NADA Special: How to Grow Your Fixed Ops

Greg Uland Hi, I'm Greg Uland with Reynolds and Reynolds and this is Connected live from the NADA show here in Dallas, Texas. Today I get to talk with Ed Roberts from Bozard Ford Lincoln. He's the chief operating officer there down in Saint Augustine, Florida. So, Ed, thanks so much for taking time to talk to me.

Ed Roberts Hey, thanks for having me.

Greg Uland Yeah, absolutely. So tell us, tell me a little bit about your background. I was reading your bio. We hadn't met before, so I had to read your bio. You've been in the industry for a long time. Came up and fixed operations, soft spot in my heart, in fixed ops. And now you've moved into a role a year and a half ago or so as a chief operating officer at Bozard Ford Lincoln. So tell me a little bit about your your path and how you got there.

Ed Roberts Well, I'm glad you asked, because that's a story that a lot of people like to hear and it shows them an opportunity that they can grow as well. But I started in this business as a tech apprentice way back in 1992, so it's been a couple of days and worked my way up to run a team and then taking over service manager and taking over store manager and started at Bozard about ten years ago. Two and a half years ago as fixed operations director and I moved into the COO role. Like you said, a little over a year and a half ago and it's just been onwards and upwards.

Greg Uland Yeah. So what was that transition like? Your responsibilities grow, I would assume, exponentially when you go from fixed ops director, where you have a ton of responsibility in the back end of the store running everything and making sure that you're as profitable as can be to, I'd assume, and you tell me, but overseeing essentially operations across the entire organization.

Ed Roberts Well, it kind of ties together. In most stores. Sales is the focus and we're fixed ops driven store. Sales are still a focus. But ultimately, it's about people. It's about putting people in the right place where they can feed off of their strengths. So, yes, I took on the responsibility of the variable side of the business, but the development of those people is exactly the same. Leadership carries over no matter what department, what industry it is. And my main role is to bring the best out of our people that we have and allow them to grow beyond their wildest potential that they thought they had.

Greg Uland Yeah, that's great. So I guess to talk about that a little bit, how do you do that? It's not in so many cases, you see an individual and as an individual, too, you think, all right, I just got to show up and I got to go to work and I got to figure this stuff out. And I will either be given opportunities, or I got to create them or I got to grow. But there's a lot of I. And people take ownership and that's a good thing. But as a leader, how do you embrace kind of providing those opportunities and helping them get better? Because for a lot of folks, all of us really sometimes just don't know what you don't know, right?

Ed Roberts That's correct. And everybody has a wheelhouse that they can perform in, and that's identifying that because most of the time they don't even know what it is and they get to be pushed out of their comfort zone a bit. But what I need them to bring, it's all intentional, it's connecting with them. But what I need them to bring is attitude and effort. They bring the right attitude and they bring the effort. The sky's the limit for any of them.

Greg Uland Yeah, that's good. And we actually that's a great saying. We have a little saying. It was coined by our chief customer ambassador Dave Bates, and he adds extra to the end of that. So attitude, effort, and extra, just giving that little bit extra in everything that you do, it makes a huge difference.

Ed Roberts A little extra push. Yeah, that's right. That's when you break out of their comfort zone.

Greg Uland Yeah, definitely. So what types of training pieces do you have in place? Because there's a lot of different programs out there. There's a lot of different ways to do it. You can do it and you can hire somebody to do it. You can do formal training with a group. You sit everybody down, you walk them through things. You can do computer training, you can do testing where you send out an email and see who clicks on it. But what types of things are you doing? What's been easiest to implement? What's been difficult but rewarding?  What types of things are you working on?

Ed Roberts So for our store, it's been a little easier because we're always doing some type of training. We're creating Bozard university. This year I've already had to take development program and well, there's always is levels of training coming. They're expected and they just embrace it and roll with it when it's that once a year or once every other year or twice a year thing where, hey, we got to get this done, then they get somebody hook them up, take care of it for them or whatever else. But it's making it a priority and it's a priority with our store.

