At Subaru store, leaders are grown from within

An organic garden is one of the features that give Patriot Subaru its own culture. Another is its emphasis on promoting from within.
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Automotive News -- October 17, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

Patriot Subaru in Saco, Maine, has its own culture, to say the least.

There is a gym in the basement and an organic garden out back. You see recycling bins, not trash cans. Employees can bring their dogs to work whenever they want.

"We create this environment because this is what we believe in," General Manager Brian Beattie said. "We believe in recycling. We believe in the environment and organic gardening and dogs, and so do these people. It makes it feel more like home."

It is not for everyone, but for like-minded employees there are plenty of opportunities to play a bigger role in the organization.

Patriot Subaru is one of two of this year's 100 Best Dealerships To Work For honorees to fill all open management positions since the start of 2012 from within. The other was Yark Fiat of Toledo, Ohio. In addition, Fiat of Austin [Texas] filled all 2012 management openings from within, although in 2013 it hired a used-car manager from outside.

In its 10 years of business, Patriot Subaru has never hired a manager from outside the store, Adam Arens, the dealer principal, said.

Beattie is one of the people who climbed the ladder from within. He started at the store when it opened in 2003 and took over as general manager this spring when Arens relinquished a portion of his daily duties.

Within the past year the store also promoted one of its employees to sales manager and put one of its finance managers in charge of all trade-ins.

The home-grown management adds to the homey feel that Arens, a Florida native who previously worked at JM&A Group, wanted to instill. He said he wanted to replicate the customer service mentality of Walt Disney Co., which has a mantra that every person is a potential employee and a potential customer.

"We're always recruiting, even if we don't have a space open," Arens said.

That includes managerial positions. But as a single-point store, openings are scarce. So the store gets employees ready by slowly handing off more responsibility.

There are no porters at Patriot Subaru to keep the lot looking tidy, no new-car manager, no used-car manager. Salespeople do those jobs, too.

One of the salespeople has responsibility for the used-car lot, Beattie said. That person is tasked with making sure that the used cars are clean and fueled. Another person oversees new-car deliveries.

"We want our employees to take on leadership roles no matter where they are in the organization," Beattie said. "Anybody can be a manager -- you just put a title on them. But you can't make them a leader."

This is not to say that they're being overworked.

A shift at Patriot Subaru is eight hours. The standard work week is about 45 hours, though employees can work longer if they want. Attrition is nearly nonexistent. Arens says no employees have left in the past two years.

Beattie started out in the car business working at another import-brand dealership in Maine. He started working at that store even though friends had warned him not to, and learned the hard way that burning out good workers can harm a business.

At that dealership, salespeople had to work 12-hour shifts daily, arriving before the store opened and staying until it closed. Some people could handle it, Beattie said, but it was grueling for those with children. A number of talented people left.

"I had a child when I was there," he said. "I called [the dealership] up and said, 'My daughter was born at 5 o'clock in the morning. I'll be back in two days.' And they said, 'Why do you need two days?' That was their response, and it told me everything I needed to know about the organization."

Patriot Subaru celebrates its 10th anniversary in November, and Arens is rewarding the longest-tenured employees with a Caribbean cruise with their spouses.

The lack of turnover and the consistency it brings seems to have paid off for sales. Three years ago, Arens said, the store averaged sales of 120 new and used vehicles per month; now it averages 220.

"When somebody walks in the front door of your dealership or the front door of your house, if they recognize somebody in there, they're more comfortable," Beattie said. "Sales becomes easy when there's a relationship."

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.


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