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Staff master: Different things motivate employees, says Creighton

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Recruiting quality personnel has always been a major challenge for Colony Tire Corp., says CEO Charlie Creighton.

He admits the 40-store chain is highly selective in who it hires. But at the same time, no prospective employee is going to contact a tire dealership that has a poor reputation.

"We've always wanted to be a preferred place to work. We try to conduct ourselves and structure our benefit programs so we're seen as a preferred employer."

While Creighton says there's no magic formula for employee hiring and retention, the following strategies have proven successful for Colony Tire:

1. High selectivity in hiring.

2. Competitive wages and incentives.

3. A strong benefits package.

4. Recognition of employee achievements.

Here are Creighton’s thoughts in greater detail:

On competitive wages. "We have 500 employees and 300 of them, in some manner, are paid based on profitability (above and beyond their base wages)," he says. "In some cases, the commission they make for the profitability of their stores is 60% to 70% of their total income.

"I don't think there's anything more important than a tire changer feeling he can improve his income by doing a better job," says Creighton. "With our system, they feel more appreciated than if they were making $10 an hour, period. If they're making $8 an hour and then so much per tire they put on, so much per balance, so much per oil change... they feel they have some control over their destiny."

On strong benefits. In addition to a full range of medical benefits, Colony Tire offers a 401(k) and a profit sharing program. For the 401(k), the company matches 40 cents per dollar up to 6% of an employee's salary.

Colony Tire used to have an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), but discontinued it several years ago. "The government changed the tax laws on ESOPs pretty significantly, so we bought the ESOP back, which was a big plus; our employees received five years of income in advance. Then we replaced the ESOP with a profit-sharing plan. If we make a profit, we share that profit with our employees.

On employee recognition. "Money motivates employees, but in many cases personal recognition is almost as important. Being respected and personally recognized for the successful performance of their job means a lot to them." Colony Tire gives out safety awards, sales awards and its Top Dog Award, an annual honor bestowed upon the employee "who's doing the best in all categories."

Money, benefits and formal recognition are effective incentives. But so are intangibles like accessibility, a positive work environment and a sense of belonging, according to Creighton. "We have an open door policy. Employees walk into my office every day. My home phone number is on my business card."

Earlier this year, an employee came to his house on a Sunday and asked to borrow some money. "That's the kind of atmosphere we have," says Creighton. "We don't have utopia. But we're always conscious of the fact that the best thing we can do for success is have good associates."

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