‘The employees absolutely get along with each other. They’re friends.’
This is the fifth installment of Tire Review’s Dealer Diary, a year-long series showcasing a typical tire dealer, his business, how he runs it, the many issues he deals with, and his thoughts on the industry in general.
This year, our Dealer Diary series, written by Managing Editor Craig Gifford, will feature two different tire dealers, alternating between one focused primarily on the retail side and another that handles mainly commercial accounts.
We’d love to hear your comments on this new series. Drop us a line using the reader feedback card in this issue, or send us an e-mail at [email protected].
This installment features Terry Sparks, owner of Sparks Commercial Tire in Findlay, Ohio.
Finding and keeping competent employees are the biggest concerns for any tire dealer. There’s always work to be done, and not enough time to do it. But when you’re a commercial dealer with a 24-hour service, where do you look for hard-working, trustworthy people that have the skills to do the job you need?
These are some serious questions Terry Sparks has struggled with over the years. Because he maintains a relatively small staff, Sparks’ employees must be knowledgeable and be able to work well with each other. That means finding the right combination of people.
So, what’s his secret? The employees themselves, of course.
“The best thing we’ve come up with for finding new employees is through the employees we already have,” said Sparks. ®If the guys are happy working here, then they tell a friend. That’s how the whole crew has developed. They’re like a bunch of brothers.
“The employees absolutely get along with each other. They’re friends. Most guys come to work 20-to-30 minutes early just so they can have coffee with the other guys.”
While Sparks does not offer any kind of finders fee, his employees do have one extra bonus for finding additional, qualified help.
“They know if they find a good guy, they don’t have to work so many overtime hours,” said Sparks.
After finding the right employee, training them becomes a priority. “If the new person is a service tech, the first day they spend watching safety videos because safety is so critical,” Sparks said.
“Once they’ve been through that, they’re going to be a shadow and work with people in certain areas. Once they’re comfortable in one area, we then move them on to another area.”
The big test comes when a new employee is ready to go on service calls. Then, instead of being a shadow, they have one.
“Once they’re ready to go out on service calls, we send a trainer with them,” Sparks said. ®When the guy who’s riding shotgun comes home with clean clothes, then we feel the new employee is getting close.
“We want the employee to say he’s ready and then we want the trainer to say the employee’s ready.”
Given all the time, effort and money that goes into recruiting, training and maintaining an employee, a dealer wants to do everything within his power to keep that employee happy and willing to come to work. That’s where Sparks’ management style seems to work nicely.
“We have a laid back sort of business,” he said. ®When there’s work to be done, we insist on doing it. But if it’s slow, we’re more laid back. We do expect people to stay busy, but it’s not a sweat shop.®
Keeping people happy also means supplying them with benefits and perks. Insurance and time off, along with any additional pluses, can be just as important to an employee as his paycheck.
“We offer paid vacations and paid holidays,” Sparks said. ®We also have medical insurance, and a 401(k).
“We furnish their uniforms and any outdoor clothing they need, since we spend a lot of time outside. We have a good pay scale, but we try to work in a teamwork environment.”
With the medical insurance that Sparks offers, his employees can go to any doctor they want to. “I’ve been told by our insurance carrier that our medical program is one of the finest in the city.” Sparks even offers optional dental coverage and is in the third year of having a 401(k) program.
When it comes to vacation days, after the first full year of employment, Sparks’ workers get 10 days vacation. After five years, they get three weeks, and after 10 years they get three weeks of vacation with four weeks pay.
Based on his line of work and the need to be on-call at any time of the day, Sparks doesn’t allow unscheduled time off, except for extreme circumstances.
“We allow time off, as long as it fits the schedule,” Sparks said. ®We have a monthly bonus that we pay to the service techs that’s based on their percent of service sales. They lose 25 percent of that bonus for every unscheduled day per month that they miss.®
Other than taking care of his employees and offering a friendly work environment, Sparks does something else to try and keep everyone happy. He lets them speak their mind.
“One of the keys to our success is when we have store meetings, people can say anything they want to say, as long as we’re gentlemen and ladies about it,” he said. ®We can talk about anything you want to talk about as long as it’s right out in the open. Even if they have a problem with me. Maybe I made a decision and didn’t go into detail as to why, it might not set well with someone and they bring it up.®
Sparks credits this “open-air” policy with solving many problems that materialize. And sometimes, it can fix something small before it escalates into a major problem.
“Everybody that works with me knows that I speak what’s on my mind and they don’t have to guess what I’m thinking. Once we’ve had the conversation, it’s pretty much history,” Sparks said.
“A lot of the time, if you just handle a little problem right away, it takes care of itself and doesn’t turn into anything major. I really think that most people are comfortable talking to me.”®′