People Are Dealers’ Biggest Asset: Top 10 Ways to Attract and Retain Them

Lessons learned in a 30-year powersports dealer career.

In case you needed to be reminded of what truly drives your dealership — its people. As the general manager of Plano Kawasaki Suzuki, I’ve learned many lessons in a 30-year powersports dealer career. Here I’ve outlined my top 10 ways to attract and retain dealership talent.

  1. Avoid the toxic environment. A big reason that people give for leaving their past jobs is, “It was a toxic environment.” If you do interviews, you have probably heard it too. What are you doing at your dealerships to make sure that your culture is enticing for quality team members to join your group? Do you have good leadership or bosses with titles? What is your culture? I believe that everyone has kept someone that is cancer or toxic at their dealership because of many reasons. Possibly because you liked them, maybe they were relatives, or maybe you were desperate for employees. I have heard it said many times that growth is uncomfortable. As leaders, we are obligated to make the hard and painful decisions. We cannot afford to keep someone that disrupts the organic flow of the entire dealership. 
  2. Be a leader, not a boss. Do you have good leadership in place, and are you empowering staff to make critical decisions? Anyone can be a boss and tell people what to do. A good leader motivates and inspires his/her team. When led properly, people follow the lead and typically perform well. Nobody wants to be told what to do but rather shown how to do the job. Those team members tend to have job satisfaction, are more successful and remain part of the team longer. 
  3. Mission statement. Do you have a mission statement for the culture of the dealership, and does everyone know what that mission statement is? We can’t reach a goal unless we know what the goal is right? Everyone needs “buy in” for speaking the same language. 
  4. Chaos or processes. Most people are wired to thrive in a structured environment. If your dealership feels out of control most of the time, you will have a hard time with cohesiveness and retention. Do you have rock-solid processes in place, and are you following through? Entrepreneurs and leaders may not have good organization or time management skills. It is good to know your weaknesses. Your weakness may be another person’s strength. Hire someone that has opposite strengths and weaknesses than you. Doing this allows the beautiful synchronization of both. Processes are the life blood and foundation. Do not ignore this. Team members will thrive in structure and die off in chaos. 
  5. Little things matter. Are you giving your team enough face time? Do you have the right people in the right places? Do you walk in with a wet blanket on your back, or are you a ray of sunshine who greets everyone by name? Are you recognizing accomplishments and paying notice to someone’s hard work? Are you acknowledging birthdays? Do you allow time off for grieving, even if it is a pet? I could go on and on about the little things. Factually speaking, if you are not doing more than their previous employer, chances are you will be on the list of ex-employers soon. 
  6. Inclusion. As much as the “OGs” of this industry grumble about the younger generation, like it or not, the younger generation is here. The older, experienced folks (OGs) are retiring, and we have to adapt to survive. Are you ready to speak their language? I remember being so frustrated with some younger employees that I was unhappy to walk in the door every day. They were not going to change, so I had to. I took a web class on leading the millennial generation, and it helped. I was speaking clear English, and they might as well have spoken Japanese. I joke, but it is true. I learned that the things that employees want in today’s work environment are different. They want to “feel like they are a part of something important” (worthy cause). They want more time off (with more pay). They want more life experiences. They ask about benefits and time off while they are being interviewed. What are you doing to include the needs of every generation in your culture? 
  7. Training. Do you have a training program, and is it consistently being utilized? This is a tough one but important. What are your processes, and who is responsible for facilitating them? How can we hold an employee accountable if they do not know what their responsibilities are? Identify the problem right now and fix it. The manufacturers have product knowledge classes with tests, but are you using them? Give senior team members a little extra love on their paychecks to train new hires, empower them and watch them grow! Remember No. 4: inclusion. Always be open-minded with sending your staff to key training events. Are you in a 20 Group, and does it have classes? There are webinars every day about topics in our industry for every department. Are you telling employees to register? The more people know, the more they grow. If they have more “buy in,” they will be more satisfied. These are all easy steps that work. Give people purpose and a reason to show up for more than just a paycheck.
  8. Hiring. As we look back over this content, the first thing we discussed is that people are your biggest asset. If you are flippant in your hiring process, you are wasting time, money and potentially hiring someone that may cause more harm than good. Poor attitude and work ethic can be contagious. Team members with “stinkin’ thinkin’” can spread quickly. Thinking like this can create potential setbacks — up to and including a lawsuit for the myriad of reasons employers get sued. Do your best not to hire out of desperation. Put some thought into your interview questions. Do you have a hiring process? Really listen to what the potential employee says and what he or she is not saying. Does that person fidget or look away when asked simple questions about his or her past? Was every past job a toxic environment? It is probably that person, right? What is his or her longest job time? These are all common sense, but listening to our gut is key here. Don’t hire on the spot. Take time to sleep on it and see how you feel the next day. There are professional interviewers out there that can be very charming. Ted Bundy was a charmer too! Do your due diligence. Look at candidates’ social media, do background checks, hire a recruiter and pay the money to give the potential employee an assessment. Usually, the more you spend up front, the less you spend in the long run. 
  9. Retention. The tips above are a guide to retain staff. Is your environment toxic? Make changes. Identify leadership and empower them. Does everyone have the “buy in” of the mission statement? Do you have structure and processes or chaos? Are you recognizing everyone or just the few employees that you like? Are they trained, and do you hire well? Do you have a good benefits package and something to offer, including mental health benefits and life insurance? Do you have a bonus program and/or retirement savings? Are you catering to your high performers and assisting them with servant leadership, or do you put most of the work on them and let the weaker team members coast? It may be time to get everyone involved with assisting one another in small tasks like roll in/out or cleaning bathrooms. Believe it or not, this helps “buy in” on a team attitude. 
  10. Everyone is different. I love micromanagement … said nobody ever! It is important to identify each employee’s strengths and help that person grow where he or she may fall short. Remember that nobody is perfect — including you. It may be that one guy is a morning person and arrives early every day. Another person may be the last to leave in the evening but is happy to cover the guy that is there with the roosters in the morning. Maybe you have one that is strong with numbers and another who isn’t. Try to inspire growth in weaknesses and accept that you can’t change a person’s natural flow. Someone’s best may be just that. It is just the best that he or she is capable of. Try to accept the little things and not turn them into Big Things. 

This is 30 years of experience from me to you. Most came from making the wrong choice first (not kidding). I was blessed to have good mentors who encouraged me to grow, lead and make mistakes gracefully. I am hopeful that there is something in here that you can use!

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