Technicians in the shop

Three ways indie repair shops can compete with dealers for technicians

May 10, 2024
Dealership techs can be a valuable asset to indie repair shops, but there are a few things to keep in mind before scheduling interviews.

Automotive aftermarket research firm IMR reported in 2023 that 33% of auto repair shop owners indicated that their second biggest industry-related challenge was finding and employing technicians—up nearly 2% from 2019. In an automotive landscape where finding qualified independent repair technicians keeps auto repair shop owners up at night, one segment of workers could alleviate these challenges—dealership technicians. 

Andy Bizub, owner and chief strategy officer at Midwest Performance Cars, which has three locations in and around Chicago, has found these dealership technicians particularly advantageous to his business. In dealership techs, he gets automotive specialists with OE-specific training and high efficiency. But hold your horses before you keyword search ‘dealership auto technician’ on Indeed. There’s a process auto repair shop owners should follow when hiring dealership technicians.

Understanding the Dynamic Behind Dealership Techs

For Midwest Performance Cars, bringing on a dealership technician starts with making sure the alignment is right. Independent repair shops are operationally and culturally different from dealerships. Whereas indie shops emphasize the customer journey through attentive service, vehicle education and advocacy, and overall satisfaction, dealership technicians are designed to be like assembly line workers—highly efficient, detached, and focused on completing prescribed work with the autonomy of an independent contractor and not as a member of a team. It’s something shop owners should understand about a dealership technician's makeup before interviewing and hiring.

Bizub asserts that it’s important to help dealership technicians embrace a team-first mentality, and while the technicians he has hired have been successful, that hasn't always been the case.

“That's a real issue because you do have people who are are steeped in that dealership culture of ‘I’m on my own. I’m a lone wolf’ and it's eat what you kill.
There are some people who (have) been in that and they can't make the jump,” Bizub says. “We have to realize that not everybody is going to fit into everything.”

Compensation plans are another change dealership technicians learn is different when moving to independent repair shops. In one interview, a candidate asked Bizub how many hours his shop takes back from technicians at the end of the week. The question caught Bizub off guard. Taking back hours, he learned, is the practice of dealerships to reclaim 10% of the hours a technician works at the end of the week to compensate for warranty work or comebacks. Bizub reassured the candidate that his shop didn’t adhere to such practices under any circumstances; technicians get paid for the number of hours they work. 
“I asked around after that and actually found out that is not an uncommon practice at dealerships,” Bizub says.

Hiring Dealership Technicians

Bizub likes to keep a deep bench, and this includes a pile of resumes on hand. He says his process is to perform a round of interviews with the candidate that begins with one of his three other managers, preferably the manager at the shop where the staffing need exists. The interview is conversational—a chance for the technician and the manager to feel one another out. The candidate is asked about themselves, their professional goals, and why they’re looking to leave their dealership. “Ideally we don't want someone who's just going to move for $2 an hour more,” Bizub says. 

If the candidate is perceived as a good fit, they’re invited for a second and more substantial interview. This round includes Bizub, the shop manager, and the lead technician.

See more: We can solve the technician shortage | Fleet Maintenance

“(The interview) tends to be more another conversation and really kind of delving into what are their goals, what are the motivations, how do they feel about training, what kind of training have they had, what's been their experience? What are the pros and cons of the training that they've gone to? Any suggestions about the way things work in the industry as a whole,” Bizub says. “We really try to keep it kind of wide open."

The technician is presented with various shop scenarios and asked how they would address them. Bizub is looking not only for technical prowess but personality and soft skills. He says with 10 technicians across his three shops, he likes to see candidates comfortable in their own skin. “We're not trying to create automatons; we're trying to bring people who are going to bring additive things to our business,” Bizub says.

Bizub hired one rock star dealership technician who moved to Chicago from Houston—“Very unusual. Nobody moves into Illinois"—for personal reasons. Bizub walked him through a lengthy interview process since the technician was coming from a “highly reputable” shop in Texas. Bizub says that while the technician had weaknesses, he exceeded expectations in important areas and was hired to help improve the efficiency of his younger technicians. Today, that technician is the foreman at Bizub’s main shop. He has plenty of similar success stories with finding and hiring dealership technicians. 

