It's time to rethink hiring

Dealerships need new processes and job descriptions for digital age

Photo credit: AUTOMOTIVE NEWS ILLUSTRATION
Job creator
As technology advances, it creates new jobs at dealerships. These jobs did not exist 5 to 10 years ago.
  • Customer service representatives?and greeters
  • Director of employee experience
  • Chief human resources officer
  • E-commerce coordinator
  • In-house creative director
  • Sales assistants
  • Director of talent acquisition
  • Talent acquisition coordinator
  • Talent acquisition team member
  • Director of guest experience

Dealership General Manager Jim Farkas was spending several hours each day in his office analyzing the dealership's digital advertising, business analytics and vendor performance. The task was a frustrating time suck, but it was necessary, he said, because digital technology requires a consistent message and efficient vendors. Then, Farkas had an epiphany.

"I can sit at my desk for two to three hours and stare at the website's performance, or get a person who understands all of it and just gives me the highlights," said Farkas, general manager of Germain Honda of Ann Arbor in Michigan.

So Farkas created an e-commerce coordinator job. The result: Marketing improved, inefficient vendors were let go, and Farkas was freed up to spend more time with employees and customers.

"I can sit at my desk for two to three hours and stare at the website's performance, or get a person who understands all of it and just gives me the highlights."
Jim Farkas, general manager, Germain Honda of Ann Arbor. Mich.

The change Farkas made reflects how car dealers will have to think about staffing in the next five to 10 years as the proliferation of technology continues to impact auto retail, industry leaders say. The best dealerships already are inventing new jobs to offer customers faster, better service as well as hiring top talent capable of using technology. Some of those include: sales assistants to the best salespeople, talent acquisition managers and, at one store, a director of guest experience. Some dealers also are marketing jobs differently; for instance, now calling a service adviser a project manager.

Dealers also should expect to seek new skill sets in traditional jobs.

For example, with product and pricing transparency available online, future salespeople will need people skills more so than product knowledge.

McLarty: Steady and incremental

"We've got major changes taking place, and done the wrong way, or happening too quickly, not just in our business, but in the country, can be unsettling," said Mack McLarty, vice chairman of RML Automotive in Little Rock, Ark. "We have evolved a number of job descriptions over time at our dealerships. It's a constant, evolving pro-cess that we do change. The key is to be steady, and in this case, incremental."

It starts with culture, industry leaders say. That means doing a better job of marketing positions to attract quality applicants, then developing strong leaders who practice consistent procedures and clear communication to retain the talent.

Pyle: Need those who can adapt

In fact, most of Cox Automotive's dealer clients say they don't have the right staff because of culture or employee mindset rather than flaws in their business models, said David Pyle, senior vice president for Cox Automotive Enterprise Dealer Partnerships in Atlanta.

"To even start developing new processes, you need people who can adapt, change and grow and find new ways to integrate with the organization versus someone with a legacy mindset looking just to create a transaction," said Pyle.

Malishenko: "Not hiring position players"

Germain Automotive Group in Columbus, Ohio, wanted to find those kinds of people, so it has been pursuing a "progressive form of recruiting," said John Malishenko, COO of the group, which owns 15 dealerships that sell about 25,000 new and used vehicles a year.

"We're not hiring position players anymore; we're hiring athletes," Malishenko said. "We're hiring talent, skills and character."

Germain has hired more college-educated workers in recent years, as well as those without a degree but who possess strong technology skills, he said. Then, Germain creates jobs to fit talent.

"These kids don't want to sell cars in a traditional car environment, so we created positions," Malishenko said. "What are they good at? Technology. We utilize whatever skills they bring."

The digital focus

Take Dean Schultz. He is Farkas' e-commerce coordinator.

Schultz, 26, left another dealership because it was "too traditional-minded," lacking a digital focus, he said. Schultz is a self-taught computer whiz, which he mentioned to Farkas in an interview for a sales job with Germain Honda of Ann Arbor in 2014.

"I used to build computers in my basement. I just thought it was fun," said Schultz. "I had a pretty good understanding of computer programming on an entry level from fumbling through it as a kid. So [Farkas] thought I'd be a better fit for this job."

In Columbus, a new Germain job took life when the company pulled out of traditional advertising, starting about seven years ago. As a "predominantly digital" advertiser doing all its marketing in-house, it soon needed a creative director and found it in a college graduate hired to write online used-car descriptions at the Honda store, Malishenko said.

"That was his point of entry, and he did a great job," Malishenko said. "We gave him some room, and he started to do things with video and creative. Within four years' time, he is running our creative."

In addition to the Honda dealership, Germain owns Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche and Mini storesin Ann Arbor, about 40 miles west of Detroit. A college town, Ann Arbor serves as Germain's testing ground for new staffing ideas. Its young, progressive and diverse population is receptive to change, Malishenko said.

