Finding a Mechanic in a Haystack

Belle Tire’s Jim Peterson on the challenge of finding skilled technicians for the company’s expanding footprint

Photo: Wil Stewart

Since its founding at a single Detroit location in 1922 by Sam Waze, Belle Tire has grown to 133 locations and 20 mobile repair vans throughout Michigan, Ohio and, most recently, Indiana.

As the tire and glass repair and replacement company continues its expansion in the Midwest, finding top-tier talent for all of Belle Tire’s locations is proving a challenge, but vice president of human resources Jim Peterson is confident that by getting the message out about Belle’s strong company culture, the company will sell itself. The company offers extensive in-house training for employees, especially at the entry-level positions, and Peterson believes the open and honest culture at Belle Tire is what helps set it apart from its competition.

Finding skilled technicians, especially at the entry level, has provided challenges that Belle Tire has approached by incorporating education into their own employee development. “We’re doing a lot of training in-house,” Peterson told Tire Business. “At [company headquarters in] Allen Park, we have a full training center that basically looks like an auto shop. We run people through that training there on their own to get them up to speed, and we’re also looking at adding additional training centers in the new markets where we’re heading into so we can create some of this [momentum] ourselves.”

There are a number of reasons for the lack of available talent, Peterson said. “Whether that would be coming out of high school, because vo-tech programs have been cut back throughout the years, or the lack of good vo-tech schools out there teaching people automotive skills, I don’t think it’s any secret out there that there’s a huge challenge with the decrease of students in skilled trades.”

As Belle Tire expands, Peterson said entering unchartered territory looking for new labor can be tough, but a “Getting to Know You” charity donation program has helped the company establish itself in new and developing markets. “One of our core values at Belle Tire is committing to and investing in the communities we call home, focusing on customer service, job creation, and local organizations that make our communities a better place,” said Don Barnes III, Belle Tire president, in a press release. “We pride ourselves in becoming good neighbors in each and every community we serve.”

The Choose Your Charity program provides microgrants for store managers utilize at-will. Mangers, in turn, allow employees to vote on which local charities to donate to. “Having been a member of Belle Tire’s team for many years, including training staff at multiple Indiana locations, I have been able to experience firsthand the company’s focus of giving back to the community,” Nicholas Parton, a store manager in Kokomo, Indiana, told Tire Business.

Peterson says that a confidential employee survey also allows the company to continually improve its approach to its own people. “We can confidentially hear what they want to tell us and then we can react to that and help them help the company get better and help them be better,” Peterson told Tire Business. “It helps us to really connect with the team, understand what their questions or what their needs are, and then we make sure we go back out and do something with that information. It is important that we show them that when they speak, we listen.”

Most recently, responses to that survey will allow employees more flexibility in how and when vacation time is utilized. “We heard them, and we’re going to go out with something that I think will be very, very beneficial to the team,” Peterson said.

Peterson said that whether it’s recruiting new talent or retaining Belle Tire’s best, his approach remains largely the same. “We want all of our employees to want to come to work, not to have to come to work.”

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