Dealerships ‘farm’ for service technicians

Farming for talent required a big grassroots commitment from Vaughan and his team.

“We want to develop the relationship with school districts, and they’re looking for programs that can widen the horizon of their students and give them a broader perspective on automotive,” Vaughan said. He noted that students who are more interested in an advisory role can bypass T-TEN and opt into a six-month course called Vaughan Automotive Individual Development Program.

Vaughan says his “grow from within” method yields multiprong results: It builds company loyalty, fosters camaraderie among team members and, perhaps most immediately, helps control labor costs and reduces turnover. It moves away from the industrywide situation of technicians in one dealership working for disparate wages — which Vaughn refers to as a “Frankenstein” pay scale.

“It’s where you’ve promised all these different techs of different walks of life different pay plans, and you’re praying that they don’t share their pay plans with each other,” he said.

“As a business owner, you have to try to put the right job with the right tech and manage that average cost of labor,” Vaughan said. “You have to have a good balance of lower-level technicians, mid-level technicians and master-level technicians.

“In 10 years, you look up, and 65 percent of your technicians are still with you.”

Mike Calvert Toyota is the second dealership in the Vaughan Automotive portfolio. Vaughan came on board at Mike Calvert as an executive manager in late 2018 and worked for two years to improve the store before it was officially folded into the group in January 2021.

The two dealerships together sold 13,578 new and used vehicles combined from May 2021 to April 2022.

The Houston store has 48 service bays. But when he took over, it had only 12 service technicians on payroll. He implemented the curriculum opportunity immediately, reaching out to Houston-area public schools, which were eager to participate. He also connected with the Houston tech college Universal Technical Institute and with Houston Community College, among others.

Vaughan said he was able to level-set pay and control labor costs, which helped the dealership go from “barely profitable to wildly profitable.”

Today, there are 56 service technicians at Mike Calvert Toyota and seven interns at any given time.

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