Promoting from within is key for Mini store

Mini of Peabody in suburban Boston believes in moving employees up the ladder.

Its top four managers started in entry positions. "The company is good at promoting from within," said General Manager Gary King. "All of the managers started with the company in junior positions."

Mini of Peabody is a stand-alone store. It is one of the original Mini dealerships that opened when the British brand was launched in the United States in 2002. "There were about a dozen of us. It was a new brand, and we started from nothing," said King.

It is one of seven stores owned by Lyon-Waugh Auto Group, whose franchises operate in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Its sister store Mini of Bedford is in New Hampshire.

King was a technician at the group's BMW store and became service manager at Mini of Peabody when it opened. His apprentice, Dave Dennesen, then 17, also moved from BMW to Mini. "He and I started the service department," said King.

King rose to service director for both Mini stores and became general manger for both last March. Dennesen is now the service manager. Two other employees also rose from entry jobs. Kevin Eaton was a car cleaner in 2002 and is now assistant service manager. Brig Currie started as a lot attendant at BMW in 2000, came to Mini as a sales associate in 2002 and became general sales manager in 2009.

"We all got the opportunity to make this work. We had a good team, and we moved full speed ahead," King said.

He said the dealership's comprehensive training program -- conducted mostly in-house or at Mini headquarters in New Jersey -- is a major reason so many employees rise to higher positions.

The owners, Warren Waugh and the Lyon family, also have an open-door policy and will stop and discuss issues with employees when they're walking through the store, said King.

The same kind of communication is encouraged between dealership managers and their staff, King said. "It makes everything work better if employees know they can talk to you if they have problems. It is a good management approach and the dealership as a whole is a team."

There are also no boundaries between service, parts and sales. Employees can apply for jobs in other areas, King said. All three areas are in regular staff meetings, communicate with each other "and there is no disconnect between the front-end and the back-end of the store."

Mini of Peabody employees compete each year for the Lyon award for the best performer in the group of seven dealerships. The winner, spouse and family get a tailored award. "If you're into car racing, they'll send you to the Indianapolis 500," said King. Peers vote and past winners go over the ballots and make the final selection. The winner is announced at the company Christmas party.

There are numerous other awards, barbecues and other trips. King and five members of his staff won a parts and service competition and will go to powerboat races in Key West next month.

A 30-minute lunch break is mandatory at Mini of Peabody. King encourages employees to move away from their work stations and mingle with co-workers they don't normally see during the day. Or they can play in a game room equipped with race simulators and pinball machines.

Other benefits include health and dental insurance and a 401(k) retirement program. "The last two years, the company absorbed the increased cost of our health insurance -- which is huge," said King.

Mini of Peabody handed over the keys to the first Mini sold in the United States when the brand was relaunched under BMW ownership, said King. For several years it was the largest U.S. Mini store but fell in rank as bigger dealerships in larger metropolitan areas opened. It is still one of the top 10 Mini stores in the United States, he said.

King said he's proud that the store has always maintained high customer satisfaction scores. Two years ago, it won the Mini Motoring Cup, the annual award for the dealership with the highest customer satisfaction index score in the nation, King said. "It is like the Stanley Cup for Mini dealers," he said. "That was cool."

His goal is to win the Cup again, but he admits it's a hard task. Nonetheless, "That is our mission," said King.

Mini of Peabody expects to sell about 1,000 cars this year, about the same as last year. King said sales won't be up because the Massachusetts economy is still a bit sluggish.

You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@autonews.com -- Follow Diana T. on Twitter: @dianakurylko

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