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Unknown Parts Counter Guy: My Kingdom For A New Hire That Will Actually Work

Unknown Parts Counter Guy: My Kingdom For A New Hire That Will Actually Work
Lately, the talent pool at my store has been dwindling. We lost one of our delivery drivers to age, a good man with a good heart and great knowledge…and the kind of humor that could embarrass even the most jaded military man. We fired Special Ed for many different reasons. We have four people who work multiple jobs, two that are just about pointless and two that work their asses off but are getting tired of carrying a lot of the load, and myself. We are short on drivers. The Store Manager and the Warehouse Guy round out the list, and they’re full time.
For someone who is only supposed to be a part-time employee, I’m averaging damn close to 40 hours a week. This is because we simply can’t find enough workers in the area that are old enough, willing to work, able to pass a drug screen, and don’t have the kind of background history that makes them an instant “no”. I’ve sat in with the Store Manager a couple of times during slower periods and have observed the kinds of people who are applying…its scary. The ones that know cars have the checkered backgrounds, the ones who are clean don’t know jack squat. I do know of one interview with a potential candidate, where when asked what he knew of cars, replied something to the effect of, “Who cares? I drive mine until it breaks down, then trade it in.” Yikes.
I also remember the guy who came in asking for an application one night, tweaking on meth, reeking of weed, with all the visual appeal of a bus fire and a four-inch knife scar on his face. I’m fairly certain that if we gave him a urinalysis, he’d melt the cup. Um, thank you for your interest, but no. Our only useable talent pool right now is filled with retirees who can’t lift over 30 lbs. without filling their Depends.
There are lots of reasons for the lack of automotive knowledge, especially with the younger age groups, which would take up too much writing space here. What bothers me is twofold: The lack of effort of the younger candidates that we do get and the oversight of the companies when it comes to talent retention.
It’s not hard to train someone up for this job: effectively, you are teaching them how to run a warehouse operation, which is an intelligent form of playing Fetch: “Identify part. Find part. Now, bring it back…GOOOOOD BOY!” The automotive knowledge would form as they worked. There are high schools across the country…why aren’t there more students applying for these jobs? If nothing else, it’s a paying job that isn’t freaking McDonald’s! I understand the nervousness about bringing in someone younger, but a high school senior that’s 18 would be easy to get onto the payroll. If a student was enthusiastic about working and was willing to learn, I’d be psyched to have them onboard and would personally bring them up to speed. Unfortunately for me, since there’s no app for that in the iTunes store, I’m S.O.L.
The inability (or unwillingness) to retain talent is the part that bothers me the most. Out of the counter-workers in my store, there are three two (myself and one other) who are knowledgeable, have great work ethics, great customer service attitudes and are easy to cooperate with. Unfortunately, that is breaking down at a rapid pace. Our store sales leader, finally broken by the pace (as well as other issues that just piss me off) decided to just flat quit. The other is a part-time employee elsewhere in a family company, and is only working the store for experience and spending money. He generally has a more positive attitude, but again, the load-sharing, plus the lack of effort from the others, is getting to him as well.  I learned that he’s even being paid less than me, though he’s been there longer and knows the job better than I do. That’s sorry. I understand starting pay being low, but what the hell happened to rewarding good talent?
I hope something changes soon. It’s hard make extra money working a corner when your face looks like mine does. I’d love to hear the opinion of someone in higher management (read: above district level) on this subject.
Preferably before I get a new employee that sounds like the “DING FRIES ARE DONE” Burger King guy.

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29 thoughts on “Unknown Parts Counter Guy: My Kingdom For A New Hire That Will Actually Work

  1. Pontiacdragracer

    I managed an auto parts store years ago. It has been one of my favorite jobs in my life. In those days everyone who worked for was a motor head. Cars were their lives (girls too of course). Customers who came in had a genuine desire to fix there car and appreciated getting a run down on replacing a water pump or brake pads. Sharing our knowledge made it easy to sell additional parts to do the job right. Hours sucked though. It was easy to spend 60-70 hours there.
    Fast forward to today. A combination of high tech cars and a lack of desire to do anything more than wax their car, customers willing to take on a challenge are dwindling. The lack of knowledgeable counter people reinforces a customer’s desire to avoid anything even slightly challenging. It’s not all the counter person’s fault though. Companies only want to see $$$. Low pay, cutting hours, no benefits due to being part time and management by intimidation won’t draw those who would be good at the job. The drug problem is out of control too.
    Thankfully, when I’m at my local drag strip, there are young motorheads still around. Maybe someday soon, things will turn around in the automotive world……

  2. Brady

    What are they saying right now, the average car on the road is 11 years old? Hopefully that means mom and dad are out there wrenching on the family sedan and the kids are paying attention. A new generation of interested and capable car people may be in the making. I really hope that’s the case at least.

