From the ground up

Last May, despite the recession, Colorado Boat Center had a three-week backlog in its service department and, with several competitors going out of business, the opportunity to take on even more service work. At the same time, one of its technicians had just been diagnosed with cancer and was only able to work sporadically. It was time to expand its team and hire another technician, according to Nancy Smith, co-owner.

However, Colorado Boat Center didn’t need to post a help-wanted advertisement. The business has a career page on its Web site, through which people can submit their resumes year-round. Over the past year and a half, the volume the dealership has received has quadrupled, says Smith. And the quality has been top notch.

About half of the technician resumes Colorado Boat Center receives are from recent graduates of technician training programs, like the Marine Mechanics Institute. And that’s the ideal candidate, according to Smith.

“In the past, we’ve hired very experienced mechanics from other dealerships, and they bring along an ego, some baggage, and a lot of other things in addition to their expertise,” she explains. “Skills are good, but skills can be trained. It’s much harder to train on work ethics, personality and values. We like starting them from the ground up. If you find the personality that is going to complement the team you already have, someone with good work ethics, you can always send them to training.”

Once a person becomes part of the dealership’s business family, Colorado Boat Center pays for all of their training, and their salaries, while they’re gone.

“We feel like we owe that to them,” says Smith. “And no matter how ugly the bottom line is, you don’t cut that out.”

With that said, the dealership protects itself. In the Colorado Boat Center handbook, it spells out that by accepting training, the employee is committed to the company for a year. Should they choose to leave before that point, it can collect the cost of the training out of their final paycheck.

“If you’re giving them the security, advancement opportunity and an environment they want to work in, if you’re taking good care of them, they’re not going to leave anyway unless it’s for a really good reason,” says Smith. “The days of people jumping from job to job is pretty much dead in the water. I don’t think we’re going to see that for a long time.”

Since the new technician was hired, Colorado Boat Center has not been three weeks behind again. It has picked up new customers. It has added an “In by Monday, out by Friday” policy. It has increased its labor rate. And its service business has increased. In fact, the dealership is now considering adding yet another technician.

“During a recession, people say ‘Are you kidding?’ when we tell them we increased our labor rate,” Smith explains. “But if you can guarantee in by Monday and out by Friday for standard jobs, you’re not backed up three or four weeks, and you have technicians that do an outstanding job with few comebacks. People will pay for that.”

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