Founded just three years ago, Lithia Dodge of Eugene, Ore., might be expected to have the sales staff retention problems that often plague a new dealership. Instead, 12 of the 19 original salespersons are still there, the heart of a staff that is moving 250 to 300 vehicles each month.
'We're new, but we are growing, and the sales staff sees that there will be opportunities for them,' says Dale Monteleone, general sales manager. 'We promote from within. Those who stay have the potential to become closers and managers.'
Lithia Dodge of Eugene is the newest enterprise of the Lithia Dodge family, which has dealerships in Medford, Roseburg and Grants Pass, Ore. Monteleone was general manager at Grants Pass before helping to launch the Eugene dealership.
As he did at Grants Pass, Monteleone depends on the hiring process to jump-start his efforts at retaining salespeople in Eugene. 'We fire bad employees before we ever hire them,' he says.
Candidates for sales positions at Lithia Dodge undergo a battery of tests that include an Omnia profile, an exercise that Monteleone claims can profile someone's personality and energy level and even measure his or her ability to close a deal.
'We want people to stay, and they will do that only if they are successful,' Monteleone says. 'One of the key things that will determine sales success is whether the person is more concerned about being liked than about closing the deal.'
If the answer is 'being liked,' the candidate undergoes extensive training. The person learns the '12-Steps to the Sale' process; Monteleone says it provides the salesperson with a road map.
'You want to give salespeople an easy process, with less stress,' he says. 'If they don't follow the process, they struggle. They become timid, lose control, and the customer can usually sense that.'
However, Monteleone admits that it takes more than a skills manual to retain salespeople. Constantly changing the bonus program helps, he says, by keeping the contests fresh and innovative.
There is the 30 Club; members have sold at least 30 vehicles a month for a year. Members receive a higher commission for the following year, four dinners and four trips with the sales managers. Last year's outings included golf trips, Las Vegas and river rafting.
The dealership also holds two sales meetings a week, where the talk is positive and the energy high. At the end of each meeting, they sing the Notre Dame 'Victory March.' The 'team' then forms a tunnel and the sales staff runs out, pumped up, into the showroom.
'We don't have a single employee who is a graduate of Notre Dame,' Monteleone says with a laugh. 'We just like promoting a positive attitude.'
He says a family atmosphere contributes greatly to sales staff retention. An all-store meeting is held once a month to talk about customer satisfaction.
'If you don't constantly remind the salespeople that there are other departments, they tend to become a little isolated,' says Monteleone, who instituted a schedule that requires three salespeople each week to arrive at 7: 30 a.m. and greet the customers who show up for service.
Despite a few early mornings every two or three months, the sales staff's schedule is generally less arduous than at other dealerships, which Monteleone swears by to help retain employees.
Each salesperson must take two days off each week. If they want to work more hours, they must submit a formal 'time on' request.
'I think you have to take care of your people,' Monteleone says. 'You basically live with them. They become some of your best friends. And without them, you wouldn't be in the position you are.'