Dealer Sam Scism, now 85, has been in the business since 1937. He still comes to the dealership in Park Hills, Mo., sells a car every now and then, and cares enough about his staff that he visits them if they are recuperating at home from an illness or surgery.
His sons - Kent and Charlie Scism and Gary Robinson - now handle most of the day-to-day operations, but Sam is there. Years ago he set a tone of honesty, approachability and flexibility as an employer.
'This is the best place I ever worked,' says Elmer Watson, a sales consultant who joined the dealership in 1990. At one point in his sales career, Watson says, he bounced around. Finally settling in at a busy Chevrolet-Buick dealership, he was courted by his former sales manager who had made the move earlier to Sam Scism.
'They came to my house to recruit me,' Watson says.
Kent Scism says, 'Our main sources for new employees are recommendations from current staff. We have found they are in touch with the community and know people who fit our organization.
'In the past, we've utilized other methods, from newspaper advertising to interviewing off-site, but our employees are still the best source,' he says.
That's how Barbie Fowler got her first interview. Now the dealership's rental manager, Fowler had been working in a bank. Laid off shortly before Christmas, she decided to stay home for a few weeks to be a full-time mom. Then she had a call from a former bank colleague who was working as finance manager at Scism. After a successful interview, she joined the business office at the dealership.
A couple years ago, Fowler was asked to manage the 25-car rental fleet. It was a promotion and a challenge, she says. 'I've discovered it's unique working for a family business like this. When I attend rental school training sessions, I talk with people from other dealerships. Their work experience is very different.'
The rental side of the business has blossomed from a small fleet of loaners to a part of the Ford Rental Reservation system, Fowler says. She makes arrangements for customers to pick up vehicles in other states; she picks up and delivers vehicles at the local airport.
LOTS OF GROWTH
Business in other areas of the dealership also is growing. Detail Manager Gene Ramsey now works out of the new fixed-operations facility behind the showroom. In late December he was struggling to bring a well-used 15-passenger van back to life.
'We've spent almost a week on this one vehicle,' Ramsey says. 'We usually try to have a car or truck detailed in one day.'
Ramsey has been with Scism since 1958. He hired in for a two-week period to wash cars.
'What do I like about it here? These are good people,' says Ramsey, adding he enjoys what he's doing now and has no ambitions to work in other departments.
'We try to hire employees we feel have the same philosophy as we do,' says Kent Scism: If it passes the mom-and-pop test, it's likely good for the customer. We treat our employees like family, and they respond with loyalty.
'I could call any employee after hours, or even on a holiday, to help satisfy a customer or to assist the dealership in any way. That says a lot about them,' says Scism.
Employees, he says, look for a chance to show they can do a job better. They appreciate recognition. Watson says the top salesperson gets a great trip each year.
'The most difficult positions to fill have been qualified technicians with Ford experience,' Scism says. 'In order to hire the good ones, you have to be prepared to offer a very competitive compensation package with excellent opportunities to advance.'
To encourage young talent, Sam Scism Ford participates in ASSET, a Ford program in which the dealership sponsors a student technician and agrees to hire that individual upon graduation. Even talent coupled with the best training doesn't surpass experience gained working at a dealership, he adds.
The dealership sponsors additional employee training where needed and pays the individual while in the classroom.
'We prefer to promote from within,' Scism says. 'I remember a young employee who started with us washing cars. Next, he wanted to detail vehicles. One day, he told me he wanted to learn body work.
'He eventually became my body shop manager and worked here 30 years.'
It's not all work and no play at the Missouri dealership. Sons Kent, Charlie and Gary like to demonstrate their cooking skills by heating up the grill for impromptu meals for the staff.
Every Saturday, says Sales Consultant Watson, a hot lunch is available in the employee dining area. Catered breakfasts help pump up the staff for special marketing efforts.
Says Watson: 'They know how to keep us fired up.'