In the early days of the pandemic, the technicians at John Hiester's four North Carolina dealerships had only enough work to last till about lunch.
As business slowed the techs became increasingly worried about layoffs or furloughs. Hiester called a meeting to soothe concerns but admits he might have just added to the discomfort.
"I told them we're gonna do everything we can to get as much work in here as possible and we'll just have to play it by ear," recalled Hiester, who owns two Chevrolet dealerships and two Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram stores scattered south of the Research Triangle. "I knew that was a bad answer. I went home and thought about it.
"I said, 'We gotta come up with something.' "
His first thought was of a past love — tinkering on classic cars. He wondered if his techs, when things got slow in the afternoon, would want to pass the time turning wrenches on old cars. He bounced the idea off his managers, who loved it. Soon, it snowballed into a team competition and then into having the winning car auctioned for charity.
In between, Ally Financial Inc. — which provides auto financing at Hiester's dealerships — connected the teams with celebrity car customizer Danny Koker, who offered his ongoing advice. And a YouTube series was created to track each team's efforts.
These new developments meant Hiester, instead of buying a few old cars to keep his techs busy, purchased 19. Eventually, 14 were used for the competition with service department personnel at his four stores split into teams.