Maurice Guidry believes the best way to retain salespeople is to be patient when he hires them.
Guidry, who eight years ago took over Golden Motors Inc. from his father, will not hire even the most promising candidate after one meeting. He tells applicants he'll take a few days to think about it.
Then he waits.
In Golden Meadow, La., a quiet, rural, south Louisiana town 30 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico, that laid-back approach is not unusual. But an applicant who calls back is unusual, Guidry says, so that person gets his attention.
'And if you brush him off and he calls you yet again, he'll sell a car like he's trying to sell himself to you,' Guidry says. 'You end up with the right guy.'
Golden Motors handles Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile and is one of two dealerships in town.
All of the incentives, motivational speakers, perks and bonuses can't match the value of hiring the right person, Guidry says.
Selling is a difficult business that is reserved for the young and resilient. Salespeople take their lumps on the sales floor every day, and many fade out after six or eight months of selling their friends and family. A lot of people who apply for car sales jobs don't really know what they are getting into.
'Normally, when you advertise a job, you get people who don't know half the story about selling cars,' Guidry says.
He looks for young people with sales experience, but preferably not in selling cars. That way he doesn't have to break many bad habits, and the training he gives them on General Motors vehicles becomes a foundation for them to sell cars.
'It's a young man's game,' he says. The average age of his salespeople is about 35.
Once they are on staff, Guidry's salespeople receive training, praise and cash incentives. When his dealership started offering a 401(k) plan with a modest company match, it attracted a few experienced salespeople who cherished the benefit.
A flexible working environment is a high priority for Guidry. Salespeople work long, stressful hours, so he limits the number of salespeople on the floor to five so that competition is present but not overly fierce.
Guidry also tries to spread around the house deals or sure-fire sales from reliable customers. He'll dole them out, especially to hard-working salespeople who might be having a slow week.
'Sometimes, you have to give something to the salesperson,' he says.
Salespeople who surpass monthly quotas can expect a dinner at a local restaurant with their spouses.
Sometimes, Guidry invites the salespeople and their families to his home for some Cajun cooking.
The main idea is to keep salespeople on staff for five years. By then, Guidry says, they have a good list of contacts and customers; they can often sit back, and the customers come to them.
'If you can stay here five years, you got it, baby,' Guidry says.
Selling cars is stressful, but Golden Motors tries to keep stress to a minimum by reflecting the character of the Cajun community around it.
'We're laid-back from the get-go,' Guidry says. Often, the dealership will order pizza for lunch, or Guidry will buy a gallon of ice cream for the troops. And sometimes, he'll treat them to Friday gumbo at Randolph's, a local restaurant.
'All week long, they make soup, but on Fridays, they make seafood gumbo,' Guidry says. 'It's killer.'
TRAINING IN MODERATION
Salespeople cannot succeed unless they know the product, so Golden Motors subscribes to the General Motors satellite common training program.
In 90 minutes in a conference room, salespeople can receive the kind of training that previously would have meant missing half a day off the sales floor because they'd be driving to and from New Orleans.
But there is a risk of overtraining, Guidry says.
'You can get overwhelmed with the stuff,' he says, referring to the many videotapes on the market. His salespeople average one hour-long training session a week, and everyone - including Guidry - gets a briefing when a new model is introduced.
The occasional cash incentive or easy commission on a house deal is the bread and butter of keeping salespeople happy.
'Money,' Guidry says. 'It all boils down to dollars.'
Even modest factory spiffs can make an otherwise marginal deal worthwhile for a salesperson.
To keep salespeople, Guidry thinks he must keep them happy, and one of the best ways to do that is to give positive feedback and encouragement when they do a good job.
'Maybe they are a dime a dozen in certain markets, but I think you have to appreciate them like anybody else,' he says. 'Instead of screaming at them when they do something wrong, we praise them when they do something right.'