Sales staff gets more responsibility, higher pay

Dyke: More changes ahead
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Sonic Automotive Inc. began preparing its staff for the transition to its One Sonic-One Experience initiative years ago when it launched its playbooks, or guides for how to sell used cars, new cars, finance and insurance products and so on.

It also started to work on reducing turnover and boosting pay plans. Today, companywide turnover is 24 percent, down from as high as 70 percent in 2006. Sales staff turnover has dropped from 100 percent several years ago to below 40 percent, said Jeff Dyke, Sonic's executive vice president of operations.

In 2012, industry turnover was 35 percent storewide and 62 percent for sales consultants, the National Automobile Dealers Association's 2013 Dealership Workforce Study found.

Average monthly compensation for Sonic's salespeople has nearly doubled to almost $7,000 from $3,500 about five years ago, Dyke said. The industry average was about $5,300 in 2012, according to the NADA study.

With the launch of One Sonic-One Experience, pay plans for salespeople will change again, with about 75 percent of compensation paid as salary and the rest as a bonus based on customer experience. Though there will be multiple levels depending on experience and performance, the average pay for salespeople should increase to around $8,500 a month, Dyke said.

With salespeople handling a deal from start to finish, F&I managers will help manage the transactions from behind the scenes, coaching sales reps and working out details with lenders.

Not everyone has been happy. Some former employees have grumbled about the changes, and Dyke acknowledges that some employees have left fearing the changes ahead. That's OK, he said.

"I can see where a $4,000 a month sales associate isn't going to want to handle the entire transaction. They like that the F&I director has to take the customer and handle all the paperwork," he said. "But the problem is, the customer hates it. So we're not going to allow that to happen in our stores anymore."

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com.

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