Thirty years ago, Carlos Ledezma's high school teacher told him to find a job as a laborer, warning that he would never make it in business.
But Ledezma, now the owner of two successful Chevrolet dealerships in the Kansas City market, found the inspiration in himself to overcome that negative prophecy and to help others succeed alongside him.
The signs on his buildings say he's a Chevy dealer. But Ledezma, 48, says his primary business is mentoring.
"I find people who care about handling customers correctly," he says. "Then I have to develop them and push them in the right direction."
His approach to the car business is breaking down stereotypes that have kept auto retailing from becoming an attractive career. He also has cut costs by reducing turnover and has built repeat business because customers like dealing with his friendly, long-term employees.
Like many dealers, he salvaged profits during the downturn last year by paring expenses. Together, his two stores sold 1,749 new retail units last year, with a net pretax margin for both stores of 2.2 percent. The National Automobile Dealers Association average for 2009 was 1.5 percent.
His low turnover had a role in that above-average profit. Overall employee turnover was 28 percent last year -- in the same league with industry leaders such as publicly held Penske Automotive Group and Sonic Automotive Inc. and for U.S. companies of all types. Auto retail turnover runs higher than average.
The Society for Human Resource Management, a trade group that represents more than 250,000 human resource professionals, estimates that it costs $3,500 to replace an employee who makes $8 per hour, including recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training and reduced productivity. That's well below what dealership employees earn. Since the cost escalates substantially with higher wages and skill levels, dealers typically pay more to replace employees who leave.