FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Republic Industries Inc. has begun a multimillion-dollar effort to inspire loyalty from its more than 35,000 retail employees.
Retaining good employees is a challenge for all dealerships, and the switch from an entrepreneurial, family-owned business to a large, publicly held corporation is a culture shock for many at newly acquired stores.
Republic, the largest dealership group, wants to ease employees through the transition and sell them on the idea that a big company offers more chance for advancement.
It is using its corporate strength to develop benefits it hopes will keep employees with the company, including health benefits, stock options, training and career counseling.
'When people are used to working for a family-owned business and the owner sells to Republic, there is a disconnect,' says Mike Maroone, president of Republic's automotive retail group. 'We would like to offer our associates a clear career path, so that they don't have to leave to advance.'
STABLE WORK FORCE
The push is critical for Republic to build a national brand and to kindle growth at the 254 new-car dealerships and 41 AutoNation stores it already owns. Republic wants to prevent wholesale turnover, particularly among dealers and general managers.
'Once they're bought out, the dealers don't have the financial motivation to hang in there for an extended period of time,' says Sheldon Sandler, founder of Bel-Air Partners, a Princeton, N.J., investment firm that serves dealers. 'Republic has to home-grow its own management team.'
Dealers who stick with Republic must make the transition from entrepreneur to employee. A career development program for dealers and general managers begins in 1999. Most top dealership executives signed three-year management contracts when they sold out to Republic. Republic intends to counsel them a year before contracts expire.
Few dealers will be up for review early next year. By April 1997, Republic had only 15 dealers. Now, however, Republic has about 350 dealers and general managers.
'We don't expect a lot of attrition,' says Maroone. 'There are some dealers who we knew (at the time they sold out) would be there for just three years. I don't think there will be any surprises.'
Once Republic has introduced the career development program for dealers, it will beef up training and job enhancement for other employees. Plans include:
A standard benefits package that will be introduced in the first quarter of 1999. The package includes health, dental and life insurance, as well as a 401(k) plan and the chance to buy Republic stock at a discount.
Employee profiles for each job. Republic has hired consulting firms to study the traits that make an individual successful in each job. Republic will develop a model for each position and use it to recruit and promote.
Annual employee satisfaction surveys that will help the dealership develop a plan to respond to employees' needs.