'You take care of the client, so I take care of you'

Dealer aims to keep employees strong in work-life balance, health, finances

To celebrate being an Infiniti dealer for 25 years, Tommy Baker, front left, hosted a luncheon for all Infiniti staff members and regional Infiniti representatives.

Tommy Baker, owner of Baker Motor Co. of Charleston, says his formula for success and keeping employees happy and productive is very simple.

"I tell my people, 'You take care of the client, so I take care of you.'"

Baker said that also means "we have the best working conditions."

Baker Motor Co. of Charleston comprises Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati, Rolls-Royce, Smart and Sprinter franchises. The Baker Motor Co. group also includes Buick, GMC and Cadillac franchises in Charleston, S.C.

Baker Motor Co. of Charleston, with 130 full-time employees, is No. 1 among large dealerships -- those with 100 or more employees -- on this year's list of the 100 Best Dealerships To Work For.

And it is No. 1 overall.

Groups of employees throughout the company meet regularly to discuss their needs. They pass the ideas along to management, and Baker tries to implement them.

Saturday work schedules are massaged to allow employees time for activities such as coaching children's sports teams or attending a family event, Baker said.

With weekday schedules also, "we try to be flexible. Some come in earlier and some later and stay later," Baker said. "You try to be flexible so they can enjoy their life other than the 9-to-5 stuff."

Salespeople who meet their monthly quatas get to set their own work schedules.

'Tell them everything'

At a companywide quarterly meeting, employees are told who has been promoted, corporate goals and sales targets, customer satisfaction scores and other information. Technicians who are certified are acknowledged, and "we award them," Baker said. "Everyone looks forward to it, and we tell them everything from promotions to whether we are finishing a dealership. We keep them abreast."

Employees and staff receive part of their compensation in performance bonuses, earned by a combination of customer satisfaction scores, units sold and specific models sold.

In the service department, bonuses are earned by meeting customer satisfaction goals on the basis of hours and dollars per repair order.

The dealership group has a voluntary turnover rate of 21 percent. "For the car business, it is less than most dealerships anywhere," Baker said. "Very few leave us."

After his discharge from the Marines in 1967, Baker attended The Citadel and sold Oldsmobiles part time while in school. He graduated in 1972.

He bought a Toyota store in 1977 in Clinton, N.C. He was told it had an annual new-car sales potential of 50 vehicles a year. But by the time he sold it "around 1982," he had grown sales to 3,000 new vehicles a year.

After selling that store, Baker moved back to Charleston and founded Baker Motor Co. in 1988.

Baker Motor Co. held a party for employees and customers at the Charleston Cup steeplechase last October. Tommy Baker, right, and his wife, Victoria Baker, are with Bill Hall, owner of Halls Chophouse.

Baker likes to keep employees fiscally and physically fit.

Financial experts come to the stores and give employees advice so "they know how to check their credit," Baker said. "They show them how to buy a home, purchase a car and save money." The advice extends to the corporate 401(k) retirement plan. "We make sure the employees save and invest -- as if they were our own children," Baker said.

To keep employees physically healthy, the dealership group runs the Baker Fit Challenge. Workers compete in groups, with the group that loses the most weight earning points that can be applied to various prizes: cash, paid time off, merchandise and gift cards.

"We encourage them to lose weight by exercise and diet. A trainer and nutritionist measure their food intake and their quality of exercise," Baker said.

The upside for the business: "If you have a healthy employee, you have a happy employee. By doing these things, I make sure they are healthier and they are much more productive."

At a gym in the Buick-Cadillac-GMC store, appointments can be made with a personal trainer. Group exercise sessions are offered periodically.

A nurse practitioner comes in monthly to provide health-related counseling and checkups and to give flu shots.

The company also sponsors a smoking-cessation program that costs about $600 per employee. Baker says terms for participation are clear: "If they quit, I will pay for it, and if they don't, they will."

'Insurance-rich'

Employees receive discounts on their health insurance premiums if they complete health education quizzes online.

"I think our program is one of the best in the industry. I take care of it to make sure they have an insurance-rich program," Baker said. He estimates the company's insurance program "is at the 99th percentile of all programs."

According to survey information provided to Automotive News, Baker pays "75 to 99 percent" of the premium for medical, prescription, dental and vision coverage for employees and their dependents. Employees pay the same for health, dental and vision coverage regardless of their age, position, job tenure or the type of coverage they select. The company offers no-cost life insurance to all employees enrolled in the benefits package.

Employee career paths are outlined early on. "We say the best attraction is to get them while they are in college as delivery specialists or in our vehicle delivery center," said Baker. "If they do an excellent job, they can move up."

About 35 College of Charleston graduates started that way and are now in sales or management. Baker recruited them during an entrepreneurship course at the college, which he has taught for 22 years.

"We are always training and retraining" employees once they are hired, Baker said.

"They go to the manufacturers' school, and we do a lot of in-house training ourselves. A trained employee is the most valuable thing that you have," Baker said.

"I am proud of watching people grow and move up in the company."

You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@autonews.com -- Follow Diana T. on Twitter: @dianakurylko

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