Greg Uland Good to talk about those. You just mentioned it, so I want to dive into it. Bozard University. What does that mean? Explain that, because I just want to hear about it a little bit, what you're doing, what you're developing and what that's going to look like.

Ed Roberts We've had a tech development program now for about eight years. There has been a shortage of technicians in this industry for the 30 years that I've been in it, and we really haven't done a whole lot to bring new people in. Well, eight years ago, we developed a program, we call it, In House Tech Development Program, where we train individuals from high school or from some kind of technical school to become technicians. And we want to expand that because that's been hugely successful for us. So we want to expand that to other positions. I want to be able train salespeople and be able to train service advisors. And we've done some of that already with byproducts of TDP. But now I want to brand it and I want to get rid of TDP because that doesn't really necessarily have an identity to it. Bring in Bozard University, have leadership training, have branding training, technician training, service advisor training, salesperson training, and we do it all in-house. And then the consistency is there. When the consistency is there, I don't have to worry about did Johnny get hooked up with this person or did he get hooked up with that person. That's consistent across the board.

Greg Uland So you do all that in store then?

Ed Roberts We do all of it in-house. Now we'll go out and seek content because we can't grade all the content. We'll go out and get content and mold it to who we are, to where it fits us. But yes, we do it all in-house.

Greg Uland And how do you deliver it? So you mentioned high school students and students that are in school still, right? Are they coming to the store and sitting down? And is it like a classroom setting? Is it like an apprenticeship like you started out in? What does that look like?

Ed Roberts All the above. But how do we do it? Early and often we get involved with high schools. We do field trips with high schools to bring them in because there's people that think they want to go do this until they get out there. But they may have something else at heart and when they get exposed to it, then it kind of turns on those light bulbs. So we get involved with schools, we do field trips out to our store or do activities with them when they're there. And then once they join us, there's a path. They know what the next step is. And we're doing classroom training. Each department is responsible for some of it so that we all we're pushing down what we want them to have.

Greg Uland Yeah, that's great. So it's all documented and built out. So every person that comes in gets really the same cadence of information. And how far does that go? Because you may have, you tell me what your most tenured technician is, but you probably, I would hope, have technicians that have been there ten, 20, 30 years. So what does that path look like? Is it a five-year path? Is it a continuous path? What does it look like?

Ed Roberts It takes about two years when you start green to become a technician. We'll start with a quick lane, because if you don't learn the basics, not learning how to maintain a vehicle, you probably can't learn the other elements, but also it introduces them to our culture. We want to make them team based. So you have to work as a two-man team from the technician side of it. Then they graduate in eight months to a year, move over to the tech development program where they actually work on cars with someone with them. They're doing the work. They're not the trainer. The trainer is there to help them do the work but not do it for them. And they're there for eight months to a year as well. They move out into the shop for three months as an apprentice to a senior master or a master tech, and then they break free and become a team member on that team. So it's about two to two and a half years, depending on the rate that that employee takes them.

Greg Uland How does that fit in with like an ASE certification as an example? Is that something that you lead into? Is it a parallel track? Is it something the tech does on their own? What does that look like in your store?

Ed Roberts So the more stuff that the tech does on his own, the faster you can go through that. There is a lot of stuff out there. There's several different levels with ASE. The more they wanted to contribute to that and do some self-education, so to speak, the faster it progresses them through there. But when they graduate TDP, they're electrically certified and we run them through the Ford stuff as well. Because if you can't be electrical certified, you probably can't work on a car today. And especially with the EVs coming to market, EVs is a rolling computer with a battery. And so they have to understand those elements. And if they reach out and do other things on their own, then that just puts them out in the shop that much faster. And to put that in perspective, because we do have some that do that, my shop foreman is 25 years old and that is not the norm. The norm is the guy that's slowing down has been doing it forever and he's kind of slowing down physically becomes your shop foreman. But also on the flip side of that, my technical staff, because we've been doing this for eight years, my technical staff, 67% of them are 30 or less. And that's huge because that's opposite of the industry. The industry is 67% is 50 or above.

