While compensation figures in a dealership's ability to attract and retain employees, Craig Pontiac-Buick-GMC-Toyota finds reputation is equally important.
'We're sometimes called the country club - people come here to work and don't leave,' says Joe Craig, one of three brothers who run the dealership in the Ohio River town of Madison, Ind.
Office manager Teresa Stucker has been employed there twice: the first time for three years and, after a break to begin a family, she returned and since has logged 19 more.
She does not think it is unusual. Two of her colleagues retired recently after extended service to the dealership. One, says Stucker, was close to 80 when she decided to give up her job.
Stucker has been on hand for the transition from manual bookkeeping to computers. It was tough, she says, but worth the effort. 'I like it here because this is a nice place to work,' she says.
Sales Manager Julie Watten-barger was an F&I manager at another dealership when the Craigs made her an offer she could not resist. 'I have two kids,' she says. 'If one is sick, I know I can take time to stay home. People here understand -they've all got kids.'
Dealership employees are hand-picked, says Joe Craig, general manager and corporation president. Employee candidates often are found by word of mouth. Word gets around that there is an opening at the dealership or that a qualified person is looking for a job. The Craig operation is well known in the community of 12,000. The dealership itself was established in 1947.
A GOOD FIT
Candidates are interviewed by Joe, Andy and/or John Craig and they spend time with the department head who has a position available. If all agree that the individual is qualified and will get along with co-workers, an offer is made. Joe Craig emphasized the necessity of a good fit with current employees.
'We also check references - that's important and shouldn't be overlooked,' says Joe Craig. 'And if there is a problem after hiring, we give everyone a fair chance to resolve it.'
The dealership's service department is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Joe Craig says technicians take turns working Saturdays. The six-person sales staff covers a greater time period: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays.
'They each get two days off a week,' says Andy Craig, assistant general manager. 'I'd say each works a 45- to 50-hour week, not like the 60 to 70 at big metropolitan-area dealerships.'
Closing hours may be more flexible. In winter when it is dark early, the dealership may close ahead of schedule if business is slow. The sales staff uses a partners system, Joe Craig says. If one is away from the dealership, the partner looks after his or her customers. This has helped reduce arguments and misunderstandings over sales credit and provides seamless service to buyers and prospects.
'We learned this technique from a dealership consultant,' Joe Craig says. 'From time to time we bring in outside experts in addition to taking advantage of factory training.'
The Craig operation was granted its Toyota franchise in 1969, making it the oldest Toyota dealership in the state. It has garnered several President's Awards for all-around excellence. Last summer Craig returned its Oldsmobile and Cadillac franchises to General Motors and acquired Buick, Pontiac and GMC, signing new agreements a few weeks before the crippling UAW strikes against GM.
New-vehicle retail sales in 1998 totaled 275, and the staff delivered 325 used vehicles during the year. The Craigs figure greater availability of their new product lines will increase those totals.
With brother John in charge of parts, the Craigs are a hands-on team. They make it clear to their staff that they are accessible anytime. No appointment is necessary to discuss customers or other concerns.
That kind of involved management plus vacation and personal days, paid sick days, health insurance and 401(k) plans strengthen employee loyalty.
'We provide demos for our sales staff - that's something many dealerships no longer do,' says Joe Craig. 'For the employee, it means no car payments.'
The entire staff enjoys a couple of companywide outings each year. The dealership organizes a summer picnic, usually at a park where there is swimming, and employees are encouraged to bring their families. In December there's the annual Christmas dinner party complete with thank-you bonuses for all employees. The Craigs distribute turkeys to employees for Thanksgiving and hams at the end of December.
'Each month we buy a cake and put on it the names of the people who celebrate their birthdays that month,' says Wattenbarger.
'Everyone here strives to do the best job possible,' she adds. 'That helps make this a wonderful place to work.'