McNeill’s, a seven-bay auto service shop in Elmsdale, N.S., has won the prestigious “Head of the Class” award from the U.S.-based Auto Care Association.
The shop, owned and operated by Roy and Beth McNeill, beat out all other nominees in the Repair Shop category.
“It’s a pretty humbling experience, I can tell you that,” said Roy.
The Head of the Class award, introduced in 2011, recognizes automotive companies that invest in continuing employee education and training. In addition to the repair shop category, awards were given in seven other categories, including manufacturers, warehouse-distributors, jobber stores, and national service chains.
Part of the extensive application process involved summarizing the company’s approach to training – an exercise that proved eye-opening to Roy. The application ended up being like a 5,800 word essay on the importance and benefits of ongoing training.
“It’s not often that you look back at what you’ve done,” said Roy. “You tend to just think about the next thing. But it’s a fantastic thing to do. You learn a lot when you start reflecting on all the training people have taken.”
McNeill’s – the full name is Don McNeill Enterprises, Ltd. – started out as a White Rose gas station in 1962. It now employs 22 people in a wide-ranging operation that includes rustproofing, gas, convenience, repairs, towing, and car wash. On the service side, four technicians and four support staff (a parts person, a reservationist, a service advisor, and a service manager) keep the seven bays hopping.
Roy took over from his parents, Don and Audrey McNeill, in 1986 and has overseen a number of expansions over the years.
He says one of the best decisions he made was to get involved in the Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre’s B.E.S.T. program three years ago. The program, which stands for “Business Evaluation Support & Training” transformed many aspects of the business.
“The biggest change is in the team members we look for now,” he says. “We have a very different approach to finding personnel. And as the culture changes inside the building, the business has gotten stronger and stronger.”
He says he only wants to hire people who are committed to making sure McNeill’s is successful.
“We’re always in hiring mode now!”
AAEC president and CEO Bob Greenwood said the McNeills have exhibited a true dedication to training and skills development within their company.
“This was not an easy task for the McNeill’s because, like all shops in North America, a culture shift had to take place in management and employee thinking,” a press release from AAEC states. “It required focus with clarity and execution with discipline.”
The Auto Care Association’s Head of the Class program is open to shops across North America. The award itself was presented earlier this month at the Auto Care Association’s Fall Leadership Days in Boston, Mass.
“This year’s winners represent a wide range of company categories and sizes, which demonstrates that businesses of all types can introduce and implement education and training programs to meet the professional and personal needs of our auto care industry family,” said Kathleen Schmatz, president and CEO of the Auto Care Association. “In each case, the companies have noted improvements in teamwork, morale, sales and customer satisfaction while at the same time reducing turnover.”
It is the second time a Canadian shop – also a client in AAEC’s BEST program – has won the award. In 2012, Gustafson’s Auto Clinic Inc., a Tirecraft shop in Athabasca Alta., won for its education and training practices.