Hiring quality employees is a crapshoot

Publish Date: 
Apr 1, 2009
By Rick Fairless

I HAVE BEEN in the motorcycle business for 13 years, and I was in the paint business for 20 years before that. Business owners know that employees can be the best thing that ever happens to your business, or they can be its death. If customers like your parts guys, they buy parts from you. If they don't, they won't. I preach to all my employees that people don't do business with companies, people do business with people, and the only thing we have to sell is ourselves.

I employ 50 people. This is a huge increase from the five employees I started with. Over the years I have hired and fired several hundred people. So far I have yet to find a foolproof (good choice of words) way to tell if a potential employee is gonna be a good one or just another shithead wasting my time. I just go with my gut feeling during the interview process, and sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm totally wrong.


I try to look at how many jobs the applicants have. If they change jobs all the time, I'm not interested. If they come in for a job interview dressed like they are going to the mall to hang out with their buddies, I won't waste my time.

I hire my techs and parts people straight out of MMI or another Harley-Davidson-accredited school. This has served me well over the years. Sure, they have a lot to learn because they're right out of school, but they haven't yet learned too many bad habits. I have a shop foreman and lead technicians who work well with the FNGs. I send my sales employees, parts guys and techs to training offered by the OEMs I carry.

I believe that you can't get too much education. The problem is whom to educate. If you're like me, you've invested money in employee training only to have them quit or flake out, and you then have to dump them. That's the risk you take when you aim to have the most knowledgeable staff possible.

To keep the place running smoothly, I need good managers who can make smart choices without always having me involved. I need people I can trust, and I believe that I have them. It hasn't always been that way: I once had a parts manager who was stealing parts from me, shipping them to his house and reselling them on the Internet. I fired him, and last I heard he was doing time in the big house.




I hold a mandatory managers meeting every Friday morning with my business manager (my lovely wife, Sue), general manager, office manager, IT manager, motorcycle sales manager, trailer sales manager, sales administrator, parts manager, service manager, apparel manager, marketing/PR manager, bar manager, tattoo shop manager, and e-commerce sales manager. These people are my brain trust. We go around the table and everyone talks about each of their departments. I want all of my managers to know what the heck is going on in every department.

I also hold a mandatory employee meeting about twice a year for every worker who draws a check from me (even the bikini gals). I get them all in one room and I pretty much do all the talking. It's serious stuff, and anybody who clowns around or engages in horseplay is sent home. I tell them where we are as a company, and what I expect from them for the coming season.

During the meeting we had last October, I reminded them that times are tough in our industry and that one way or another we are gonna succeed. If they wanted to be part of my team, I needed them to give me everything they had to give. I asked each of them if they could click up a gear and they all said "Yes." I screamed. I mean, I told them to shift into that high gear!

I try to send them the message that they are all valued employees and that I need them to work at their full potential. However, I also let them know that we are all replaceable. I don't hire people because they need a job. I hire people because I need an employee. If they need a hug, I give them a hug. If they need a foot in the ass, I give them a foot in the ass.

I learned years ago that it's easier to keep an employee if they're happy and they enjoy their job. I tell my employees that if they aren't happy working for me, please move on down the road. Don't worry about ol' Rick, I'll be fine! Employees who aren't happy suffer in their performance and poison those around them. I don't want — and won't tolerate — negative people working for me. I want employees who are passionate about their jobs and our industry.

I get employment applications every day. Good people are looking for jobs, but so are the dumbasses who were fired from their last job. You have to be careful to figure out which ones are the keepers and which ones are the idiots.

Rick Fairless is the owner of Strokers Dallas (a Top 100 dealer), Strokers IceHouse and Strokers Ink.