Large dealership groups have begun to stress the kind of comprehensive corporate training programs seldom seen inside most auto dealerships.
For example, Hendrick Automotive Group has spent $1 million to renovate an old building for its new learning center. The 6,000-square-foot Hendrick University flanks the dealership company's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.
The facility has two classrooms that each seat up to 48 people. It also has a restaurant-grade kitchen, a full gymnasium, computer workstations and audiovisual equipment with satellite capabilities. The university has eight full- and part-time trainers.
The hefty investment Hendrick has made in education - including another $1 million for regional training facilities in nine of Hendrick's 56 dealerships - is the latest example of the growing emphasis big automotive retailers are placing on employee education.
Sprawling dealership corporations have found they need formal training to unify employees behind corporate ideals and customer service standards. Smaller dealership businesses have less trouble conveying their ideals to staff because the owner is usually on hand.
At least three of the country's largest dealership groups - Hendrick; AutoNation Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Sonic Automotive Inc. of Charlotte, N.C. - have set up corporate universities for management training, instruction in customer service skills and employee orientation.
Sonic has a national training director and eight trainers in the field. The company's three-part orientation program for all employees covers Sonic's history, policy and procedures and a safety video.
Hendrick established its university in 1999 and cut the ribbon on its central training facility last June. Before it opened, training was done at local hotels and in dealerships. The company's extensive training calendar is arranged 60 days in advance.
All employees, from receptionists to general managers, are trained. They are required to take an orientation course on the company's history, core values and employee benefits.
John Lamkin, Hendrick's training director, compares the approach to that of a professional sports team. "A professional football team trains all year to play 16 regular season games," he says.