Dealer: Happy workers mean happy customers

Dealer Brian Kelly: "We try to take good care of our employees."

Dealer Brian Kelly firmly believes that good will flows downhill. It's the underlying philosophy at each of his eight dealerships in Massachusetts.

It's also the reason that many of the 400 employees at Kelly Auto Group have continued to work there for many years.

"We try to take good care of our employees, and they take care of the customers," said Kelly, 61, who bought his first dealership from his father, Roland Kelly, in 1980. "I just feel it's the right thing to do."

Five of Kelly's eight rooftops -- Nissan stores in Lynnfield and Woburn, his Honda store in Lynn, an Infiniti and a brand-new Volks-wagen store, both in Danvers -- are among Automotive News' 100 Best Dealerships To Work For.

They made the short list, Kelly says, because of the lessons his late father taught him on how to run a dealership.

"My father was a very generous, outgoing kind of a guy. He died five years ago, but I still quote him three or four times a day," said Kelly. "To me, you do nice things, and if it pays off, it pays off. If it doesn't, it doesn't. You can't expect anything in return."

For Kelly, treating employees well starts with talking to them -- and not just at work or about work. He regularly takes groups of employees -- say one store's new-car sales team or another's service techs -- out to dinner, where they can talk about what's going on in their lives.

"When we go out to a nice dinner, you can actually talk and it makes [employees] more comfortable, where they know they're part of a team," says Brian Heney, Kelly Auto Group's director of operations. "We don't think anything of it, to tell you the truth. I think it's just good business practices."

As many dealerships do, Kelly's dealerships will cater in lunch on Saturdays to help employees get through a busy day. But it doesn't stop there.

If the region "is in for a smokin' hot stretch of weather," Heney says, the dealerships will have a local creamery set up a sundae bar and treat employees to ice cream.

The dealerships provide clothing allowances for employees to make sales reps look professional.

New full-time employees qualify for health insurance on the first day on the job, a departure from other dealership groups that regularly impose waiting periods of 60 to 90 days.

Employees get recognized on birthdays, and female staffers receive flowers from the boss each Feb. 14.

"They take good care of us," says Brandon Amodeo, 21, a sales rep at Kelly Honda. "It's really organized. Everybody's on top of what they're doing and what they need to do."

Kelly's long-term business strategy starts early.

Whenever Kelly meets a child of one of his employees, he hands them a business card.

"I tell them to hold onto that card, and when they're older and want a job, to bring it back to me, and I'll hire them," Kelly says.

For Kelly and his management team, doing expected and unexpected nice things for employees creates a virtuous cycle of business that brings multiple rewards.

"We want continuity. We want our customers to know people when they walk in the door," says Heney. "If someone is a valuable employee, we'll make sure they're happy and satisfied and want to stay."

The methodology flows through employees to customers, who Kelly says regularly tell him about his employees going an extra mile to take care of their issues and needs.

"It keeps customers coming back," Kelly explains.

Heney says the consistency of Kelly dealerships draws consumers in the door because "it leads to a better work environment and a happier place to conduct business.

"We spend a lot of money doing all the stuff we do," says Heney. "I think we get it back tenfold, but it's hard to put your finger on it."

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@autonews.com -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LarryVellequett

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