Flexible schedules aim to keep stores strong

Shorter weeks, open-ended hours seek to boost morale

Stiff competition can lead to flexible hours.

Capitol Honda in San Jose, Calif., started opening its doors on Sunday and kept its service operations working at full capacity with a 4/10 rotating schedule: work four 10-hour days in a stretch. About once a month, the rotating schedule gives most technicians six days off in a row.

Sellers Buick-GMC in Farmington Hills, Mich., switched to being open six days a week, from five previously, about six years ago after employees agreed to rotate working one Saturday a month. As a bonus, Saturday workers are treated to a free lunch.

In Idaho, Larry H. Miller Subaru Boise is open all day Monday through Saturday. Employees are assigned one day off per week. Workers also have more freedom on their workdays with flexible, open-ended hours.

The automotive retail sector gradually is embracing a more flexible workweek, as indicated by the continuing decline in scheduled work hours in the industry, said Ted Kraybill, president of ESI Trends, a Largo, Fla., research and consulting company that manages the National Automobile Dealers Association's annual Dealership Workforce Study.

A number of stores on this year's Best Dealerships To Work For list are a step ahead of this trend, and their competitors, with creative and innovative scheduling.

Changing norms

The work force is in a period of change as technology allows people to work from anywhere at anytime, said John Challenger, CEO of employment analyst firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"The whole idea of working 9 to 5 has just been exploded," he said. "Even the concept of hourly or contracted work is up in the air."

For dealerships, this means rethinking the bell-to-bell workday.

"The car industry as a whole hasn't had a good history of respecting people's personal time," said Ty Leuthold, general manager of Larry H. Miller Subaru Boise. "When you give your employees the respect they deserve, they will give you 110 percent."

Flexible schedules can do more than boost morale. At the stores on the Best Dealerships To Work For list, alternative scheduling is a win-win for the business and employees.

For example, employees at the Subaru store aren't held to a specific hourly standard. This technique fosters a natural weeding-out process in which motivated workers step up, Leuthold said.

Less is more

The service advisers at Capitol Honda work 52 fewer days per year but still make the same money under the 4/10 schedule. The service department can support a larger work force without spending any extra money, and it stays open with the rest of the dealership seven days a week.

"We're finally reaching the potential we knew that we could," General Manager Charles Caruso said. "And we never have any empty [service] racks."

Kraybill said Capitol Honda's 4/10 schedule is a common strategy for reducing hours and boosting productivity in a service department.

"Everyone talks about sales working longer hours, but more service managers were scheduled to work 50 or more hours than sales consultants in 2014," he said.

About 30 percent of service managers observed in the 2014 NADA Dealership Workforce Study were scheduled to work 50 or more hours, compared with 24 percent of sales consultants, Kraybill said.

Pat Hogan, general manager at Sellers Buick-GMC, found ways to thank his employees for working Saturdays.

In addition to the rotating schedule, the store is open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. only on Saturdays to allow for limited staff. With the shorter hours, employees are asked not to take full lunches, but they are provided with a free lunch from the on-site cafe.

Tailgate exception

The free lunches are prepared by a cook every Saturday with one exception: Once a year, the Saturday staff orders pizza and then tailgates for the University of Michigan vs. Michigan State University football game.

"Everyone gets to mingle and wear their Michigan or Michigan State gear. There is just more camaraderie there," Hogan said. "We just wanted to make it fun to come into work on a Saturday."

Tom English, who works with customers in the service department, said he loves the annual tailgate.

"Sellers isn't a typical retail place where you're stuck here on a Saturday," he said. "It's a really nice gesture, and it brings us all together."

You can reach Nora Naughton at nnaughton@crain.com -- Follow Nora on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NoraNaughton

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