Revamped culture pays off for Warren Henry Infiniti

Larry Zinn, fourth from left, has a young staff and works to create a low-key atmosphere. Flashy socks help set the tone.
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Automotive News -- October 17, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

Larry Zinn's four years of overhauling the culture at Warren Henry Infiniti in Miami into a pleasant, fast-paced and transparent workplace is paying dividends.

Warren Henry Infiniti has been on Automotive News' annual 100 Best Dealerships To Work For list both times it has been compiled.

Not only was the store one of just 28 dealerships to repeat, but it made a bigger jump in the rankings than any other store that repeated: to No. 8, from No. 88 last year.

Zinn, the dealership's 27-year-old general manager, said there was no silver bullet that made the dealership a better place to work. Instead, he said, the jump reflected the culture that he began to build four years ago.

After-hours go-karting, monthly dinners out for staffers, on-site food trucks during the week and monthly bonus programs that give prizes to top performers are all standard at Warren Henry Infiniti. Zinn says the perks help build bonds among employees.

The idea is to share the successes, but staffers also share responsibility during times of adversity.

"A really great thing that we started to do is we share in our successes and in our failures," Zinn said. "If we have a bad CSI or SSI come in, we share that with everybody and we talk about how we can work past it and what we could have done differently."

Zinn said a policy of hiring only employees with no previous dealership experience helped the culture take hold. He says car-business newbies bring an energetic, fresh perspective. They're a blank canvas, making it easy to train on how to do business Zinn's way and in line with the dealership's culture from the start.

"When you haven't sold cars before or you haven't been in the business, you have no bad habits," Zinn said. "If you give these people a proper process map and training, they don't know any better to do it the opposite way. It's been very successful for us."

Staff outings, such as this visit to a go-kart track, seek to build camaraderie among staff members.

The results speak for themselves. The dealership sold about 560 new Infinitis in 2009, when Zinn was given the job of sales manager at age 23. Sales have more than doubled, to 1,212 new vehicles last year.

Warren Zinn, president of Warren Henry Auto Group and Larry's father, says hiring people from outside auto retailing is what he has wanted to do for years. He and his son discussed it, and the two decided that the Infiniti dealership was the right fit.

"It's something that I had always wanted to do, and I was never able to get it done," Zinn said. "He's a young fella, and I'm not. He was able to get young people from outside the industry into the business, and it's been a great success."

Larry Zinn's 2009 appointment as sales manager made waves. He said some of the veteran salesmen were uncomfortable working for someone younger than they were, or were too set in their ways to accept Zinn's direction. At the time, Zinn said, he wanted the dealership to become more process-driven, and he was met with resistance by longtime staffers.

For example, he started a customer service program called the Warren Henry Advantage, in which customers get their first two vehicle service appointments for free, a free year of dent removal and key replacement plus a personal concierge service through Infiniti.

"The idea was to present this right off the bat as soon as the customer comes in, because most people do come into a car dealership with their guard up," Zinn said. "Afterward, it typically brings the customer's guard down and opens up some dialogue between them and the sales associate. With the older sales associates, they refused to embrace that."

Zinn said many older staffers moved on, while younger employees remained, creating an opportunity for a culture change.

"A lot of these guys ended up leaving, and I decided along with my father that we're going to bring in people with no automotive experience whatsoever," Zinn said. "It didn't matter your age or where you were from. If you didn't have any automotive experience, we were interested."

Zinn looked in unusual places for dealership staff. He and his managers kept their eyes open for young people with a knack for customer service while eating at restaurants or shopping at big box retailers, Zinn said.

"When a local Circuit City closed, I went and started offering jobs to people there to try to bring people in," Zinn said. He didn't land anyone, but he still wants to recruit from nonautomotive businesses.

Now the dealership's oldest manager is 45. Zinn's sales manager is 29, as is the store's finance manager, making Zinn the youngest of the group.

Zinn put a heavy emphasis on training the car sales rookies. To help get them on their feet, the dealership began providing training salaries to new sales associates for their first 90 days on the job, a new practice.

Selling cars isn't for everyone, Zinn said, but new staffers often found success quickly. Said Zinn: "I had a couple guys who came in and within their first couple months were selling 14 or 15 cars a month, without any automotive experience whatsoever," he said. "They loved the opportunity that the automotive industry had provided to them because they can make good money."

You can reach Ryan Beene at rbeene@crain.com. -- Follow Ryan on Twitter


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