If he thinks hard, General Manager Kevin Steele can come up with the name of, maybe, one salesperson who has voluntarily left Schumacher European Ltd. in the last seven years.
The 14-year old dealership in affluent Scottsdale, Ariz., sells Mercedes-Benz automobiles exclusively. The commissions are large.
But Steele doesn't pretend it's Nirvana. His 13-person sales staff is under a different kind of pressure, and he works hard to provide the support they need to be successful.
'You have to have extraordinary communication skills to sell in this market,' says Steele. 'We deal with very astute, knowledgeable consumers.'
He says the expectations among those with $35,000 to $150,000 to spend on a car are simply higher than they are elsewhere. Rarely do they walk in and buy off the lot. Rather, they are very specific about what they are looking for, and it's not uncommon for the sales executive at Schumacher European to do a great deal of preliminary legwork before the client sees an automobile.
'Our clients are more restricted on the amount of time they have to buy the car, to wait on delivery, to have the car serviced and anything else,' says Steele. 'The client care in this market is extremely important.'
THE RIGHT STUFF
Building relationships with those clients is not something that can be taught, according to Steele. Consequently, the dealership does not provide any sales training for the inexperienced.
'We are always scouting for the right people, those who have the potential to be top performers,' says Steele. 'But, when we find them, we hire them and let them do their job.'
That means an unstructured environment, where the salesperson has the authority to make decisions without running back to check with his or her managers.
'If you're playing baseball and you send a hitter out, you aren't going to go out to the plate and coach him on every swing,' says Steele. 'We're here to provide information should they need it.'
The freedom not only increases sales staff morale, but, Steele says, it increases sales.
'I tell them, `Don't ever let me hear you tell a customer that you need to check with the manager.' ' Steele says. 'In this market, the customer's reaction is, `Well, then, go get the manager and I'll deal with him.' '
Within this environment of autonomy, the salespeople are expected to perform at a certain level. Steele likes baseball analogies and talks about the sales staff 'keeping up batting averages or getting sent down.'
At the same time, he says, the dealership's philosophy is to work with salespeople to help them succeed, a philosophy that comes directly from Werner Schumacher, the dealership's founder and president.
'Respect cannot be demanded; it has to be earned,' says Schumacher. 'There has to be a commitment to success on both sides.'
Steele's and Schumacher's commitment includes being sensitive to the personal needs of their sales force, knowing it ultimately translates into greater sales.
In the case of one salesperson, that meant eliminating Saturdays from his schedule. In another case concerning a longtime employee thinking of retirement, it meant cutting working hours to 30 per week. Steele says, in that case, the salesman has had the best three years of his career. The dealership is also closed on Sundays, a commitment that raises staff morale and increases retention.
Schumacher remembers his days as a junior salesman in the 1960s, and knows there is a significant payoff for the salesperson who stays long enough.
'Every time you make a switch, you pay dearly for it,' says Schumacher. 'The blacktop is not always blacker on the other side.'
Schumacher points to the dealership's top performer as an example of the benefits of longevity. The man has built such a large, loyal client base he no longer takes floor ups. He has earned the right to have a sales assistant and spends his time following the lives of his customers, assuring repeat business.
'A great deal of hard work and dedication went into reaching that point,' says Schumacher. 'But when you do reach that level, that's when you have the credibility, respect and client relationships to make the real money.'