If you walk into Art’s Lawn Mower Shop in Florissant, MO, chances are you will see the same faces again and again. Many of the staff members have become permanent fixtures, with 30 years or more under their belt. Much of the staff is also made up of family members working full and part-time. Perhaps it is the never-changing staff that has turned customers into regular visitors as well.
Familiar with the staff and trusting in their knowledge, a loyal customer base has stuck with Art’s through its 61 years in business. As the weather and economy prove to be unpredictable and unreliable, the staff at Art’s survives on their own dependability as they maintain their reputation for quality.
Employees and service
As some of the employees that have been with Art’s for ages age, they hang their hats and prepare for retirement. One of their technicians recently retired after 37 years in the shop. Another will retire in May 2013 with 33 years under his belt.
“Those guys are hard to replace,” says owner Marlin Arthur Stellhorn. “We have had them working with some younger people to get them up to speed.”
The veteran techs work with newcomers on the ins and outs of equipment maintenance and repairs. Stellhorn’s son-in-law Michael Rikard has been with the business 20 years and is in charge of the shop, specializing in diagnostics, hydraulics and electrical work. Stellhorn trusts mechanics to perform in their own special areas and support the others where they run short.
“You need mechanics on different levels,” explains Stellhorn. “You need a guy who does the repetitive maintenance work as well as diagnostic people who can put their finger on a problem and either correct it themselves or direct the other mechanics on the procedures. If a mechanic has high-level abilities, and you feed him the general maintenance stuff, that has no challenge.”
Providing technicians with a challenging and fulfilling work environment is part of what has kept the staff on so long. They are invested in their work and the success of the business.
Work orders are tracked on a schedule board in the shop with each assigned to a technician and given a projected completion date. The projected completion date is decided based on the available technician hours and the time required for the repair as it relates to difficulty.
“We do a projected completion date rather than vaguely saying we are three weeks out,” says Stellhorn. “Customers appreciate the accuracy giving this calculation offers.”
In addition to challenging the staff, Stellhorn works to maintain a harmony in the shop and ensure mechanics feel they are all treated equally. Past incentive programs are being reassessed to ensure fairness and quality assurance.
“We previously offered incentives and are re-evaluating the system because some technicians didn’t think the program was fair,” explains Stellhorn. “We do think incentives are important to challenge them to go the extra mile, but don’t want to encourage shortcuts.”
The service facilitator fills out the technicians’ time on the board so they can see how each other is performing. The team regularly talks about what is not getting done and any problems they are having.
As the technicians work together on improving skill and processes, Stellhorn watches as they age and move on. “Quite a few of our employees are long-term,” says Stellhorn. “A few are retiring now and I think: ‘Wait a minute, I’m supposed to go first!’”
Don’t let Stellhorn fool you. Recently celebrating his 69th birthday, Stellhorn says he always thought that the age of 70 would be a great time to retire. A year away from that deadline, he says he is nowhere near ready to say goodbye to the business he grew up in.
“My dad Art started the business in the 1940s and officially in 1951 moved it into a garage,” says Stellhorn. “I later assumed command in 1963. For 48 years I’ve been doing this. Anything I learned I learned from him. I used to hang out in his back pocket listening to him talk to people about the quality of the mowers.”