Stores are in the running for employee health

Some of the Porsche of Beachwood staffers who ran in the 2012 Cleveland Marathon, with families and friends

To 16 Porsche of Beachwood employees, a marathon is more than a 14-hour workday.

Those employees entered the full marathon, half-marathon or 10-kilometer run when the Cleveland Marathon was held in May.

Porsche of Beachwood, on the eastern edge of Cleveland, paid entrance fees and other expenses for the runners to the tune of nearly $100 per employee.

Jason Grimm, the store's general manager who entered the half-marathon, says spending the money was a no-brainer.

"I'd rather do that than take everybody to the bar after work," he says. "It does a lot of things. The health part is almost ancillary. It keeps people in a really good mood. We have a relatively young stuff. We have a good time here. We're goal oriented and process driven, but it doesn't have to be militant."

Grimm: Giving morale a boost

Time for training

Porsche of Beachwood, which has averaged sales of 30 new Porsches and 50 used cars per month so far in 2013, isn't the only dealership to discover that health-oriented activities boost morale and help the bottom line. Lisa Copeland, general manager of Fiat of Austin in Texas, encourages her employees to enter marathons and other fitness-related events.

"We work out together, play together. It has changed the whole outlook of my people. Everybody's healthy. Everybody's in better shape," she says.

Fiat of Austin and Porsche of Beachwood made this year's list of 100 Best Dealerships To Work For. But they take different approaches to running and employee health.

Though Copeland doesn't pay her staffers' Austin Marathon entry fees, she gives them time to train.

"I told my people I will give them all the time they need, even if it means coming in late. It's healthy and it gives them something to talk about," she says.

The focus on running and racing helps employees focus on their jobs, she says, adding that she would pay entry fees if the entire staff signed up.

"If it's something the Fiat team enters together, yes, I'll pay it and give them the time off. I'm not charging vacation time. I want them to do it," she says. "Frankly, it teaches young salespeople to want to win. If you want to win on the track, you want to win at business, too. They're competitive when they come to the race and competitive when they come to the showroom."

Though Copeland hasn't entered a marathon, she hits a trail for a five-mile run nearly every morning starting at 6.

"I plan my entire day on how to sell cars on that trail," she says. "It's the only time in my entire day I'm by myself."

Fiat of Austin -- which sells about 75 new and 50 used vehicles per month -- sponsors an annual fun race called the Stiletto Stampede to raise money for breast cancer awareness. In the Stampede, men and women alike run 100 yards wearing high heels.

The health kick that started at Porsche of Beachwood has spread to the seven other Cleveland-area Penske Automotive Group stores, which also encourage running. But it's not confined to marathons.

Jed Hunter, Penske area vice president, says the group also pays employees to give up smoking.

"If they decide to quit smoking, we give them $250 at six months and another $250 at the end of the year. They can use it any way they like. If they want, they can get workout equipment and do a health regimen. Or they can buy Nicorette patches or prescriptions. We've got 34 people who have taken advantage of it," says Hunter. That includes the entire Mercedes-Benz of Bedford service department.

'Real money'

"At Benz, we have no technicians who smoke. They've all quit. That's real money. They turn more hours and they're more productive, so it obviously pays for itself. Generally, I think people are happier and they're obviously in better health if they're not smoking," says Hunter, a runner since his college days.

Porsche of Beachwood also has entered teams in a charity kickball tournament organized by Kick-it, a program that raises money for cancer research.

But not all of Porsche of Beachwood's employee-bonding activities are about fitness.

"On the not-healthy side, we bring the ice cream truck in once a month during the summer and we pick up the tab for the employees," Hunter says with a laugh. "It always causes a line, which means the employees have to stand around talking to each other."

Fiat of Austin's Copeland says that whether or not group activities are health-related, they build spirit, make a statement to the community and change perceptions about the business in general.

"I just believe the car business is so all-consuming and that's why people aren't healthy," she says. "We go out there and we represent our brand because Fiat buyers are very lifestyle-oriented people."

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@autonews.com

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