While dealership technicians have strong transferrable skills, indie repair shop owners need to be prepared to train them to fit the culture and get them acclimated into a more intimate working environment. It’s a chance Bizub is willing to take to get the specialists he needs.

“We know that it's going to be an investment on our part to bring that individual up to speed on what we're doing. So, we'll pair them up with one of our experienced techs and continually monitor their progress,” Bizub says. “We know we're going to be getting 100% productivity out of them for some (time), but not a long period of time, and it's expected. Have a plan and have reasonable expectations. It's part of our investment in that person.”

Making the Leap

For a better idea of how indie repair shops can successfully bring these techs onboard, Fleet Maintenance's sister publication Ratchet+Wrench asked former dealership technician Brandon Ludwikowski to offer some tips.

Ludwikowski is the current business foreman at Midwest Performance Cars, but once upon a time, the UTI graduate was a lube technician at a Toyota dealership. He joined PMC as a porter, worked his way up to foreman, and into his current role where he owns a stake in the business. He offers his advice on how shop owners can succeed with dealership technicians.

1. Learn what skills to look for in dealership technicians that will translate well to the independent repair shop.

Ludwikowski said one thing that dealership techs bring to the table in terms of unique value is "a very specific way of doing things. When a car comes in, we have this exact way of checking the oil level, we have this exact way of doing the oil change, we use a torque wrench on this exact bolt every single time."

In the customer-centric, team environment of an indie shop, there is undeniably something to be said for a tech who is familiar with adhering to standard operating procedures, especially where efficiency is concerned.

Dealership techs may also have more extensive training, which can come in handy if an indie shop specializes in certain types of repairs.

"If you're an independent [shop that] works on a specific make of cars, let's say all European cars or all domestic vehicles, having a dealership tech that has been through that training helps out a ton on the independent side where a lot of independent guys don't really get access to that information without having to pay a lot of money for it."

2. Understand how to help facilitate the transition.

In regards to the actual transition from dealership to independent repair, Ludwikowski noted that "one of the challenging things was it was a little bit more relaxed in a way where there wasn't a whole lot of structure. Now, that could have been the old owner, but it seemed there was no real structure whereas coming from a dealership, they instill that structure into you; you have a set schedule, this is what you need to do. I think that helped me a lot when going to an independent."

"One of the big things is reconnecting them with the customer," Ludwikowski added. "When [techs are] at the dealership, they don't really see the customer—they just see it as another car coming through. And they're going to pick up as much work as they can on it and that's it. With an independent, we have such a closer relationship with our customers."

3. Make sure a potential dealership tech hiree is a good fit in terms of shop values and culture.

Ludwikowski pointed out that "if you have a good independent shop, you have a good culture already. All of your guys work great together. So, we kind of look at that as like, 'OK, how is this person's personality and attitude a good fit into all of our culture?' So, we look for guys who understand the expectation of not selling everything possible on the car—being very truthful and being very honest about what the car needs, what the customer needs, and what's right overall.

That being said, he explained that the indie shop culture is often a main selling point for techs considering leaving the dealership.

"That’s one of the main reasons we're seeing a lot of guys leave—culture."

"A lot of times if you're in a bigger shop where you're one of 34 technicians, you're just a number at that point. Nobody's going to remember your birthday; they won't even remember your name. And then that work-life balance bit," Ludwikowski continued. "Usually, dealerships have a mandatory Saturday, at least one time a month, if not twice. Sometimes guys want to work on more than one vehicle. Sometimes they get bored or stuck. And then the politics of working in a larger company. If you're not being seen or being acknowledged for the hard work that you're putting in, it's going to burn you out."

About the Author

Chris Jones | Sales- Wheel Service

Sponsored Recommendations

The Technician’s Guide for Mastering DPF Regens

Become a regen expert today! Equip yourself with the skills necessary to recognize when a forced regen is the correct procedure to maximize the lifespan of your filter and keep...

Report: The 2024 State of Heavy-Duty Repair

From capitalizing on the latest revenue trends to implementing strategic financial planning—this report serves as a roadmap for navigating the challenges and opportunities of ...

Fleet Industry Benchmarks: How does your fleet stack up?

Discover how your fleet compares to industry benchmarks and gain insights from a 2024 Benchmarking Report on maintenance spend, turnaround time, and more. Join us to identify ...

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...