The best dealerships take care of their own

Stores, staff step up with funds, flowers, even striped socks

About a year and a half ago, a Kemna Auto Center parts assistant was killed in a car accident on his way to work, just one mile from the dealership.

Ken Kemna, the dealer, stepped in to help. He donated $32,000 to the employee's family -- $1,000 for every year the employee had worked at the dealership.

"What a blessing it was to see how it affected their lives because they probably would have been devastated financially had that not occurred," he said.

The dealerships on this year's list of the Best Dealerships To Work For take care of their own. In many cases, the dealer steps up. In other cases, the dealership has created ways to help staffers help one another.

Kemna Auto Center in Algona, Iowa, offers its employees loans and grants when they run into hard times. In 2014 alone, the dealership gave employees $50,000 in loans for unexpected financial pressures, such as health care costs and emergency car repairs. The employees eventually pay the loans back via payroll withdrawals.

Matt Smith, president of Faulkner Nissan – Harrisburg, and his wife, Joyce, showed off their red-and-white striped socks in Chicago last October.

Help amid tragedies

In the past year and a half, the dealership has given grants to three employees. One employee needed heart surgery; Kemna paid his wages for the six weeks he was off. Another donated a kidney to his wife. The dealership hosted a potluck and gave the couple a $5,000 donation. The third employee was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The dealership continues to pay his full salary, whether or not he can make it to work.

"It's a culture thing in our organization, where we expect high performance out of our staff, and I think they expect high performance from their employer," Kemna said.

In Pennsylvania, all Faulkner dealerships have a program called the Sunshine Club, which collects one dollar a week from every employee to donate to colleagues during significant life events, said Kevin Rogers, general manager at Faulkner Hyundai in Philadelphia.

Money donated from the employees' paychecks goes to staffers who are going through events such as losing a family member, suffering from an illness, having a baby or getting married.

The club provides funds to employees who are out sick for at least five consecutive days to make up for the pay they lost. The fund also goes toward wedding and baby gifts. The dealership sends flowers or a basket to employees or their family members when they are hospitalized overnight, and it sends a donation or flowers if there is a death in an employee's family, Rogers said.

At the end of the year, the dealership uses any leftover funds for employee gift cards over the holidays.

The Faulkner Organization of Feasterville-Trevose, Pa., has five other Pennsylvania dealerships on this year's list of the Best Dealerships To Work For: Faulkner Dodge-Ram in Mechanicsburg, Faulkner Subaru Mechanicsburg, Faulkner Honda in Harrisburg, Faulkner Nissan - Harrisburg and Faulkner Subaru - Harrisburg.

Support socks

A year ago, 20 Faulkner Nissan - Harrisburg employees wore red-and-white striped knee-high socks to work as a visible, and financial, sign of support for the store's president.

"My daughter was fighting her second brain tumor," said Matt Smith, also president of Faulkner Subaru - Harrisburg.

Smith's 17-year-old daughter, Riley, had had a tumor when she was 7.

Faulkner Nissan staffers bought the socks for $12 a pair, with proceeds going to Ronald McDonald House Charities in Philadelphia.

They wore the red-and-white socks on Oct. 15, 2014, to support the Smith family and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, which provides a place for families to stay near their children throughout their medical treatment for little or no cost. It also provides transportation to the hospital and meals for families and children.

Smith and his wife were at last year's Best Dealerships To Work For event in Chicago on that day. It was helpful, Smith said, to know that there was "support from my employees at home."

Even Philadelphia newscasters and police officers wore the socks that day, he added.

'Thankful'

"It was a pretty special thing," Smith said. "We were thankful that my staff would be behind us fighting this fight with us."

Since then, Riley's health has improved. She started college at Clarion University of Pennsylvania in the western part of the state this year.

It was important to the staffers to purchase and wear the socks, said Nic Ramagosa, Faulkner Nissan's general sales manager.

"It was an opportunity to give back and show our support," he said.

Ramagosa said the dealership also supports other charities, such as the Children's Miracle Network, and donates toys during the holidays. This winter, the dealership is awarding a college scholarship to the high school student who raises the most money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Harrisburg.

But the Faulkner dealership group is especially inclined to step in when one of its own staff members is in need. When an employee at another Faulkner store had a family member who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, many employees participated in a marathon that raised funds toward curing the disease.

Ramagosa said: "Health- or financial-related, we always try to do everything we can to help that person in need."

You can reach Hannah Lutz at hlutz@crain.com

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