Paying for performance: What to consider

Publish Date: 
Dec 5, 2013
By Dave Koshollek

IT'S NO SECRET that most technicians want more pay. Checking out websites such as and, you'll see that motorcycle mechanics' wages haven't budged since 2008. 

The recession has not been kind, especially to those of us working in this recreational industry that depends on discretionary dollars to fuel sales.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2012 the average wage for a motorcycle mechanic was about $15.93 per hour. For the lower 25 percent of techs, it was between $10.11 and $12.67 per hour. Upper range technicians ran between $20 and $25 per hour, or about $42,000 to $52,000 annually.

Back in 1980, my last  year working as a tech, I was making about $20,000 a year as a commissioned mechanic, which works out to about $9.60 per hour. I consider myself to have been an "average" mechanic back then. Using the BLS statistics for "average" earning techs, the wages increased about 66 percent over the last 30 years.

How does this compare to the cost of living? Utilizing the BLS website's Consumer Price Index Inflation calculator, I plugged in my $20,000 to see what I'd need to earn today to have kept pace with inflation. As you can see from the image at right, if I was still twisting wrenches today I'd need to make $56,766 just to keep up with expenses. That means the cost of living has gone up almost 300 percent! To get close to that level of income I'd probably want to move to California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire or New Jersey; these states rate highest in mechanic's wages -- around $18 an hour for an average tech. I'd also have to become a better tech because only the top 10 percent are earning anywhere near $57K a year.

OK, so maybe you're a scooter technician reading this and now you're ready to march into your service manager's office and demand a raise. But hold on, there -- there's more to the story that just expecting higher wages based on government statistics.You've got to earn the right to rattle the cage. That's where I ask: "What have you done for me lately?"

Not every motorcycle tech is a joy to work with. Not every tech does perfect work 100 percent of the time (with zero comebacks). Not every tech is 100 percent efficient. And not every tech is consistently looking for ways to increase the sale by identifying outstanding wants and needs during a very thorough, 360-degree vehicle inspection.

"You'll always be paid consistently with the size of the problems you solve."

-- Ron Willingham, "Integrity Service: Treat Your Customers Right -- Watch Your Business Grow"

This is why I am a fan of paying for performance, which should provide an incentive to motivate techs to produce a minimum number of billable hours per week (usually around 32 hours, which is 80 percent efficiency in a 40-hour work week). And to encourage techs to grow the business, I also believe in paying a spiff or bonus when techs discover additional work needed while the bike is on the rack. And I recommend using a multiplier factor that considers attendance, comebacks, mentoring duties, etc. Essentially, any ideal worker attributes that a dealership wants to cultivate should be demanded -- and rewarded.

This leads me to a concept I read about recently in "Integrity Service: Treat Your Customers Right - Watch Your Business Grow," by Ron Willingham (ISBN No. 1476763321). Among the many excellent ideas on how to conduct an ethical and profitable business, Willingham notes that "You'll always be paid consistently with the size of the problems you solve. Solve small problems and you'll receive small pay; but solve big problems and you'll enjoy big pay." (continued)