  3. tigeraid

    The staff shortage problem was a huge issue at the LAST parts supplier I worked for. Forcing counter guys like me to spend most of their day delivering parts instead of, y’know, doing parts. I’m glad that’s behind me.

    Again, I gotta think this lack of talent in the field is mostly an American thing. Poor hiring standards? Is the starting pay way too low? In Canada, a recent study revealed that auto parts jobs are amongst the highest-paying in the country that do not strictly require university education.

    Mind you, it depends on the company. Up here, Canadian Tire has morphed from an auto parts store to a Wal-Mart clone department store that just HAPPENS to sell auto parts. So the guy the behind the counter is about as experienced as the next Wal-Mart employee is at selling auto parts. If it’s not exactly like it says in the computer, it must be wrong. This is why you go to Crappy Tire to buy a dishwasher or a BBQ, not auto parts.

    But in the normal auto parts stores (NAPA, Carquest, APC, Mazlak, Benson, etc) the hiring practice DOES require you know your stuff to get the job. The most common hires are former techs who physically don’t want or can’t work on cars anymore. I would say in my current company, every counter guy is either a die-hard car guy, or at least has wrenching experience in the past, and is “car-savvy.”

    It’s a dire mistake when these companies get rid of experienced employees because their salary gets too high or they just want younger staff. If these places all end up with high turnover, poorly paid employees with no skill or interest in their job, it’s just going to encourage more and more customers to shop by themselves online at places like rockauto.

    Every now and then, someone slips through the cracks here, but it’s not usually a complete lack of automotive skill–it’s a complete lack of experience dealing with customers.

    We hired a guy here, very briefly, who was completely incapable of doing the job. He had basic automotive knowledge, knew the difference between a ball joint and a tie rod, but I have never seen someone so incapable of dealing with both the pace, the stress, and the customer service involved.

    He would get completely frazzled if he took more than one call every half hour, especially if it was a Priority customer that you had to deal with ASAP. Notes would get confusing, he’d forget year/make/model, he would ask ZERO clarifying questions about engine, trim level, etc… Completely lost.

    But that can be fixed with some training and practice. The bigger problem was, sometimes on the phone but ALWAYS in person, he would attempt, badly, to bond with every single customer he talked to. Rather than establish a simple rapport by talking shop, or using a little humour, or WHATEVER, he would immediately dive into a big long conversation about his super-duper ricer icey-hot-stunta Pontiac Sunfire, which had a body kit, $10,000 worth of stereo, neon lights under the rocker panels, which “won car shows all the time” and he “raced” regularly.

    The car was awful, but more importantly he would go on and on and on and ON about this car, sometimes for a half an hour at a time, when all the customer wanted was a damn air filter! It was the only way the guy could figure out how to establish rapport, but mostly it just ticked off all the customers and took FOREVER. At the end of every day, we’d all have anywhere from 50-100 invoices done, he’d have 12.

    To his credit, he handed in his resignation after only 4-5 weeks, saying he just wasn’t cut out for the job. You don’t say!

    1. Parts Guy

      Well-said. Most of what I’ve run into falls into three categories: Retired and bored, young and disinterested, and genuinely interested for some reason or another. The first two categories are huge compared to the third. As far as American pay scales go, it seems to be just above McDonalds.

  4. GuitarSlinger

    Yeah … good luck finding anyone , anywhere , at any job thats actually willing to earn their paycheck rather than stand around all week to collect it on Friday . Cripes … getting anyone these days to do their job has become almost impossible .. no matter what the pay / job / profession !

    So rots o luck getting someone to WORK at what I’m assuming is a fairly modest paying job .

    @ Brady – Actually what they’re saying is the kids today are too busy playing with their laptops/smartphones/smartpads to even bother getting their drivers license … partly because they know they cannot afford to drive / own a car / insure it . Fact is .. we’re fast becoming a dying breed . Fact is … the automakers keep going down the road they’ve been going lately … ( GM’s recall now up to 2.8 million … Honda just recalled 800,000 etc ) … I’ll be becoming one of the casualties of this trend myself .. Either that or to hell with new cars …. I’m buying a classic …. just like me 😉

    We’ll see

  5. 38P

    “It’s not hard to train someone up for this job . . . ”

    Actually, having been a corporate trainer for newbie parts, tire, battery and service managers back in the day, I completely disagree with this conclusion.