Greg Uland You're like a celebrity in our world here. You've been on a ton of different podcasts and sharing your knowledge and wisdom. Why is that so important to you? You make time for it. It seems constantly to be on some segment with somebody, including this one. And I really appreciate it, what you're doing today, but what you've done with us in the past and a bunch of other places where you're just sharing knowledge. So what about that do you enjoy because it's your time that you're given.

Ed Roberts I want to give back. This industry has been wonderful to me. I was given an opportunity when I got in it. I grew up in very humble beginnings, so I never imagined being where I'm at. But it shows that anybody with the right attitude and right effort and that little extra out there can do some things that they didn't think they could. And this happened to me, and I want to make sure I give others that opportunity. So anytime that I can give back, I want to learn something along the way as well.

Greg Uland Sure. So what are some of the things that it seems like you have just a great diverse background and you're passionate about a lot of stuff. If you had three topics that you want to make sure that you get to talk about or share that people pay attention to, could you bucket those? Like what are the three biggest things that you want to make sure everybody takes away?

Ed Roberts Well, I'll tell you, I'll give you a couple that are fresh because those things change depending on what's going on. But people emulate what they see. So I tell my people all the time, come in with a purpose. In way too many industries, we come in to survive the day. We've become very reactionary rather than proactive. And what I mean is when you come in, you don't really know what your day's going to look like till you get rolling, and then all of a sudden the day owns you and you clock out whatever you do and you go home. You think, man, don't get anything done at all.

Greg Uland Been there.

Ed Roberts But if you come in with a purpose, you have to come out with something in particular that you want to work on. At some point you're going to get to work on and today you don't. Tomorrow you do. But if I can ask you what your purpose today is and you give me an answer within five seconds, you don't have one. So always, always, always have a purpose, no matter who you are. And when I say people emulate, when they see you always being effective, they want to be effective as well. Be intentional with hiring. We don't hire someone that can just fog a mirror. They have to fit who we are. And some people can be great in their industry but not necessarily fit us. And we don't need those disruptors. They may fit in somewhere else. Nothing wrong with them. Just don't fit the direction that we go in. And I'd rather them be in the places they fit well in, places they don't fit well. So you have to be really intentional with your hiring and then always have an opportunity for people to grow. We talk about generations where it's tough to get millennials to do this. It's tough for this, and I wonder what it's going to be like. The alphas are going to be like, but millennials and Zs, they want to know what tomorrow looks like. What can I do next? As long as you have that dangling out there, they'll keep working hard for you, and some will chase it and some of them won't. But soon as you take it away, then they leave you.

Greg Uland So I want to circle back around, just double click on the idea of hiring intentionally? You said that, it clicked real quick. How do you do that? In a world where you had, you mentioned a tech shortage and that phrase has been used for a long time to your point. But the reality is, there aren't enough people to fill jobs in the back of the store, in the front of the store. Unfortunately, we have turnover in our industry. So how do you do that? How do you be selective when you need somebody to do the work?

Ed Roberts So you have to have core values. And when I say that those core values, your hiring core values may be different than your core values of the store. For us, it's 3 C's, character, competency and chemistry. Character. Are they somebody that we want to represent our brand out in the world? Do we want them out there representing our brand? We want them carrying our brand on their shirt.

Greg Uland  You have the name on the shirt, right?

Ed Roberts Absolutely. And that's a judgment call, but it's an element of asking the right questions. You figure those things out. The chemistry piece, and this is the most important piece to me, can they fit in and not just fit in? What can they bring to my team that makes my team better? So what do they bring in to the team that makes us better and can they fit with them? That's the chemistry element. And then the competency piece, because we have so many development programs, that's more are you trainable? I don't mind if you can't do the job, but I want to know if you're trainable, if you're kind of stuck in your ways, you probably don't necessarily fit us and we get those as well. And they'll do fine. There's enough work out there for them. But I want someone that wants to grow. So if you hit those three C's, then there's probably an opportunity for you. And when you do those things and you're intentional, you don't have a shortage of people. We've went from seven technicians to almost 100 in ten years. And when you can do those things and have a laundry list of people that want to come to work for you and they wait two years to get an opening with you. Yeah, that takes a lot off our plate and allows us to be more proactive in doing things, that help work on things, that help the business rather than try to find people to keep the business going.

