"You get what you pay for" is one of those bits of folk wisdom that has become a cliche because it's generally — but not always — true. The slogan could summarize the eternal debate over the best way for a dealership to pay its fixed ops employees, especially service technicians and advisers and parts-counter people.
A special report in this issue of Fixed Ops Journal takes a fresh look at service and parts pay plans. We examine how they are, or aren't, doing what dealers intend them to do.
More than a century ago, Ford Motor Co. conducted time-and-motion studies to determine how long various car-repair and maintenance jobs should take. Ford urged its dealers to pay their mechanics on that basis, however long it actually took them to complete the jobs, rather than with a straight salary.
Thus the flat rate system came to service departments in a big way. Under pressure from mechanics who threatened to quit because they considered the system unfair, Ford temporarily backed away from flat rate during the Great Depression.
Today, nearly three-fourths of dealerships still use flat rate as the foundation of their technician pay plans, according to a survey by Carlisle & Co. Dealers and service directors continue to insist that flat rate promotes efficiency and productivity in their shops, keeping customers satisfied and coming back. Techs continue to complain that it leads to disruptive fluctuations in their weekly pay, as well as arbitrary expectations and favoritism in job assignments.
Flat rate advocates say it fairly rewards the most talented, experienced, diligent techs, enabling them to book — and get paid for — far more hours of work than they spend on the clock. But what about everyone else?
Industry analysts cite flat rate as a leading cause of unhappiness and turnover among veteran techs, as well as a big impediment to hiring millennial employees, amid an industrywide tech shortage.
Techs' desire for pay stability is as understandable as dealers' quest for productivity. While flat rate remains the standard, more dealerships are developing hybrid plans that combine wage guarantees for techs with incentives to work quickly and well to boost their pay. You'll find examples of such plans in our story here.