Over the years, Miles Schnaer has trained for long-distance running. He used to trek several miles a day with friends from the local YMCA.
That kind of dedication and perseverance has helped him turn around lackluster dealerships.
First in Decatur, Ill., and more recently in Lawrence, Kan., where he revived an agency that had been run by an absentee owner who was on his way to prison after being convicted of fraud involving floorplanning for other dealerships.
Schnaer, 56, learned the dealership business from fellow Kansan and former employer Cecil Van Tuyl. They were partners in turning around Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Toyota and Nissan stores in Decatur.
Schnaer was on his own when he took over Chevrolet-Oldsmobile and Toyota stores in Lawrence, the home of Kansas University, in late 1994.
It wasn't until 1999 that Schnaer felt that the business, Crown Automotive, had turned the corner.
The secret to success?
Plain old hard work, he says.
"A strong work ethic is the main thing you have to have," he says.
"It's a basic philosophy. You have to be willing to sacrifice, and you have to have a little bit of luck."
Steering the Lawrence operations from problems toward profits hinged on assembling a staff that wouldn't stop at giving 100 percent.
Schnaer talks in terms of 150 percent.
"I want people to run at 90 mph in second gear, because when they shift into third, they'll really be smokin'," he says.
Crown Automotive departments are organized as independent profit centers.
There are incentives for reaching or exceeding goals. A dealer must have pay plans based on incentives, he says.
Department managers know what is expected of them.
"Each manager believes this is his or her company," he says. "We agree to pay plans. There are no surprises."
Schnaer meets regularly with members of the employee involvement committee.
At lunch over submarine sandwiches, they discuss dealership issues.
He expects employees to make suggestions for improvements for staff or customers.
For example, employees decided they wanted to prepare food donations for local families. So they took turns standing outside local supermarkets asking shoppers to pick up a few items to donate to the cause.
And a garage sale at the dealership also brought staff together to raise money for people in need.