Greg Uland It sounds like strategically, then you're going further downstream than just waiting for somebody to give you an application. It sounds like you're not waiting, you're not reactive, waiting for people to come to you to say, I want a job. You're going out and pulling them forward and really putting them into a path. And it gives you an opportunity to evaluate even the idea of being coachable. To being trainable. You can figure that out when somebody is going through your program and within probably a few weeks, if it's somebody that is going to continue to learn and grow.

Ed Roberts Well, there's times that people show up that's very, very capable and they'll show up. Because they've left somewhere else or are thinking about leaving somewhere else because there's a disagreement. Well, there's a disagreement because they don't necessarily fit those elements of what they're trying to do at that store. And rather than then come around and mold yourself to it, you'd rather resist and just leave them. Well, they'll do the same thing for you. So you have to stand for something. Sometimes we have to hire people in this and most industries to fill a role. But if you can slow it down, the impact so much greater.

Greg Uland Yeah. So talk about that growth you just mentioned. So you said nine techs to almost 100. A couple questions. You probably didn't have 100 bays to fill ten years ago. So what did that look like from a physical space perspective? Because I think a lot of people today are in a situation where their biggest issue is capacity, right? Either they don't have enough techs, they don't have enough bays or in a lot of cases, both. So how do you fix that? Either they're growing physically, hiring more people, or becoming more efficient. Those are kind of your three levers. So curious what that journey looks like for you. Ten x-ing in size over the period of ten years.

Ed Roberts Let's look at it from a store standpoint. I was a 43rd employee two and a half years ago, and we're 322 today. And so that's multiple different things. And then there's a couple other businesses that we have there. So we've got over 500 people on the ground earning a paycheck where it was 43, ten years ago. But when you get everybody rowing in the same direction, it just continues to roll downhill. And once you got that ball rolling downhill, you have to continue to pave the highway. So, yes, we had to go from 26 bays to 39 bays to the 98 bays and then add in on some mobile trucks to do that. And going forward, mobile is where it's going to be. Do I ever foresee us being bigger than what we are structure wise for the brands that we have now? No. Because remote service has just exploded over the last three or four years where we can go to a customer and take care of them, rather than them have to take a day off work, come in, spend time, whatever it may be. We can go to them or go out and pick the vehicle up, bring it to us. And BEVS screams that even more. BEVs there's 80% less moving parts. So with 80% less moving parts, they don't need the level of service that we would typically would want to go out and change it all. So everything that we have to do those things we can do remotely. We can go out, do software updates, we can go out and change tires and cabin air filters. We can do all those things remotely. And now we're talking to ownership experience. And when we give a customer the ownership experience that they want, they become loyal. And when they become loyal, I'm not conquesting. And then I'm saving that money that I would be doing on customer acquisition.

Greg Uland Yeah. So real quick, sorry, I want to go to on this too, because I'm curious on the mobile service exploded for you. You've been on the cutting edge of this stuff, figuring it out, getting out there, you got vans fitted and but I'm curious what types of service you're doing. I think about somebody coming to my house or to the parking lot at work or whatever, and having a technician crawl under the car and somebody being like, what is going on out there? You can't change the oil in a parking lot. That's not allowed. So what types of service are you doing today in today's world where you're going out and dispatching and doing the work, whether it's in somebody's home or work?

