Christa Collins, 37

Service manager, Planet Subaru

Planet Subaru in Hanover, Mass., like most other dealerships, never has an easy time filling open positions for technicians.

Jeff Morrill, co-founder of the store, knows traditional ways of recruiting technicians - poaching them from other dealerships, promoting from within, etc. - won't be enough to solve the problem. His approach, actively recruiting and promoting women for fixed ops jobs, is how Christa Collins, his service manager, saw her own career path take an unexpected turn.

After high school and before college, she was floundering a bit. In 2005, a friend working at Planet Subaru suggested she apply for a job in the service department. She applied on a lark, not really expecting much more than a temporary job as she worked on a degree in interior design. "I was not a car person. I did not have any sort of upbringing with this," she said.

Collins found she thrived in the culture that Morrill had established, in which employees are treated like family - trusted, respected, supported and encouraged to learn new skills and move into jobs with greater responsibility.
One of Collins' biggest accomplishments at Planet Subaru was writing the store's apprenticeship training program, called Planet U (for university). It's the store's road map that guides fixed ops hires as they progress from trainees to professionals.

The plan slowly immerses new employees in how the dealership operates by rotating them through different jobs, from basic lot maintenance to cleaning up the shop to positions with greater responsibility. The plan has helped the store employ an unusually high number of female certified technicians  - of Planet's 23 full-time techs, six are women. Each year since 2016, when Collins became Planet's service manager, the store has finished in the top five in labor hours sold among the 64 Subaru stores in New England. Last year the store wrote approximately 15,000 repair orders.

Collins also helps the store recruit and train new hires. Not only does she prefer candidates who have never worked in a new-car dealership, but she also seeks those who have never dreamed of working in one. "The people we have come in are people that were overlooked in other areas of work," she says. Many have backgrounds in retail sales or food service, for instance. Not having dealership experience, Collins says, means not having to unlearn bad habits or other stores' ways of doing the job.

She credits her interior design studies for keeping the shop organized. And she has used those skills when the store has undergone remodeling by making sketches showing different layouts.

Her ultimate goal is to run fixed ops for both of Planet's stores and any others the company may open. To do that, Collins says, she plans to continue improving her performance, continue winning repair work from other Subaru stores and independent garages, and help the fixed ops department at Planet's other store adopt some of the practices that work well for her store.

- Richard Truett

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