The real magic

Since Travis and Cathy Hayes purchased Hayes Marine three years ago, they’ve been poster children for how not to hire people. They began by looking to find employees they could hire as inexpensively as possible and didn’t do a good job of making sure those people had the necessary skills or were a good fit for the company’s culture.

All that has changed since the dealership’s owners shared their problems with a friend who is a consultant for the Sandler Sales Institute. He advised they spend a lot of time on the front end qualifying the candidate for the position.

Perhaps the most important step in this qualification process is to create a checklist of what is wanted and needed in each position. Those items might include a valid driver’s license, the ability to multitask, specific certifications, the ability to schedule, word processing and computer skills, or a certain number of years of boating or mechanical experience.

“If you have a guy you might have taken a chance on, if he has only 12 of the 24 items on the checklist, he probably isn’t a great fit,” explains Travis.

Perhaps the most important characteristic Hayes Marine is looking for, however, is flexibility. The dealership has been looking for technicians in earnest for six months through word of mouth, an employment application on its Web site, and an ad on the Georgia Department of Labor’s Web site, without much luck. While several people who have been let go or are in transition have contacted the dealership, most have been unwilling to take a pay cut. Either they are from areas where the cost of living is higher than Augusta, Ga., and their pay expectations are higher, or they have years of experience from other industries and aren’t willing to take a reduction in pay while they learn a new trade.

“We would be willing to take a chance on someone with a varying background, but that person has to be willing to put some sweat equity into it,” Travis says. “We’ve been a little disappointed with people who don’t have experience. We say, ‘The boating business pays X, but you’ve got to work your way up.’ They say, ‘I have to make Y to support my family.’ We say, ‘We can get you there in 12 to 24 months.’ But they’re not interested.”

Maybe the downturn hasn’t sunk in for some people, he speculates, but people can’t do things the way they did them in the past and expect to make a good living.

Another position the dealership had been searching for was a “superstar service manager,” a position Hayes’ friend said they would probably have trouble filling. Instead, the dealership split the position in two. For one half, they hired a man from the customer service industry. He brought with him experience in call centers, collecting on credit and automotive sales. With phone, computer and sales skills, he’ll work in parts and accessories, as a service writer and in sales.

“He was willing to change his expectations, to take a chance, and so were we,” explains Travis. While the employee was still in the two-week probationary period as this story was written, the couple had been pleased with him so far.

And they’ll continue to search for the right team members and invest in those who are “that right fit.” Ultimately, developing a strong team for their business will not only allow Hayes Marine to be more profitable, it will allow Cathy and Travis to spend less time in the business – at least one of them is at the dealership seven days a week in the summer – and in another 10 to 15 years, execute on an exit strategy.

“We are always going to be hands-on operators,” Travis concludes. “But when we’re at a point where we want to cash out, we’d like to have something to sell besides physical assets. We’d like to be able to say, ‘You’re not just buying Hayes Marine and Travis and Cathy; you’re buying these people. They’re the real magic of the business.”

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