    Training to punch the computer and be an “order taker” isn’t hard. But training to be a REAL professional counterperson and/or service writer definitely is.

    Many people who stand around instead of work just need better leadership. If we can win wars with ignorant 18-21 year olds, we can certainly sell auto parts with ’em . . . .

    1. notadouche

      “winning wars with ignorant 18-21 year olds” Hmmm, spoken like an ignorant ass who never served. Comments like that might get your teeth knocked out in some circles.

    2. 440 6Pac

      Obviously you’ve never been in the military. Take it from a retired NCO, those “Ignorant 18-21 year-olds” have a whole hep more intelligence than you’ve shown in your ignorant statement.

      1. threedoor

        You must have been infantry, I think all the ignorant 18-50 year olds were in my support unit, Aco 801st 101st. Sheish talk about people who couldn’t get a job making fries.

  6. tigeraid

    I have a hard time blaming “the damn kids” for not wanting to get into cars. I blame the industry for becoming so cost prohibitive that they just look at it and cringe. Back in the 80s or 90s you could buy a 70s or 80s car for a few hundred bucks, wrench on it a little bit to get it to pass safety, and drive it around for five years until you could afford a decent car.

    Now a “beater” will cost you thousands to buy, thousands to repair and thousands to insure. It all adds up.

    1. Beagle

      and what I mean by that is what they do on their own time really should be their business, so long as it doesn’t impact their performance or the reputation of the employer.

      Show up ready to work and sober or get fired is easy enough to understand, even for a stoner.

      1. Mister X

        Yup, I told all my mechanics when I hired them, rule number three was do what you want on your own time but be sober at work or don’t come back, I lost one to alcohol, one to drugs, and the cannabis smoker lasted the longest, but even he screwed up and started smoking and working and making stupid mistakes, so he had to go too.
        Rule number one was, Never, ever, throw a wrench in my shop or you’re gone, lost a young guy to that one.

  7. Beagle

    I don’t drive it until it’s worn out and trade it in – I drive it until it costs more to fix it than it’s worth and then I park it so I will have something to play with when I grow up. 🙂

    I worked a parts counter for a bigass lawnmower shop where we were distributors for a number of products. It sucks with a line of four people waiting and some guy turning in a 200 line order of parts numbers on the phone and wanting you to know if the parts are in stock without looking them up… and we didn’t have the lovely and I mean LOVELY computer systems of today.

    Hell, I give the parts guys the parts numbers for junk I need now and they still ask me what it’s for. Who the hell cares? I need this part number, I got it from YOUR computer.

    Oh well. There’s two sides of the coin… the guys who would work and know what the hell they are doing probably won’t work for what the boss wants to pay.

  8. Turbo Regal

    I understand the gearheads on here wanting competent people working where they want to shop but do you really want to pay for it?

    Most people want cheap so they shop online at RockAuto or Summit.com. Most small business are required to pay at least a minimum wage and now specific levels of health insurance and are required to comply with all kinds of fed, state and local regs that also cost money. All of those cost get added to the retail cost.

  9. Scott Liggett

    Young people nowadays don’t care as much about driving a car and getting their license as they did a few years ago. So, it’s not much of a surprise there are less who care about fixing a car.

    There are very few straight out of high school with a good work ethic. Always have been. That age is still the “all about me” mentality. I was no different. My work ethic as a teen was do enough not to get fired. Kids who grow up on the farm, or whose parents had them working the family business are the few that I have seen who do. Especially farm kids as they see at a very young age their work brings money to the family and food on the table. Mostly, kids get jobs for selfish reasons. They want money to buy something parents won’t, then get upset when it requires actual work.

    American companies are not interested in offering good pay to attract good talent and retain them anymore. They can only see the next quarter’s profit margin and nothing else.

