I'm guessing when most people go to work, they don't have co-workers that look like this guy:
But, you're missing out on the true spice of life, the joy of watching a staff member get dirty and walk around with the little cloud of dust like Pigpen. Ok, to be fair, rarely would one of my staff members ever become this greasy, but this can be dirty work none the less. Honestly, when I work on cars myself, this is probably how I look given that I sweat like an SOB and my staff usually makes me work on the ground. Thankfully, I don't work on cars very often.
The crazy part about this business is that, from the outside, this is how being an automotive technician is perceived to be when, in fact, this isn't how the industry is evolving. While cars still require fluids to keep running, these fluids are either being eliminated or shrinking in quantity. Power steering has largely moved from hydraulic to electric, engines are fully or partially electric. Where will transmissions and cooling systems be 10 or 20 years from now? And the greasy mechanic? His or her job is becoming skewed more toward that of an engineer: reprogramming modules, testing circuits, replacing sensors. As many of my do-it-yourself customers grouse, the days of the shade tree mechanic are waning.
At Lube and Latte we've been dealing with a consistent staffing problem that is endemic to the industry but especially prevalent at our shop (while customers love the concept, serious mechanics sometimes scoff at it). Less and less people are getting into the automotive repair industry even as older technicians and service writers retire or move to less strenuous work. Whereas 10 years ago when I posted a position I would get an abundance of applicants, now a trickle is more likely. And those that I do get are green! While I have staff on hand to train these newbies, the learning curve is steep given the complexity of vehicles now, mixed with the menagerie of older vehicles still funneling through the system. It is coming to the point where generalized repair is becoming irrelevant. You are either a specialist at something or you spend the day chasing your tail and hoping for the best.
In the meantime, even younger, more inexperienced mechanics have come to expect generous pay. Shop owners now can pay 6-figure salaries for Master Technicians, even when, as another shop owner memorably quipped, "I've known Master Technicians that couldn't change a tire." As a result, smaller shops like mine have had to raise pricing. Ten years ago, the normal labor rate of a shop was between $60 and $90 dollars an hour. Now the normal labor rate is between $100 and $140 an hour (watch out lawyers, here we come!). You can only expect this number to grow as shops fight tooth and nail for staff that have some technical know-how. In the meantime, the siren song of shops is consistently, how can I find a new technician? Meanwhile, big dealerships with huge revenue streams zap up the cream of the crop.
In so many ways I feel like the little startup competing against Google, Facebook and the like. I have a great staff, but I think that they stick with me because there is a larger vision associated with Lube and Latte and Automotive Evolution. The reason I chose the name, Automotive Evolution, for our second shop was primarily to confirm that we are in it for the long haul. I expect to grow, and while the technology is becoming more mystifying, the tools needed more expensive and the staff harder to find, I know we'll find a way. We will continue to evolve.
By the way, anybody know a good technician?