Sales bonus: $1,000 and you go on vacation

Peter Petito aims to treat Hillside Honda's employees like family

Peter Petito, general manager of Hillside Honda in New York, spends money to make money: "You can make $90,000 paying a salesperson an extra bonus of $2,500 or $3,500."
Hillside Honda
Location: New York
2013 sales: 4,600 new, 800 used
What's cool? The store has a unique way to motivate sales. Sell 20 vehicles a month on average over a 90-day period, and get $1,000 and 3 extra days off. A $2,500 bonus is paid if a salesperson sells 30 cars a month in the same period.

A car dealership that makes salespeople go on vacation and throws in $1,000 spending money?

That's how Peter Petito, general manager of Hillside Honda in New York, rewards his high performers. When a salesperson sells 20 vehicles a month on average over a 90-day period, the reward is $1,000 and three extra days off.

The catch is the $1,000 can be used only on a vacation. Petito pays the money directly to the airline, hotel, booking site and so on. Salespeople can get the bonus for consecutive months, and several have, Petito said.

Sell 30 cars a month over the same three-month period, and the bonus is an additional $2,500 with no restrictions on how it's spent.

Plus, employees who sell 20 or more cars a month get to set their own hours, with a few restrictions that include putting in a full week and working on Saturday.

"I force them to go on a trip and when they come back they're showing pictures at the Saturday morning meeting," said Petito, who has been with the dealership for 24 years and rose through the ranks.

"And it makes them work hard. Two or three guys hit it on a consistent basis -- my starting lineup."

Hillside Honda

More than money

Petito said he used to give out suits and other expensive items as rewards. But three years ago after taking some seminars, Petito said he realized that money isn't always the key motivator, especially for the younger workers known as Gen Y.

"They are slightly different," he said. "I gathered they are not as money-hungry as past generations."

Another concern on the retail side is the long hours salespeople have to put in to meet their targets and get commissions. Hillside Honda pays them a salary based on the minimum wage, which is now $8.00 in New York, plus commission.

"I am here seven days and 15 hours a day," Petito said. "I was taught half a day is 12 hours."

People in the younger generation, on the other hand, "love the money but want to spend time with their family -- and being a father myself, I understand," he said.

Spending that money to make money is a no-brainer in Petito's book. On average, the store makes $3,000 profit per vehicle.

"You can make $90,000 paying a salesperson an extra bonus of $2,500 or $3,500," he said.

The average salesperson earns about $65,000 annually; top performers make more than $115,000, Petito said.

The bonus policy also is key to the dealership increasing its annual sales to top last year's. In 2013, the store sold 4,600 new and 800 used vehicles, up from 4,400 new and 700 used in 2012 -- the year the dealership got a lot of extra business because of Hurricane Sandy.

The devastating storm pounded the New Jersey and New York coastline. The dealership -- which is in Jamaica, a neighborhood in Queens -- lost 274 cars, half its inventory, to flood water but still had record sales in 2012 because so many people had to replace their vehicles, Petito said.

123-person family

The dealership started as Hillside Cycles in 1972 selling Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki motorcycles. When Honda began selling cars in the United States in 1974, they were sold through its motorcycle dealers.

The car dealership is owned by founder Steve Finochio and his daughter, Marialaina Brody. Hillside Honda has 123 employees and was selected as one of the Best Dealerships To Work For in 2012 and 2013 by Automotive News.

Petito, 45, said the owners taught him to treat employees like family and that has been his guiding principle as a boss: "That is the biggest thing, and I am fortunate -- I personally picked my family, 123 people."

Like Petito, who started as a salesman, 20 of the dealership's 22 managers rose through the ranks. Only two came from outside.

"If they work here, they know they have advancement opportunities in the company," he said.

And the salespeople aren't the only ones who get rewards. The store holds various employee functions, including a fishing party. It has two Christmas parties -- one in a large catering hall, and employees can bring guests; and the other is catered at the store.

Every employee gets a Christmas bonus based on longevity and his or her position, Petito said.

An employee who hits the 30-year mark is given a $10,000 Rolex watch. Four people have gotten watches, and more will hit that anniversary in the next year or two, Petito said.

Hillside Honda’s Steve Finochio, left, and Marialaina Brody present Rolex watches to longtime employees Chris Charles, center left, and Robert Hercules at the dealership’s 2013 Christmas party.

The giving doesn't stop with employees. The store is active in the community. After Hurricane Sandy, it partnered with a local radio station and held a food drive for victims. Dealership employees helped distribute several truckloads of food and water to people affected by the superstorm.

It was done quietly with no publicity, not even a post on the store's Facebook page, Petito said. "There are a lot of things we do that we do not boast about," he said.

Help also went out to the employees whose homes were flooded and damaged or destroyed, Petito said.

The store has a low turnover rate, he said. And he has devised a way to keep it even lower and a solution for those who want or need to cut their hours.

Three employees, including one approaching retirement and a mother who needed more time with her family, now share a sales job and have flexible hours.

"They work together as a team, and one person may sell the car and the other may deliver it," Petito said. "They work as a little team."

The team was created a year ago, and "so far it has worked," he said.

Petito said the part-time solution is just one way his dealership is changing to meet the changing needs of his workers.

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