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Store guarantees job applicants an interview

Indiana dealer motivated by belief in second chances

Patrick DeBruler, above, Champion Chevrolet of Avon's business development center manager, is grateful for the store's policy.

Patrick DeBruler was down on his luck when he walked into Champion Chevrolet of Avon, in Avon, Ind., last summer to pick up a job application.

DeBruler, who had once owned a mortgage company, said he found himself out of work after struggling with the fallout of a divorce and some problems with his driving record.

"I went through some really bad times in 2014," said DeBruler, 57. "Everything was falling apart."

The stop at Champion proved to be the break DeBruler needed. A year later, he manages the dealership's business development center after starting in its Internet marketing division.

DeBruler is one of several Champion employees hired in the past two years under a policy that grants every applicant an interview, regardless of job experience or background.

"I don't care who it is," said Champion's operating partner, Tim Roberts, who instituted the policy. "If you come in off the street and you fill out that application, you deserve an interview because you took the time and effort to come to us. And we need to give the courtesy back to you."

Those who can't stay for an interview at the time they apply can come back later.

The thinking behind the policy is a belief in the value of second chances, and in the idea that you never know who a candidate may turn out to be, Roberts said. Potential employees, he said, should be treated with the same courtesy as potential customers.

"They're no different than a customer walking into the door," Roberts said. "You may have that next, great key employee walking through your door and if you didn't take that time to interview them or give them the initial interview, you may never see them again."

The dealership’s operating partner, Tim Roberts, with his family.

Roberts, a 47-year-old Chicago native, is a first-generation dealer. He and his partners bought Champion in central Indiana nearly three and a half years ago. He has been in automotive retailing since 1987, when he started working in a Chicago dealership one summer after graduating from Georgia Tech. At that dealership, he learned what it takes to run a business "ethically and honestly," he says, which helped lead him to the interviews-for-all policy. 

Roberts acknowledges the risks of opening his doors to people who may have blemished records, including trouble with the law. He notes that everyone who gets past the initial interview and is considered for a job undergoes drug testing and a background check. 

He said the interview policy has helped him expand his business and retain talent. The dealership, he said, has had a turnover rate of less than 5 percent since he and his partners bought it in January 2014, even as employment has grown from 42 to nearly 60 -- solid growth for a dealership of its size. Turnover rates at the average dealership run around 40 percent, according to a National Automobile Dealers Association analysis of 2015 data. 

Champion Chevrolet of Avon sells an average of 140 vehicles a month, 75 new and 65 used, Roberts says. That's up from 25 new and 35 used when he and his partners bought the dealership. 

In DeBruler, Roberts said he saw a man who had gone through a rough patch but was ready to get back on the right track. 

"He had some problems in the past with his driving record and a couple things that would hamper him from being hired at other locations," Roberts said. "He was very transparent about it. ... You have to kind of look at it as, if he's being this upfront and honest right now, and this position doesn't require him to drive a vehicle, why wouldn't we give him a chance?" 

"He's been killing it for us ever since," he added. 

DeBruler plans to work at Champion Chevrolet of Avon until he's ready to retire. 

"They didn't prejudge me. They took me seriously, and it was really good," DeBruler said. "Everything is going great in my life today. I just have this place to thank."

You can reach Michael Wayland at mwayland@crain.com -- Follow Michael on Twitter: @MikeWayland

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