Germain Honda of Ann Arbor: E-commerce coordinator job freed up store GM

New job creations

Other dealerships are thinking ahead, too. Take Park Place Dealerships in Dallas, which began hiring assistants to its top salespeople about five years ago. It has helped to build a "robust pipeline" of future talent, said Sherry Miller, Park Place's vice president of human resources.

"Assistants are learning our systems, our [customer relationship management] system, our processes, doing deliveries and managing correspondence between the clients and us," Miller said.

To build talent at Del Grande Dealer Group in San Jose, Calif., leaders have created some new recruitment jobs: director of talent acquisition, talent acquisition coordinator and talent acquisition team member, said COO Jeremy Beaver.

"We'll also continue to build our training department as we look for people outside the auto sector," Beaver said. "That will be a growth area."

To better serve customers, Del Grande will add a director of guest experience job in the third quarter, Beaver said. That person will focus on customer satisfaction scores and online reputation and ensure the company's processes are aligned with customers' desires.

"These are not traditional positions in auto retail that you'd see before now, but we believe they are vital to our business," said Beaver.

Perhaps one of the most striking job changes came in Lithia Motors Inc.'s top echelon in January. Lithia's CFO, Chris Holzshu, moved into a newly created role of chief human resources officer. He leads Lithia's human resources, information technology and store administration teams.

"My position was created to make sure that we had somebody that touched enough people that we could focus on four main things," Holzshu said.

Those are: building culture, talent recruitment, talent retention and rewarded performance.

To that end, Lithia created a director of employee experience about a year ago. The director conducts employee engagement surveys and, said Holzshu, "makes sure all directors talk together so that communication flows with all leaders down to employees, so that even an anniversary does not go unnoticed."

When Holzshu started at Lithia 15 years ago, it did not have one talent recruiter, he said. It relied solely on job leads. Today, Lithia employs more than 20 recruiters to hire for core dealership jobs. Lithia has eight recruiters to fill management jobs across the company. In the next decade, Holzshu said, the number of recruiters will rise as the retail process changes and Lithia expands. But for now, he said, "It is an employee's market, so we have to do a better job at marketing our industry."

The Germain Group is doing just that.

"We've gone so far as to reinvent the name 'service adviser,'" said Mike Davis, service director for Germain's Audi, Porsche and VW stores in Ann Arbor.

Davis advertises the job as a project manager, seeking a person with conflict resolution skills able to serve as liaison among the manufacturer, the customer and the technical staff.

"The old-school idea of 'Get them in the lane, fix their car and get them out' doesn't fit today's clientele," said Davis. "The people we hire need to be computer-savvy, literate and able to communicate and manage a project."

Lammers: Employees join the interview process for new hires, helping to curb turnover.

Another tweak is having fixed operations talent "job shadow" staff before starting or accepting a job to make sure there is a fit, said Davis. Leaders also bring employees into the interview process for new hires,said JP Lammers, general manager of Germain's Porsche, Audi and VW stores. Since doing these things in the last six months to year, there's been "very little turnover," Lammers said.

Looking out a decade or more, the hiring trends happening today will intensify, industry experts say. Traditional jobs in dealerships will exist, but staffs will thin as digital technology edges out a need to hire as many humans, they say.

Likewise, dealerships' business development centers will do more customer follow-up than they handle today, said Mo Zahabi, director of product consulting for customer relations management software developer VinSolutions in Mission, Kan.

"You'll see more off-site BDCs, too, because of the cost, or outsource it to a third party," Zahabi said.

And skill sets will shift with changes to the retail model. For instance, dealerships in urban areas may start offering subscription plans to customers to rent cars as needed without buying a car, said Adam Robinson, CEO of consultancy Hireology in Chicago.

"The most important role for the dealership of the future in a subscription model is the service adviser because they'll be responsible for maintaining a book of subscriptions," Robinson said.

Likewise, a salesperson at such a dealership becomes more of a transportation consultant, he said.

"That employee needs to be a highly capable listener and consultant who understands the various transportation models," Robinson said.

That means a continued "professionalization" of a sales job, requiring more management, Robinson said.

As consumers access more product information through technology, salespeople won't have to build value in the product. Rather, "You have to build an experience that is valuable to the customer," said Jeff Tobaben, CEO of consultancy and training company Evolve Performance Group in Bryan, Texas.

"I can't teach that. It's a hiring philosophy, that you hire people who understand we're not in the car business; we're in the people business."

Job creator
As technology advances, it creates new jobs at dealerships. These jobs did not exist 5 to 10 years ago.
  • Customer service representatives?and greeters
  • Director of employee experience
  • Chief human resources officer
  • E-commerce coordinator
  • In-house creative director
  • Sales assistants
  • Director of talent acquisition
  • Talent acquisition coordinator
  • Talent acquisition team member
  • Director of guest experience
You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com -- Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jlareauan

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