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At Yark dealerships, family time comes first

Employees can buy shares in a farm co-op that provides fresh produce. Staffers Bob Lutz, left, and Jason Miller pick up their weekly box of treats.

At Yark Automotive Group, family time often takes precedence over selling cars.

New employees at the company, which operates six dealerships in Toledo, Ohio, are told to speak up whenever work conflicts with an event in their personal or children's lives.

"On Day One, the first thing you're told is that we are a family company and family is very important," says Warren Vess, the group's marking director. "If you have a soccer practice or a recital that you would like to go to, that is a priority for us and we will schedule around it if we can. It's OK to ask and OK to celebrate your families."

Yark's emphasis on family helped earn five of the group's six dealerships spots on this year's list of the 100 Best Dealerships To Work For. The sixth store, Yark Chevrolet, won the honor last year.

The five stores on the 2013 list are on a large campus on the west side of Toledo, where workers can use their break time to enjoy nature on a half-mile walking path. The company just installed a picnic area near the path and contracted with the Toledo Botanical Garden to provide landscaping around it.

Yark Automotive Group has six stores and 350 employees in Toledo, Ohio.

Core principle

D.J. Yark, the group's executive manager and head of Yark BMW, says treating employees like family has been a core principle of the group since his father, Jim, founded it in 1981 as a single-point Oldsmobile dealership.

"You're only as good as the people you have working with you," D.J. Yark says. "I've heard him say it as long as I can first remember."

It helps that six members of the Yark family are actively involved in the business. Jim Yark is retired. His brother John is president of the group and five of the brothers' children hold various sales, service and management roles.

The dealerships, which have about 350 employees and are on pace to sell more than 9,000 new and used vehicles this year, have extremely low turnover. Several years ago, officials from BMW visited Yark BMW to interview employees about how the store came to have such a high retention rate.

Managers have been with the company almost 20 years on average. The staff includes a number of husband-and-wife teams and employees who also have a parent working for the group.

"We've always had this philosophy where we try to get the best employees that we could possibly get and give them the tools that they need to be successful," John Yark says. "Having an environment that they're comfortable in and they feel good in ultimately translates into one where customers enjoy doing business. We start out working with our employees and keep them a long time and grow our business through that relationship."

As the walking path shows, helping employees to get and stay healthy is a priority. Yark partners with a local co-op farm to deliver fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables directly to the dealerships. Employees who buy a share or half-share get a box filled with their portion of the harvest each week from June through October.

Employees are kept updated on happenings within the company through a weekly newsletter and frequently receive educational opportunities, such as CPR training, during work hours. This month, the company invited financial, legal and real-estate experts to offer a "legacy planning" seminar at which workers can get help creating a will and making other such arrangements.

When an employee underperforms, a manager creates what the company calls a "guarantee of action plan," committing to address any contributing factors that were out of the employee's control.

"We like to say we eliminate all the excuses," says Mike Williams, the group's general manager. "Other than landing a jet in front of the dealership to drop them off for work every day, we try to make sure they have all the resources they need."

Free tickets

Through its sponsorship of many community organizations, Yark frequently offers its employees free tickets to Toledo's zoo, opera, ballet, symphony and minor-league baseball and hockey games.

"We're selling more cars and employing more people than we ever have in our history," John Yark says. "A lot of things have changed in our business over the years, but the one thing that's never changed is that it's more about the people that work within the organization that make it successful or not."

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