  10. Scott McIntyre

    this applies to repair as well, I sifted through 7 young guys before I hired my #2 tech. HIs skills are fantastic and he shows up on time and like s his job-but-he LOVES cars. I had a couple young guys who were almost competent techs, that could have been trained into decent techs, but they had ZERO enthusiasm for thier chosen career. With the huge size of available people who are not working, you would think it would be easier but it seems harder than ever to find people who want to work

  11. TheSilverBuick

    Autozone seemed pretty happy to hire me, even when I asked for higher pay and immediate full time status despite never working in a parts store before. I was clean cut and correctly answered every single question the store manager tried to stump me with. I told him if I wasn’t given the pay I asked for on the application and full time status from the start I wouldn’t accept their offer (I was currently employed washing cars full time at a Ford dealership, I wasn’t going to take a pay cut). They gave it to me. I was making more than some of the Gray Shirts as a Red Shirt. I never bothered to go up to Gray Shirt because I knew they’d screw me with a bunch more responsibilities and like a nickle more an hour. I even tried to quit (so I could later apply at a different store) when I went on a 3 month internship in Italy, but instead they insisted I go on unpaid extended leave. Which I guess was nice as when I got back from the internship I didn’t have to look for work, just went back to the ol’ store.

  12. 75Duster

    Luckily,where I work at we have two 18 – 21 year olds that do have work ethic and are enthusiastic about their jobs, one even shows management potential while the 18 year old is currently being sworn in today to enlist in the US Air Force. These two show a lot of potential in there future and as a retired veteran I give both of them guidance whenever they ask or need it.

  13. 440 6Pac

    It’s hard to make a profit on slim margins. That being said I think that if the chains would pay half as much attention to keeping their employes happy as they do to the bottom line they’d find the bottom line looking better.
    I owned a engine rebuilding shop for 25 years. One thing I always tried to do is keep my employes happy. They just flat worked better when happy.

    1. Parts Guy

      Certainly a bonus. Part of the problem at my store is the “happiness” factor. Store Manager is trying like hell, but it’s hard to maintain when he’s stretching a thin workforce to the limits.

      1. 440 6Pac

        Your manager might be trying, but if corporate won’t let him pay enough to keep attract and keep good employees and/or won’t give decent benefits, y’all are going to be stretched thin for a long time to come.

  14. GuitarSlinger

    A musical interlude in honor of todays story … from Leo Kottke



    @ Beagle … Ahem good sir … but errr .. living in CO as I do .. that 420 stuff as of 2014 aint medicine anymore …. not that it ever was … its now recreation … and each and every town/county and business establishment according to the amendment has full rights to keep Stoners the hell outta their towns and shops … and having dealt with stoners most of my professional life I say …. ALL THE POWER TO THEM !!! Try ‘ growing ‘ up first before discussing ‘ grown up ‘ subjects … despite the fact that the 420 lifestyle hardly permits growing up … assuming you partake 😉

    Apologies to everyone else for the rant here … and do enjoy the tune !

  15. fast Ed

    I’m just getting in to this situation now, but the candidates so far have been a bit better. The dealership I moved to last year to take over as parts manager had 3 counter guys with huge experience, two of them are almost 60, and one just turned 65. He was going to work until next year, but now has decided to pack it in at the end of April. So the hunt is on for a replacement, even if we can find someone with a couple of years of jobber experience that knows vehicles, we can train from there. The applicants so far have been either not enough, or too much experience (out of the price range that we want to pay).

    We’ll see how this pans out, hopefully the UPCG and I can find some suitable people for our respective companies!

  16. john brown

    And I thought it was hard to break into the parts business when I was 20 something. No one wanted to hire a disillusioned college student with no prior parts experience. At least I could read and right, not like some of the college students I ran across later in my parts experience. Anyway, I dropped out of college, went to work as a mechanic, then applied to one of the hard parts stores that had been supplying my former place of employ. Now, after a 37 year stint working as everything from counter man to over the road sales rep for a national company, I am retired. Every once in a while I stop in to places I worked to see what is new, if anything, but the older parts people are still the ones running the show. Not many new faces of people smart enough to run the program, even with a lot of computers to do the work for them. Imagine if they had to use paper books and hand write invoices…..

  17. claymore

    See if your location has any technical schools (trade schools) near by. When I was in one the auto mechanics school had a deal with local area parts places to supply applicants to the parts places and dealerships. Worked out very good the students got jobs in their trade and the parts places got motivated employees.

  18. threedoor

    Sounds like my wife’s rants. She out sells both the other counter/outside sales guys, makes a smaller hourly wage and a lower commission percentage than they do, even the guy who has only been there 6 months. Last guy that put in a job application raped a 5 year old girl, had the boss convinced she was 16. All on the management.

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