Sonic boasts record low employee turnover, but will it stick?

Donna Harris covers retail issues for Automotive News.
These days I normally wouldn’t bat an eye if companies boast about record-low personnel turnover. When unemployment is high, employees are less likely to jump ship.

But publicly held retailer Sonic Automotive Inc. might have something to crow about. President Scott Smith just told analysts that overall annual employee turnover plummeted to less than 25 percent in the first quarter, down from 35 percent in 2009 and 56 percent in 2008. And turnover is typically the highest at this time of year.

“We bought some loyalty last year. A lot of our peers cut pay plans and laid people off -- we didn’t do that,” Smith told me. “Sonic has also improved communication with its employees and we’re coming up with new pay schemes. It’s kind of our secret sauce.”

The true test will be if Sonic’s turnover keeps declining as the economy continues to recover.

Smith is optimistic the company will not just maintain the record low but do even better, eventually ratcheting overall annual turnover down to less than 15 percent.

Said Smith: “We’re changing our culture.”