Losing Labor: Film Shops Discuss Employee Retention

February 16th, 2022 by Chris Collier

Hiring—and keeping—a stockpile of experienced installers is on every owner’s wish list. It’s been a challenge for Kyle Fuller of Tint Pro in Warner Robins, Ga., whose workforce diminished by 40% to start the year.

The Problem

“I had an employee that worked for me for 88 days,” Fuller says. “He was coming up on his 90 days, and we were going to evaluate everything. He stopped coming to work; he stopped showing up and never even spoke to me about it.”

Kyle Fuller’s team is incentivized to succeed.

Jeff Welch has fired three employees over the past year due to excessive tardiness. Welch owns Surface – Tint, Wraps, and Design in Forsyth, Ga., and leads two installers daily. COVID-19 has sidelined one of them for more than 10 days, but management challenges extend beyond the pandemic for the 31-year veteran.

“I’ve noticed if we hire someone older, in their late 30s or early 40s, they’re a lot easier to get here on time and have do productive things during the day,” Welch says. “These ‘youngins’ don’t want to work.”

Welch says the problem stems from “our current society.” His business’ mix is 60% automotive tinting, 20% commercial/residential tinting and 20% wraps. He has 15-16 cars scheduled for wraps in the next 90 days and expects that segment to climb. The work is there for Welch, but savvy installers are difficult to find.

Ross Brackett, residential/commercial operations manager at Sun Stoppers in Charlotte, N.C., supervises three installers. Brackett says even when you find an ideal candidate, “after 90 days, that guy’s showing up late and has lost his drive.” Welch says the industry’s learning curve prevents companies from plugging in new employees and finding immediate success.

Ross Brackett’s rule is simple: Treat others how you want to be treated.

“Employees have to focus and learn an art form to be an installer,” Welch says. “Unfortunately, the common theme in our society now is, ‘Here’s a new job. You’ll be in training for two weeks, and you’ll be off and running.’ I think that’s one of the things that’s a problem in our industry—finding people who can stay committed long enough to get the skills under their belt to produce income.”

Educational resources and training courses are available to all aspiring tinters, but Welch isn’t sure that trainees apply themselves correctly.

“Our installers need to be familiar with door panels and weatherstrips,” Welch says. “Many of these cars can be installed in a higher quality if you have that knowledge. A lot of installers try to skirt around those activities, scared to dive into the car and break something. That deters people from an easier, cleaner and more professional installation.”

The Solution

Brackett says keeping installers, a task easier said than done, comes down to treating employees with care. “You have to earn their respect first and then make sure they communicate with you,” says Brackett, who has lunches and dinners with his unit. “Check in with them. Ask them how their wives are doing; how their grandma’s doing. Show that you care. You better care if you’re the business owner because they’re the ones making your business run.”

Brackett’s squad installs film at a Polo Ralph Lauren store.

Brackett says it’s critical to show employees that you care as a person because “everyone has something going on outside of work.”

Fuller buys his team breakfast three times a week and sits down with installers every other day, tracking progress for the week. “I’m trying to do incentives,” he says. “I give monthly bonuses based on production. We set up a tip [jar] on our register. Whether you’re office labor or manual labor in the back, they split the tips at the end of the month. We average $400 to $700 in tips. Putting things out there for my employees to use has helped. At the end of the month, they get excited. It’s like, ‘I got an extra $150 bonus this week because people tipped me.’”

Jeff Welch has seen the good, bad and ugly of employee behavior.

Welch shifts perspectives to attain and maintain his valued team members. “The first thing I do is put myself in their shoes,” Welch says. “We start new installers at $12 an hour. They’re able to take home $400 a week on a 40-hour check. If they can survive that for 30 days, they can become an installer and make more money.”

Not everyone perseveres during Welch’s trial period, but he rewards those who do. What’s the caveat? Be on time.

“One of my newest hires is 19, and he’s into fishing and hunting,” Welch explains. “One of the employee perks we have is that you get a gift card if you’re on time for 30 consecutive work days. After his first 30 days on the job, I walk up to him and hand him a Bass Pro Shops gift card. He said, ‘What’s that for?’ I said that’s for being on time your first 30 days.’”

This article is from Focus on Film, the weekly e-newsletter that covers the latest news regarding window film and related products, including paint protection film. Click HERE to sign up—there is no charge. Interested in a deeper dive? Free subscriptions to Window Film magazine in print or digital format are available. Subscribe at no charge HERE.

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  1. Great read! Thx for the insight.

    Paul Autry
    Tampa Tint Inc.

  2. Labor is a worldwide problem and is becoming more and more expensive all the time.

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