What's Working - April - 2016

Whose Hands Are in Your Till?

There’s one problem that nearly every repair shop has found itself facing: finding good help. More and more high-quality employees are reaching retirement age, while fewer young people are lining up to take their places.

But no matter how difficult a position is to fill, the last thing you want to do is relax your standards for hiring. Those employees are the face of your company. Hiring the wrong ones can quite literally put you out of business.

Think that’s an overstatement? Meet Bob (not his real name): a shop owner who jumped in a little too quickly and learned the hard way that not everyone is who they claim to be. This is a true story; Bob contacted us and shared his tale of woe to help others avoid making the same mistakes.

Bob owns a few shops in the south central U.S. Having multiple shops means he has to bounce around between them, so he needs a manager at each shop to keep them on track when he isn’t around. When one of his shop managers left, he started looking locally for a replacement. After he exhausted the local talent, he began advertising nationally.

“A young guy called me from Florida,” says Bob. “He said his name was Josh Wilson. He seemed cool, calm, and very likeable; just the kind of person I was looking for. So I asked him for references.

“He claimed he’d worked for his uncle for 13 years before going out on his own for three years. But because he was getting a divorce, he ended up closing his shop. That’s why he was looking for a job, and why he could begin working right away.

“I called and spoke with his uncle, Joe Wilson, who owned a shop in North Carolina. We talked for a while and his uncle really spoke highly of Josh.

“I didn’t find out until later that the name ‘Wilson’ was an alias. And I’ve recently discovered that it isn’t the only one he’s been using.” In fact, Josh and his uncle Joe have been accused of operating under a wide range of business names to cheat customers. They’ve even been listed as “off-limits to military personnel” in news briefs from Fort Campbell and the Department of the Army.

So how did this miscreant make his way into Bob’s shop? “He had all the right answers,” explains Bob. “He said he could start right away because he and his wife were getting divorced.” And, once he started, Josh did a terrific job and sold a lot of work.

But there were red flags: “When I asked for his social security number, he claimed he’d left his wallet at home that day.” And, once he’d finally played that excuse to its limit, he claimed his car had been stolen along with his wallet. Anything to keep from revealing his true identity.

How was Josh stealing from Bob? “He’d collect cash from the customer; that went into his pocket. Then he’d run a stolen credit card number for the job and submit that at the end of the day. I have no idea where he got those credit card numbers,” says Bob.

It wasn’t long after Josh stopped showing up that Bob began receiving fraud notices from the credit card companies. “They start coming two at a time, and one in the middle of the week. They all came within about two weeks. Once they start coming they just roll in every day.

“I went to check the information and the files were gone. And he erased those customers’ records from the computer.” He even altered the customers’ phone numbers so that Bob couldn’t verify what happened with them.

In the end, Josh stole about $20,000 from Bob. That loss would be bad enough, but now Bob is faced with trying to rebuild a reputation damaged by Josh cheating his customers.

Bob is quick to acknowledge that he dropped the ball. “I gave him too much access; I never had anyone steal from me before.” Not completely surprising: It isn’t easy for an honest person to imagine someone going to such lengths to cheat them.

In her diary, Anne Frank famously asserted, “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Unfortunately there are a few people who seem to want to prove her — and Bob — wrong.

Background Checks

Chances are, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve come to the conclusion that what was needed was a careful background check. Bob even acknowledged that he’d been lax on that score.

But how do you handle a background check? Who do you call and what do you ask? More important, what’s legal to ask and what’s none of your business? There are limits to what you can ask for and what a previous employer can tell you.

The good news is that all the information you need is right at your fingertips, and you don’t even have to know what to ask for: Just Google “employee background check services.” You’ll find dozens of sites dedicated exclusively to providing you with these services. There are even a few links right on the first page that review the different screening companies.

What’s really impressive is how inexpensive the service generally is: Depending on which service you choose; you should be able to get a complete background check for between $100 and $200. In some cases that even includes a social media check.

Most offer different services on an a la carte basis: You can pick the checks you want, from basic criminal checks to employment verification. There are even a few that offer drug testing.

Keep in mind that one or two negative results may not be enough to disqualify a tentative hire. Let’s face it: We’ve all done a few stupid things in our lives. (Well, you guys did. Me? I’m a saint.)

If you come upon a discrepancy in the background check, give the person a chance to explain. You may find that drug bust 15 years ago wasn’t that big a deal (because who hasn’t sparked up a doobie in the parking lot before a Stones concert? Besides me, ’cause, you know… saint.)

On the other hand, if nothing matches what you’ve been told and there’s an outstanding arrest warrant for the guy on the other side of the table, you might want to think about continuing your search… and calling the cops.

Video Surveillance

Once you’re satisfied you found the right person and made the hire, that doesn’t mean you should sit back and relax. American humorist Finley Peter Dunne said “Trust everybody, but cut the cards.” Trust is important, but it needs to be earned, especially when it comes to new hires. Until they’ve had a chance to earn your trust, consider adding video surveillance to your shop.

There are a number of systems available today that won’t break the bank. In fact, several 8-camera systems are available for about $300 to $400. Think about that: You can keep an eye on your entire shop for less than you probably spent for your morning latte for a couple months!

Some of those systems are wireless, so installation and setup should be fairly easy… something you can do yourself over a weekend. And a few are accessible through your cell phone, so you can check up on your business from across town.

Bob suggests reserving one camera to monitor your credit card machine. “Josh would take cash from the customer and then punch in a stolen credit card number to charge a second account for the shop.” If he’d had a camera on the credit card machine, Bob would have seen the duplicate transactions taking place.

So, before you hire your next employee, think seriously about adding a screening process to your hiring procedure. Because you need to know whose hands are reaching into your shop’s till.