Opinion: Compensation is a Conversation – James Stanfill

James Stanfill is president of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association and founder of A Better Bike Biz.

These things come up in conversations we have all the time. Why are we, The Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association, so set on raising the standard? Why do we talk about wages and salaries? Owners and managers asking how could they pay more, mechanics saying we want to earn more.

Quite simply, we are open to talking about these things because they matter and are relatively important in today’s difficult market. We have shops closing daily, independent mobile operations starting up when and where we see a shop close, or a mechanic simply cap out of what the market can pay him or her.

We have conversations with mechanics about doing more in their shop. Doing more to affect their wage, instead of simply asking for a pay bump. We have conversations with owners about ways to talk to their mechanics.

All things begin with a conversation. If your mechanics asks for a raise or if the mechanic you are interested in hiring is asking for more than you can afford – you need to have a conversation with this person. Our industry is this fun place where work is a hobby and a hobby is work. Our industry sees many failing because people live that belief.

Bicycle shops (most) are for-profit businesses and as such should be readily aware of their entire cost of doing business. We have recently shared a few models, one focused on calculating a profitable base hourly rate and the other looking at all the costs of a new bike sale at a couple of price points.

You, as a business owner or manager, cannot tell me, the mechanic, that there is no more money to provide me a pay raise unless you know all of those numbers. I as a mechanic should not ask you for a pay raise unless I can say what I am bringing to the table to justify the ask.

So, if you’re a business owner or manager that makes decisions on wages and pay in your store, I challenge you to learn your business numbers. I challenge you to implement a system in your business that makes sense to the employees. You need to have reviews; annually works but try to check in quarterly. Touch base with your staff on what’s happening in your business, they too after all are invested in the happenings under your roof.

Create a system (likely more effective if you have more than one mechanic) that shows progression and growth within your business. You’ll find more often than not that we mechanics are creatures of habit; we don’t really want to look for a new job but we will seek out growth opportunity – so, show it to us within your business system. I might suggest it isn’t simply tenure based, I know plenty of young mechanics that know a lot more about suspension than I do and I know a lot of older mechanics in comfortable jobs not producing as much as someone who might not have been employed with you as long. Make any type of pay grade increase based on the demands and expectations of the job. You might find that a productive and motivated mechanic will produce volumes more work in the course of a day, week, or month and that work translates into more profitability for your business (if your  numbers have been calculated and meet the demands of your business costs).

If you are the mechanic, please don’t just ask, but also don’t be afraid to start the conversation. Be able to back up your request but don’t throw your co-workers under the bus… “Hey boss, I wanted to talk to you about my earnings (wages, hourly rate, pay, salary, whatever), I’d like to talk to you about how I can help drive business, be more efficient, do more work in my given day.”

It might be as simple as rearranging something in the store so that the mechanic isn’t disrupted as much or isn’t as prone to distractions from phone calls or questions. The business will determine if that is possible. Have the conversation and tell them about how many brake bleeds the shop is doing in the summer when it’s busy and that you’ve gotten so efficient you’re able to do one more per hour… if the shops rates are calculated correctly that is a pretty good incremental jump in what that service department can pull in per hour. Talk to them if you are well qualified and efficient about getting a bump to help make the other mechanics more efficient.

We’ve discussed this in other places; there isn’t a large pool of cash anywhere in our industry to simply tap into to pay you more. Can things be restructured and the entirety of the top-to-bottom of our cycling world be more efficient and cost effective?  I believe that it can but we can’t make that change in the current world of shops that we operate and live in.

Calculating the costs of doing business, increasing the shops hourly rate, employing efficient and productive mechanics, and building a cohesive and communicative team will help move the conversation along and may eventually help us as an industry retain the talent that we are currently losing to more appreciative and better paying professions.

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Hayley Everett

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