Methods to Help Attract and Keep Service Techs
Amenities for employees at the new Courtesy Toyota dealership in Brandon, Fla., include a console for playing video games, above, and a self-service food market in the break room, below.
For years, new-vehicle dealerships have focused on enhancing showroom amenities, offering car and truck shoppers coffee bars, cafes, massages, manicures and fitness centers to provide a superior customer experience. But as dealerships make more of their profits from fixed operations and relatively less from vehicle sales, now it’s service technicians — not just buyers — who are getting pampered.
In 2019, Asbury Automotive Group opened a new home for its Courtesy Toyota dealership in the Tampa-St. Petersburg suburb of Brandon, Fla. The $30 million, 91,000-square-foot facility includes back-of-store enhancements that Asbury acknowledges are designed to help attract and retain technicians amid a growing industry shortage.
Asbury also is upgrading facilities for service employees at several other of its 83 dealerships. “We’re going to update as many stores as we can each year,” says Tim Brand, Asbury’s vice president of fixed operations.
At Courtesy Toyota, nicely appointed locker rooms for the dealership’s 60 technicians and other employees — separate facilities for men and women — are outfitted with comfortable leather chairs and wooden lockers. A large-screen TV and an Xbox console are available during work breaks. The break room offers gourmet coffee machines and a self-service food market where employees can buy snacks with the swipe of a credit card.
Asbury Automotive Group’s Courtesy Toyota dealership in suburban Tampa-St. Petersburg features amenities aimed at enhancing working conditions for service technicians. These are some of the upgrades, which Asbury plans to roll out at several other of its 83 dealerships.
- Technician locker rooms with wooden lockers and leather chairs
- Large-screen TV and Xbox gaming console
- Larger restrooms
- Air conditioning in the shop and locker rooms
- A parts department in the center of the shop, providing easy access for technicians
- Tire carousels for more organized storage and faster tire retrieval
- More tire and tire-balancing machines
- Wheel wings on car lifts to minimize back strains while technicians change tires
The shop floor has 63 service bays with efficiency-enhancing features including express-service lifts that raise and lower vehicles significantly faster than the lifts at the old dealership next door, also called Courtesy Toyota. Wheel wings on the lifts help techs avoid back strain when they install tires. The parts department in the center of the shop gives technicians quick access to parts.
The service department also features labor-saving tire mounting and balancing machines, an alignment rack that runs tests much faster, and two carousels that greatly reduce the time needed to deliver tires to technicians.
The machines are strategically situated to maximize technicians’ productivity and efficient work flow.
Comfort Drives Productivity
“We just love it when we walk into the locker room,” says Jose Flores, a Brandon Toyota shop foreman. “We imagined we’d get something like a gym class locker room, but this is a very, very nice place to take a break.
“Asbury didn’t cut any corners,” he told Fixed Ops Journal. “We have nice wood lockers, not metal, and they’re more spacious. The restrooms are larger, too.”
Unlike the shop at its predecessor store, the service department is air conditioned, which Flores calls “an A-plus addition.”
The department’s design, layout and equipment reflect input from Asbury employees nationwide, gathered during town hall meetings the executive team holds annually at every dealership, as well as through employee surveys. The dealership group even uses exit interviews with departing workers to solicit comments about facilities, Brand says.
“At the town halls, we do dealership walk-throughs,” says Brand, a former service manager and technician. “These facility evaluations provide us with a ton of feedback.”
Service employees expressed two priorities during the fact-gathering process, Brand says: nicer break areas and better designed shops that can handle workflow more efficiently.
“If a car comes in here and leaves there, does that flow right?” he says. “We also wanted to position equipment so technicians can do their jobs without unnecessary delays and without expending more effort than needed.”
Traditionally, parts departments are on one side of the service bays, forcing some technicians to walk all the way across the shop. Centralizing the parts desk at the new dealership reduces delays, Brand says. To improve productivity further, some maintenance parts — such as oil filters, cabin air filters and wiper blades — are stocked in technicians’ bays.
The service department’s two five-level tire carousels are among Flores’ favorite improvements. Each carousel holds 250 tires organized by size. To fulfill requests for tires, an employee types a part number. The rotating rack transports the correct tires, essentially at eye level.
The dealership previously stacked tires on shelves. That made it hard to find the right-size tires quickly, Flores says. The carousels are about 10 feet from the tire-changing room; tires used to be stored 100 to 150 feet away.
“We used to wait maybe 20 to 30 minutes to get tires,” Flores says. “Now it takes only 10 to 15 minutes.”
The department now has four tire machines and four tire-balancing machines, twice as many as the old dealership, Flores adds. “We don’t have to wait in line anymore,” he says.
Investment, Not Spending
Brand says Courtesy Toyota’s technicians have reacted positively to the service department enhancements. He declined to say how much more it costs to design and equip a department this way but noted that Asbury views the upgrades as investments rather than costs.
“Making our technicians more efficient with a state-of-the-art facility is not an expense,” he says. “It’s an investment that will more than pay off in the long term.”
Flores says he already has seen how the enhancements can help attract technicians.
“When we interview new hires, they’re amazed,” he says. “They just love the way everything is laid out. They see that when this shop was designed, Asbury really focused on the technicians.”
Parts counter employee Vince Abell opens a wooden locker in Courtesy Toyota’s men’s locker room.
Asbury hired the Atlanta architecture firm Praxis3 to help design the service facilities at the new Courtesy Toyota. Brand says he expects the enhancements and improved efficiencies to increase service customer satisfaction as well.
“More than anything else, customers value time,” he says. “They want to get in and get out as fast as possible. So, efficiencies in fixed ops are important.”
Amenities for service employees such as those found at Courtesy Toyota should be “par for the course” industrywide if dealerships hope to retain technicians, says Mark Smith, COO of San Antonio-based Principle Auto Group, which owns seven dealerships in Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Smith has been a vocal advocate of improved facilities for technicians.
Principle dealerships feature locker rooms for male and female technicians, with mahogany lockers, granite countertops, big-screen TVs and drink stations with free soda, Gatorade and other beverages, Smith says. The group’s BMW of San Antonio dealership offers a workout facility for service employees, he adds.
“Too many dealerships think about technicians last,” Smith says. “You have to create an environment where they want to be. If you don’t have these kinds of amenities and you’re not willing to pay above market rate and don’t create a great culture, you just won’t get technicians. If you try to compete without those things, it gets pretty ugly.”
This article originally appeared in Fixed Ops Journal