Ed Roberts So we talk a lot about what we can do, rather what we can't do. And I challenge people all the time when they ask, what can you do with mobile? Go out and walk through your shop and see what these guys are doing. A lot of times they're working on cars in your shop without even opening the hood. Well, if they're if they're doing that, they don't need that lift. It only takes space there. So those things can be done. Service as far as changing oil, yes, we can do that in field. I don't necessarily like to because there is other exposures. Maybe spilling oil or whatever else. We do it and we do several hundred changes a week out in field, but it's not something I push for. But we do it out of necessity. But you can take the right precautions and we got layers of layers of protection wrapped from spill and anything, but there's so much more that we can do. Let's talk about if you brought your vehicle in to me about a year ago, you noticed something didn't sit right on it when you bought it. Yeah, that's not necessarily something you can take a day off work for. Well, now you check. Engine light comes on. I fix your check engine light, and you tell me about that while you have it. Well, that's a piece of trim that was maybe stepped on before it was installed or whatever it may be is warped or whatever. I have to order that when it comes in. You didn't want to come into me for the first year to get it checked out. You're certainly not wanting to come into me again for that? Your car's working fine. Rather than call you 25 times and tell you to come get your part and go to you and say your part came in and come up to you tomorrow at 1:00. Does that work for you? So make it a convenience rather than inconvenience. Plus so many things like to do a mobile.

Greg Uland Yeah. Now are you doing a full multi point or a kind of pared down multi point. What are you doing from an inspection perspective on the mobile service. Because that's a big, big way to bring business into the shop and even follow up and you know bring bringing the work back in after it's declined and everything else. So what does that look like in the field?

Ed Roberts It feels exactly the same. It's like you go into the doctor annually for a physical. Yep they're going to check certain things, are going to take your blood pressure. Well, I need to check those same things on that vehicle because those are the safety elements in that vehicle. And if I'm only going to check out the safety elements, am I really taking care of you? So I want to check them all. I want to look at all those things, but also more so than that, it allows you to better plan if you're always good, oh now you need to spend $1,000. You didn't have a chance to plan for that. But if you're always good, you're always good. You're getting close here. You probably got this much time left. Now you can start planning for it. And it's not a surprise to you. So then it's not of if you do it with me, it's a matter of when you do it with me.

Greg Uland So have you noticed a difference at all in basically closing percentage on upsells in the field versus in store. Is there a difference at all?

Ed Roberts There's absolutely a difference. I'm glad you asked that question. Video has made its way into vehicle service. A lot of stores don't embrace it yet, but the reason why it's made its way in is because showing sells. And when you can take some video of somebody's car and show it to them, okay, yeah, I understand that because there's always that little thought in the back of their mind. My car's been stopping fine. Why do I need brakes? Well, you don't need brakes when they're worn down because the pedal feels different now. They're worn down because they're not going to be there much longer. You don't. But with mobile only, I take a video, I show the customer, if you got a second and show you this and when you show them something live, it's not a question of whether they do it. It's whether they do it then or not.

Greg Uland Wow. Okay. That's great. I was really curious because it's hard to bring somebody back into the shop. You don't want to do that. There's insurance reasons not to do it. There's a lot of reasons not to bring them back into the shop. But if you're at their place, come check this out. You're right. That is a heck of a lot easier to close.

Ed Roberts Well, the other thing you do with mobile is you have a good communicator there as well. And he doesn't have to be as highly skilled of a technician because I'm not opening up the engine. I'm not opening up a transmission. We think that we have to have the guys that can overcome all the obstacles. We're not getting that deep out there. That's when we do a pickup and delivery and go get it, bring it into the shop. But that guy has good technical skills. Just maybe not as wide breath as some of the others. But he's also a good communicator. So now I'm dealing with one person. I'm not getting a second party story going back and forth. And just it just raises the level of trust.

Greg Uland Yeah, that's great. All right. Well, we've touched on a lot, and I appreciate you taking so much time off the floor. I'm sure you got a million things to do.

Ed Roberts It's fine. Glad to be out here.

Greg Uland  All right. Well, Ed Roberts, again, thank you very much. I hope you have a great weekend in Dallas here at the show. And I'm sure we'll talk soon.

Ed Roberts Sounds good. Thank you, Greg.

Greg Uland All right, Thanks.