For dealer Frank Allocca, finding service technicians is not a problem.
Allocca, owner of Intercar Mercedes-Benz, Sussex Honda and Newton Kia, all in Newton, New Jersey, recruits many of his mechanics right out of high school.
And it's no small feat given that his three dealerships are in a rural area in the Northwest corner of New Jersey. Newton has a population of about 8,100 people, Allocca says.
Allocca trains the students who qualify and eventually might offer them a full-time job with competitive pay, generous benefits and pleasant working conditions.
And if that doesn't work, he jokes, he'll use bribery.
"If you want to find a service technician, it's easy," Allocca says with his gruff New Jersey accent. "Put $1,000 bounty on them and go into your service department and say, 'I'm looking for a good technician and if any of you find one and he or she stays here for at least three months, I'll pay you $1,000.' These mechanics know other mechanics."
Allocca has hired many mechanics that way because, he says, employees will never recommend someone they do not trust.
The dealer says he spent $6.7 million in 2011 to make his Mercedes-Benz store comply with the brand's Autohaus renovation requirements. Technicians love to work in a new facility, but doing the remodeling didn't factor into his ability to attract technicians; his techs earn $50,000 to $120,000 a year.
Allocca says he has annual total new and used sales of about 5,000 vehicles.
And he knows how to handle his mechanics because he spent 13 years as a service manager before buying a dealership in 1973. He speaks their language, he says.
"Most dealers come out of the sales end. They don't know how to speak to these kids and judge who they can talk to and how they go about it," Allocca says. "They're so focused on sales that the service and parts departments are secondary in their thinking process. And finding mechanics is foreign to them because they've never worked in that area."
Allocca also works with area high schools that offer work-study programs. He has donated vehicles and tools to the schools' vocational technology classes to encourage kids to take an interest in mechanics.
From the work-study program, Allocca says that of every 10 or so applicants, one or two are qualified. He hires them part time for entry level jobs such as oil changes. If they do well and show an interest in progressing, he continues to train them and send them to manufacturer training programs to get certified. He has been doing that for 36 years. Over the years he has hired well over 20 students into full-time service jobs from the program, he says.
"There are a lot of young men who like to work on their cars. We're in a rural area where there are young men who worked on machinery on their farms," Allocca says.
Those high school students who come to work for him often lack refined skills, but "they have lots of enthusiasm," he says.
Allocca says he makes sure his employees are happy so that he doesn't have to keep recruiting replacements. Of his 133 full-time and part-time employees in all departments at his three dealerships, Allocca proudly says 39 have worked for him for 10 years or longer.
Allocca pays 85 percent of the cost of health insurance for employees and their families. He gives employees holidays off and two weeks paid vacation each year. He used to offer three weeks paid vacation, but he learned many mechanics used the extra week to work for other shops for extra money. So he reduced his paid vacation policy to two weeks but gave each of his mechanics a raise even in the middle of a recession, he says.
"Every employee knows they can walk into my office and talk to me if they have a problem," Allocca says. "What really makes the difference for us is word-of-mouth by our employees to other employees."