Labor Shortages No Match for Tire Dealers Thinking Outside the Industry

Labor Issue No Match for Tire Dealers Thinking Outside the Box

With employees out sick positive with COVID-19 or out due to possible exposure, tire dealers across the country are grappling with scheduling issues and staffing up their stores, especially with the onslaught of employees resigning completely due to “The Great Resignation.” The past two years have not been easy for many tire dealers as tire and automotive repair businesses are struggling across the country just to keep enough people on staff. Many are also continuing to change COVID policies of their own as guidance differs among state, federal and medical officials.

“[The pandemic] has created a lot of labor shortages,” says Jake Burt, partner in Burt Brothers Tire & Service, about the strains the 16-location dealership in the greater Salt Lake City area has been feeling. “[There are] three or four people missing shifts each day in all of our locations, it kinda stacks up. You definitely feel it. You feel the pinch.”

For many, labor shortages have become the new–and hopefully temporary–normal as managers and their employees are covering multiple shifts and aren’t operating at full speed. Due to the Supreme Court striking down a vaccine mandate earlier this year, President Biden has declared it is up to “individual employers to determine how to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees.” So, how are tire dealers doing that? And how are tire dealers handling staffing shortages across the board?

Labor shortages became an all-too-common issue for Jason Byerly, manager at McMahon’s Best-One Tire & Auto Care in Indiana. Not only is McMahon’s giving time off to employees who test positive for the virus, but Byerly has been pressed to work among the multiple McMahon’s locations to help cover missing shifts.

On top of that, Byerly says a few former employees simply quit after McMahon’s requested permission to ask employees their vaccination status.

“[That] was just as simple as asking them to sign something to ask their vaccination status,” said Byerly. “Imagine what would happen if we mandated it.”

Byerly said there is “a lot of stress” on his business with the recent COVID-19 omicron variant. Not only have the managers at McMahon’s Best-One discontinued in-person meetings for the time being, but the tire dealer is back to requiring masks for customers and employees and placed travel restrictions on upcoming events for employees as well.

For Audra Fordin, owner of Great Bear Auto Repair & Auto Body in Queens, New York, labor shortages have been so bad that she has been hiring workers with no prior experience. Instead, Fordin says the pandemic has pushed her to hire based on disposition and work ethic alone – experience optional.

“Our poor industry is dying without workers,” she said. “What I’ve learned to do about that is I now hire for the kind of person. I’m hiring [for] good people, eager, motivated, smart, really wanting to put their time and effort into it, willing to grow.”

Though this strategy has worked well, Fordin still says experienced work has been harder to come by than ever. An issue she calls “bizarre,” workers coming straight out of school have become less adept during the pandemic.

“I’ll say to someone, ‘go get me the tire size on this car,’ and then they come back, they’re like, ‘I don’t know where to find it.’ I’m thinking, were you absent that day’ [at trade school]?” Fordin said. “For that reason, when I’m hiring people, I’m checking out the person. I don’t care what their skill is. I’m going to grow them into what they need to be for a career to be the best that they can with growth opportunities in the industry.”

Alpio Barbara – the owner of Redwood General Tire near Silicon Valley and 2019 Top Shop award winner – said that the pandemic was hard on labor initially. As a tire dealer, he understands the importance of employees being at work.

“In our industry, we have to come to the shop. I think there are too many industries out there that are really milking [working from home]. I have a hard time believing you work from home, I really do,” said Barbara. “Above anything else, though, you miss your coworkers, you know what I mean?”

Barbara says that some positives came from being forced to heavily adjust the shop’s hours due to initial labor shortages. For example, he cites his decision to close on Saturdays as one of the wisest moves of his career, not only for his business but also for his employees.

“[It was] the smartest thing I ever did. [The employees] are happier and the families are happy they can spend the weekend with their kids,” said Barbara.

Among his few rules, Barbara does have one policy that he finds important: If you are sick, get tested for COVID-19.

“[I am] pretty strict about that. If they tell me that they are sick, they must go get tested. [There are] no two ways about it,” he said.

Burt Brother’s Jake Burt also takes testing for the COVID-19 illness seriously in the best interest of its employees, even at the cost of his employees missing work.

“If you’re sick, go get tested. Make sure you’re safe and make sure you’re keeping the rest of our team safe,” said Burt.

Safety is of the utmost importance for Burt. Though he wants “100% effort and commitment” when working for Burt Brothers Tire and Service, the labor has worn thin because of it.

“The main issue that we’ve been having, obviously, is just playing it safe. Before COVID, if someone was sick, we’d just say, ‘you’ll be probably fine.’ Well, those days are gone now,” said Burt. “Now if you’re sick, you go get tested. So then you stay home. If you have to quarantine five days, we’ll quarantine you five days. We want you to be healthy and 100% for when you’re working with us.”

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