Pick Your Pickup - Best Practices
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Pick Your Pickup

Written By: Mary Sedor

Article Date: 09-01-2006
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.


Kirby-Smith uses a unique recruitment and retention tool.

Two of the biggest challenges dealers face today are the recruitment and retention of qualified technicians.

Kirby-Smith Machinery, a multi-line dealer in Oklahoma City, recently received an award from Komatsu America for having the highest retention ratio and the highest percentage of growth for service technicians in the North American Komatsu distribution network. Since January 1, 2006 the company has added 19 new technicians.

"The award from Komatsu was not only based on the retention, but on the programs themselves," says Ed Kirby, president of Kirby-Smith. "Money alone was not going to allow us to hire and retain the technicians."
So what does it take to attract and retain top technicians?


Last September, Kirby implemented a reward program that provides salary adjustments, additional personal time off, a flex-plan contribution, and a new personal pickup truck to qualified participants.

"We started this program to retain the mechanics we had on the payroll," says Kirby. "We spent thousands of dollars training them and by the time we got them trained, our customers were hiring them. We use this program to help keep them, as well as to recruit fully qualified technicians to work for us."

Technicians qualify for the program in two ways: either they're new hires with a wealth of experience or they've worked for Kirby-Smith at least five years. Current Kirby-Smith employees also have to be members of the company's internal Service Technician Guild, which requires regular testing and a mandatory score of 85 percent or higher on the tests, 40 hours of continuing education each year; and a good driving record.

Other criteria are rated on a point system, and each recipient of a truck must maintain a high level of performance to retain the truck.

Kirby-Smith purchases the trucks and retains ownership while the technicians use them, but the technicians choose the color and either a Ford or a Chevrolet. In addition, the company also pays for the insurance on the vehicle, leaving maintenance and fuel costs to the technician. And at the end of three years, Kirby will replace the vehicle with a new one if the employee continues to meet the program's conditions.

"If the technician is a senior shop technician or perhaps a field service guy, we use the pickup as a hiring incentive," says David Baker, vice president of product support. "Once hired, the technician has to continue to meet the program qualifications."

Upon instituting the program, 13 technicians at the company's Oklahoma City and Tulsa locations were immediately eligible for new pickups. Since the program was implemented only two technicians have left the dealership - one retired and the other went to Iraq.

Happy Employees,
Happy Customers


"The program has been very well-received," says Baker. "We had one technician delay his retirement to get his truck. It's an excellent retention tool."

According to Kirby, the technicians that haven't received new pickups know how many years, months and days they have to go until they're eligible.

"They're all thinking about it," says Kirby. "This program has improved attitude in the shop - no question about it. The employees know they're valued."

The new attitude in the shop has translated into better service to customers.

"This is a win-win-win arrangement that benefits the employee, Kirby-Smith, and our customers," says Kirby. "We provide employees with a new truck for personal use, and in doing so, we attract and retain good qualified technicians who care about themselves and their futures, and are involved in continuous education in their occupations. This results in highly qualified service technicians who go the extra mile to provide service and support to our customers."

Typically Kirby-Smith spends between $80,000 and $100,000 on training for technicians, which makes the cost per mechanic for the pickups worth it, according to Kirby.

"It's definitely worth it," says Kirby. "When you consider that we spend a fortune to train one technician and they attend 10 to 12 schools before they're really ready, we can't afford to lose them once they've been trained. If this improves retention, the cost of running the pickup is nothing compared to training a new technician."

Kirby-Smith is expanding, and with additional technicians they're able to do so without concern for where they'll get the technicians they'll need.

"Every equipment distributor has the same issue," says Baker. "The lack of technicians has probably been the greatest obstacle to growth in heavy equipment distribution. Right now we're getting enough technicians to run our business, but without the incentive programs, we wouldn't be able to service our customers at the level they require."


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