Laurie McCants, a New Orleans Honda dealer buffeted by natural and man-made disasters that have rocked her city and her business, is obsessive about finding ways to keep top-notch employees.
When Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans five years ago, McCants lost a third of her work force at Honda of Covington, just north of the city across Lake Pontchartrain.
Some left because they had lost their houses to the storm. Others went to work in construction in the building boom that followed the devastation.
"We had a finance guy leave to go cut trees," McCants says. Tree companies were paying up to $5,000 a week, a figure no dealership could match.
"Another finance guy left to go rescue people off rooftops. He had this hero mentality," McCants says.
This year, she says, "I had a couple of guys threaten to leave to go clean up oil," lured by the prospect of making a quick buck from BP's spill operation in the Gulf of Mexico.
So McCants -- a focused, numbers-driven manager who found time to open a restaurant -- is exploring ways to make her dealership as attractive as possible, such as annuities for employees who stay for many years. But she has found no silver-bullet solution.
Honda of Covington is still performing around the national average on turnover of sales personnel, which means about 40 percent of the sales staff leaves each year.
"I've thought about all kinds of things," says McCants, 46. "One of our action plans for 2010 was to improve salesperson retention, so we tracked it on a monthly basis vs. Honda nationally. It's just a difficult thing."