How to retain staff

How to retain staff

While staff shortages climb to the top of the agenda for workshops across the UK, one Oxfordshire garage prides itself on its exemplary record both in retaining existing staff and attracting young talent. We introduce Faringdon Garage, the multi-generational garage making things work.

Staff retention isn’t an issue for Faringdon Garage. Their master service technician has been with them 42 years and his recently retired predecessor clocked up half a century. To complement this wealth of knowledge and experience, Faringdon’s leadership are firmly focused on bringing the next generation of technicians into the fold.

Like so many of its peers in the aftermarket sector, Faringdon Garage has been a permanent community fixture for decades. Part of the wider Fish Brothers group, the historic site sits prominently on the main shopping street of the Oxfordshire market town from which it takes its name. Its customer base is undoubtedly familiar with the team tending to their car. That’s primarily because, until the autumn of last year, Faringdon Garage’s service and maintenance division still retained its very first three employees – a trio boasting more than 130 years of knowledge and experience.

“The garage’s first service technician, employee number one, left us last year after 50 years of service,” explains Aftersales Manager, Steve Neale. “He was man and boy here at Faringdon – he worked no other job in his life. Sadly, the pandemic disrupted his last working day and we weren’t able to give him a full send-off.”

The shop floor is now overseen by master technician and the second-ever payrolled employee, Stephen ‘Barney’ Bint. His 42 years with the business are closely followed by service technician, Graham French, who will celebrate four decades with the company in the coming months. This year also marks 20 years at Faringdon for service advisor, Laura Carter, and 20 years with Fish Brothers for Emma Payne in parts.

“Barney and Graham are two of the most experienced technicians I’ve ever worked with,” claims Steve. “Both are immensely knowledgeable in their field and keen to grow and expand their understanding further. Whenever Barney sees a new training session appear on the system, he’s straight on to me to get him booked on.

“We’re excited to embrace the changing automotive landscape. Sometimes there can be reluctance in the industry to adapt to and accept the future, but we have none of that here. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much experience you have in the job, there’s always something new to learn.

“For us as a business, our team’s longstanding service gives us continuity. It’s great to know that, whatever the situation, we can trust everyone to do the job to the very best of their ability. I think that the confidence we have in them rubs off on our clients, too. We find that our customer demographic values having a direct relationship with the technicians, putting a face to a name, and having a chat with the person they’re entrusting their vehicle’s maintenance to.

“You’ll often see our customers stop by for a catch up with the team or to ask a question about their car. Keeping our drivers happy is critical, especially when word of mouth is still one of our most effective new business tools.”

It’s the enthusiasm of Faringdon Garage’s employees to learn that has helped the centre to quickly become EV compliant, despite not yet being able to make the most of their newfound skills.

“So far this year, we’ve only seen two electric vehicles,” Steve chuckles. “But we’re really hot on our training and it’s great that we’re accredited and ready to meet the demand.”

How to retain staff

Investing in the future

While Faringdon Garage’s longstanding workforce is a credit to the company, Steve and the Group’s management are just as proud to introduce the next generation of automotive technicians into the business. The last few months have seen 23-year-old Adam Day complete his initial three-year apprenticeship at the garage, with 17-year-old Harry Cook following in his footsteps as the company’s newest apprentice.

“It was the Fast & Furious movies that got me interested in cars,” Adam explains. “I didn’t have the money to pay others to maintain a car and I was keen to find a vocation that I could turn into a career.

“The support I’ve received from the team has been fantastic over the past few years. They’ve given me opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. Everyone has been behind me all the way.

“I’d definitely recommend an automotive technician apprenticeship to others interested in joining the industry. If you’re determined to stick with it, get stuck in and ask plenty of questions, you’ll enjoy it.”

Adam’s three-year Peugeot apprenticeship was overseen in house by the Faringdon Garage team, with additional training provided externally by Peugeot.

“The practical sharing of knowledge is one of the best ways to educate the next generation,” Steve says. “It’s been great to hear Adam, and now Harry, ask questions of the team and absorb the information that was shared with our experienced technicians by their peers. Barney is a great leader in the workshop, very patient, approachable, and understanding of the fact that there’s no such thing as a silly question. At the end of the day, we were all in their position once, and I think we reflect that in our apprenticeship scheme.

“On a personal level, we all benefit from their zest for life and enthusiasm for the industry. An apprenticeship is as much about grounding them in the adult world as it is about providing them with the skills necessary for the job. It’s rewarding to see them develop in character as their confidence grows. We’re firm when we need to be, but we have a lot of fun, too. You’ve got to be happy at work.”

An ever-changing landscape

Steve is all too aware that a skilled team is only part of the picture when it comes to running a successful aftersales centre. Keen to broaden its reach amongst drivers of all makes and models, the garage has joined the Eurorepar Car Service network – an initiative run by Stellantis Group to provide big-brand backing, technical support and quality parts supply to the independent and authorised repair sectors.

“Because of our history in Faringdon, we have a very loyal community of customers,” says Steve. “People still talk about the original Mr Fish and have personal stories. It means that people do come from all over to visit us and we are something of a destination garage.

“It can be a bit up and down throughout the week. Faringdon is a small town, it’s not Swindon or Oxford and therefore we do have to work a lot harder to win and retain the work. We can’t just expect new customers to show up. The pandemic has had an impact on the way we work. It caused us to close temporarily in April of last year.

“We pride ourselves on operating more like a family and I feel that’s reflected in our high CSI scores, which we’re very proud of. It’s impossible for us to stand still. We’re always looking at the future be it in our team or more widely as a garage, too.”

Want to know more? For more information on Faringdon Garage, click here.

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