-staffed?”

Once a shop figures out the answers to those questions, it can better figure out if hiring is necessary and for what position to start the hiring process. Whether it’s a front-end cashier or a back-end business manager, identifying where you and your current staff are lacking can go a long way in helping inform when you should hire and who you should hire. 

The Aftermath

After running a small, family-owned business in St. Cloud, Minn., and his own consulting service for several years largely by himself, he says being a part of a brand that has taken time to identify where it really needs to hire people and streamline its entire operation has been a welcome change.

“I enjoyed it, but it was a 24-hour-a-day job and it was overwhelming at times,” he says. “What typically happens for an independent owner or manager is they try to do it all themselves.  

In nearly five years with Bobby and Steve’s Auto World, Burley has helped the chain’s eight locations maintain a high standard of efficient work and customer service. That, he says, comes from the business knowing what it does well, what it doesn’t and how to hire the right people to bridge that gap.

The Takeaway

Hiring a non-tech position may be an enticing solution to an overstuffed work load, but focusing on making sure your business and its employees are as efficient as possible could reduce redundancies and streamline work. 

“Why are you expanding? Does your model currently work? Are you adding something for your ego, or are you adding something that you think you can actually develop? Trying to expand a business that isn’t working is just a recipe for disaster,” Burley says

If hiring someone is the best solution, go through the process with a very clear vision for the position for which you’re hiring -- what tasks they’ll perform, how they’ll mesh with the rest of the team and other considerations -- to maximize the payroll-to-profit ratio.

“You have to know what you’re looking for. We had an acronym at Tires Plus and always said we were looking for COPS: People who are caring, optimistic, passionate and systems-driven,” Burley says. “You can’t teach people to care, you can’t teach them to be optimistic, you can’t teach passion.”

And, most importantly, Burley says once the decision to hire someone is made, you have to actively invest not just money but also time and energy into the process to ensure that you won’t have to go through that same process again.

“You better be passionate about recruiting. If you just put a banner up that says you’re hiring and tell your HR department that you need people, that’s not active recruiting. You have to see what the competition is doing, you have to be priced right in the market,” Burley says. “HR and recruiting have to be as big a deal as selling tires and alignments or any other part of your business. It has to be a priority.”