The two prospects live in Dubai and Switzerland, and Demaree has hired attorneys to help them obtain work visas. The process could take eight to 10 months and cost roughly $10,000. But he says it's a gamble worth taking because technicians are so hard to find stateside.
Service managers nationwide share Demaree's pain. While business is booming at service departments because of pent-up demand, the crush of work also has laid bare a vexing and long-percolating industry problem: a severe shortage of qualified technicians.
In fact, a recent staffing study from Cox Automotive shows that about 60 percent of franchised dealers surveyed plan to hire more technicians this year, while 72 percent say finding/hiring the right employees is a challenge.
Tom Wood Automotive owns 13 auto dealerships and five motorcycle stores that collectively employ 236 technicians. To reach full facility utilization, the group needs 119 more.
"We have one store with 54 service bays and 26 technicians," Demaree notes. "It's never been this bad. Everything we've been talking about for 10 years has finally hit us."
At California-based Hansel Auto Group, Fixed Ops Director Mike Weldon is trying to add 33 technicians to his roster of 148. The company's website vividly reflects the hiring challenge; the first thing visitors see is a large "now hiring" banner ad that shouts in capital letters, "Love Where You Work."
It prominently overshadows links to browse for vehicles at the company's nine dealerships.
"We just put that up. It sends a strong message to consumers that visit our website," Weldon says of the digital recruiting approach.
Chris Coxall, vice president of fixed operations at the 12-store, Colorado-based McDonald Automotive Group, says he's trying to fill 54 technician job openings. It could take a year or more, he estimates.
"But constant recruiting is just part of the job now," he adds.
All three dealership groups use a variety of tools to woo job prospects, including longevity and incentive bonuses, tool allowances, reimbursement for college tuition and relocation expenses, competitive pay, paid vacations and flexible work schedules, such as four 10-hour days at Hansel.
But things such as failed drug tests and bad driving records hamper hiring efforts. Weldon says that given the limited labor pool, he often invites good prospects that fail drug tests to stay clean for 30 days, then get retested. If they're hired, they are subject to random drug testing, he says.
All three fixed ops executives say the best recruiting tool is a great culture that includes defined career paths for technicians.
In the end, Weldon says he tries to turn a negative into a fun challenge.
"I take a positive standpoint," he says.
"This is a great opportunity to be sure you're treating employees right — making sure they have the right resources and training. That's where the biggest payoff is."