Almost everyone at Bill Stasek Chevrolet in Wheeling, Ill., has a Bill Stasek story. That's because the dealer is a hands-on manager, fully aware of who works for him and what is going on at the dealership.
Known by his employees as a man who can be tough and decisive, Stasek also is characterized as fair, energetic and compassionate.
If he isn't in strategy meetings with department heads or attending trade association meetings, Stasek may be found on the lot, helping knock snow from new and used vehicles. He is chairman of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and is co-chair of the 1999 Chicago Auto Show.
The dealer writes personal notes on the anniversary cards he gives employees. Inside the cards, Susan B. Anthony dollar coins are taped in numbers matching years on the job at the dealership. He encourages staffers to meet and communicate as needed. He generously rewards exceptional jobs and counsels individuals who are not working at their potential.
'I bought out my partner, Tom Todd, at the end of last year,' says Stasek. Terms of the agreement included changing the name of the dealership, so Stasek put his own on the signs. But together the partners had left an indelible imprint on the business, and it read 'professional.'
'I've worked at other dealerships,' says Controller Judy Mayster. 'Here, there is always a certain standard, a sense of professionalism that is missing elsewhere. That's because of the kind of person Tom Todd was and Bill Stasek is.'
Mayster's career at the dealership reflects the opportunities for professional growth. She has worked at the dealership three times and is completing 16 consecutive years there. Once, she was its switchboard operator. She learned billing, left for another job, then returned as cashier.
'The third time I came back as a biller, but when the office manager left, I said I would like to train for that position,' Mayster says. On her way to becoming controller, she also did finance and insurance and managed car rentals.
Dealership managers, she says, meet every Monday for a couple hours. Individual departments meet as necessary. A newsletter-like weekly called Q-Tips ('Q' for quality) brings everyone in the dealership up to speed on new developments. It's an idea borrowed from the hotel industry, Mayster says.
Bright-green Q cards invite employees to nominate one another for a mini-bonus for job performance. Mayster says she processes four or five cards a week. Each nominee this year will get a $20 thank you incentive from the dealership.
Kathy Pileggi is another Stasek employee who has moved within the dealership. Pileggi started in sales a couple years ago. Experienced in the management and financial operations of a home building company, Pileggi was looking for a change.
'I received training for the (new) job; I had all the best tools,' Pileggi says. 'What I didn't realize was how much people don't like buying cars. It was truly a learning experience.'
FINDING A NICHE
Pileggi learned she wasn't as assertive as the more successful members of the sales team. They knew how to read people, she says. They intuitively knew when to ask for the order. Showroom visitors may have enjoyed learning about product with Pileggi. Then they would go elsewhere and deal, she says.
Today the former salesperson is dealership office manager. Her sales experience helps her understand why sales paperwork isn't always as complete as it might be - she knows first-hand the pressures of working with customers.
Preparing year-end statements, getting ready for the auditors, handling payroll, taxes and benefits for the staff of 96 full-time and 8 part-time employees may not sound like fun to a salesperson. But Pileggi says it is never boring.
Stasek helped her find her niche, she says. 'He's a unique person. He really thinks about things.'
Jim Hauser, on the other hand, was born to sell. Signing on right after college, Hauser quickly established himself as a top performer. Within a few years, however, Hauser became a victim of his success. It was a colleague, and dealer Stasek, who eventually guided him to an alcohol rehabilitation program that changed his life for the better. Hauser says Stasek offered any and every kind of help, while pointing out that it was Hauser who must make the decision to change.
On another occasion, says Hauser, the dealer not only allowed him to take some extra golf time in Florida with a valued customer, Stasek provided some walking around money and a few prized cigars to share with the customer.
'I feel almost like a son,' says Hauser, who recently opened his anniversary card in which 12 Susan B. Anthony dollars were taped beside a personal note from the dealer: 'The best is yet to come.'
General Manager Paul Iversen says thatwhen managers worked out a new compensation plan for the sales staff a few years ago, they were sure they had created one of the best selling climates around. The plan, says Iversen, replaced straight commissions with monthly salaries based on prior performance plus bonus opportunities.
'We hired several new salespeople based on that security,' says Iversen. 'But we soon discovered it was hard to motivate our senior sales staff.'
With salaries assured, they seemed to lose that pumped-up excitement that keeps sales professionals out working hard. They were very helpful to showroom visitors, but didn't seem to care if they didn't close the deal.
'They got too comfortable: It had a strange effect on the showroom floor,' says Iversen, adding that in 1998 the dealership delivered 1,800 new cars and trucks plus 850 used vehicles.
So Iversen, Stasek and others have gone back to the drawing board to redesign the salary-plus-bonus approach. What will appear as a salary cut for some most likely will result in greater monthly income with the new individual bonus/incentive package.
RESPONDING TO CHANGE
Iversen, whose career at the dealership has included stints in truck sales and in fixed operations, says the dealership is constantly refining its practices to meet the changing market.
'My approach to hiring has been to draft the best person and not worry so much about the position,' says Stasek, who was educated in mechanical engineering, fell in love early with the retail side of the auto industry and who started at this dealership as its used-car manager.
'There are things we don't do as well as we should,' he says. 'But we have to make sure people walking into the dealership are treated well. Having a good staff assures that will happen.'