The Swiss Army Knife

Apr 1, 2024 | Toolbox

Finding and keeping employees who possess many “tools” needed to help make companies successfully streamlined is vital.

By Jake Nawrocki

When I was a kid, my older brother at the age of 12 or so started his career in sales. He sold greeting cards to friends, family, or whoever he could talk into buying them. The company that provided them had a large catalog of toys, trinkets, and doodads that were offered to young sellers as a commission. They also offered a cash commission. While I never sold the cards, I did spend a lot of time looking at that catalog. Among other things, what caught my eye was a Swiss army knife – not a little tiny one, but the one with all the tools. Where else could you get a knife, scissors, saw, and even a pair of tweezers packed into one amazing little tool? Talk about an eight year old’s dream!

In our business, how often do we find ourselves looking for that in people? As a small business, we have some of those people. They seem to possess all the tools needed. They know the YMS, they know how to take calls and close sales. They know how to ship parts and drive a loader. How valuable are these people to us and our business? We depend on them, and very often we take them for granted. The fact is, that while people like this are a luxury to a manager or owner, when the people are not there it is often very difficult to manage without them. When that individual takes vacation time, or retires, or heaven forbid, leaves your company to work for a competitor, getting by can become a real challenge.

When we have an individual that does have the ability to be flexible, we want to take advantage of that and also train them in other areas.

On the other hand, if you have many of these individuals, others can be moved into other positions or even other departments with little difficulty. One of the main “tools” that person will need is flexibility. It is not easy to teach, and some people seem incapable of learning to be flexible. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in your organization, but it does often mean they will have to be positioned in a less skilled area of the business. When we have an individual that does have the ability to be flexible, we want to take advantage of that and also train them in other areas.

Being honest with ourselves, the auto recycling industry really doesn’t have to be complicated to be successful. In an effort to maximize returns and productivity we do tend to add methods and procedures that over time make things less simple. If that proves to be profitable that’s cool. Along with that though usually follows the need for highly skilled people, and more of them. So I find that just as I coveted that Swiss army knife as a kid, I now search for “Swiss army knife” people. If you will remember, those knives came in a variety of sizes with different available functions.

People are no different. Rarely you will find the deluxe model with every single feature, most times you find the one with a few of the features. Be protective of both kinds. They are vital to our operations. This is where you as an owner/manager will lead by example in the area of flexibility. Be as flexible as you can with them. Make it easy for them to take the time off they need or want to. This might even involve you doing that person’s job for a day or two. If that happens a couple things can occur.

First, I feel it is good for the team to see the leaders in the trenches with sleeves rolled up and hands dirty. Next, we experience a shift in our perspective. This happened to me recently when the person who inventories all of our cars took time off. Now we are not in a position where we can just stop inventory for two weeks, so it was decided that I would relearn the process, and do as much as I can. I have not been involved in that aspect of our business for about ten years, and believe me there have been some changes. What used to take an hour or less now takes multiple hours. We have complicated the process in an effort to extract more sales. It was very good for me to see it through his viewpoint for a while.

A week later we had multiple individuals take a week off to join a mission trip to Mexico.* One of our dismantlers, a delivery driver, a person who works in shipping, a person who does warehouse and sales work, and another who works in small parts inventory were all gone. That stretched us very thin indeed. But thanks to an amazing staff comprised of several flexible and multi-talented people; not only were we able to get by, the team crushed it with a week of great sales and parts delivered.

Our very existence is due to people like that. So if you haven’t already, find some of these people. You will want to make sure the ones you do have don’t want to work anywhere else.

*The mission trip was with an organization called Net Menders, a 501C3. Their mission is to provide support to churches and pastors in Mexico. By supporting them financially and through work projects, it makes it so that they have time and resources to better help those in need in their own communities, and present to them the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you would like to be a part of this through a contribution, or better yet as a participant in a work project, contact Jake at 715-322-5774 or jaken@rockitopauto.com

Jake Nawrocki, with sister Katy Joles, own and operate Rocki Top Auto Recyclers in Glen Flora, Wisconsin. The company was formed in 1988, and Jake and Katy took over operations in 2009. Since that time, they have been working both in and on the company, in a region that is economically challenged. “Our goal is to make Rocki Top Auto a destination.” Contact Jake at 715-322-5774 or rockitopauto.com.

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