Printed in Automotive News Oct. 11, 2010
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 said. 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 said.
Last year, she said, "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 -- explored 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 still performed 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," McCants said. "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."
While she searches for long-term solutions, McCants is turning the dealership into a kind of center for continuing education where employees can develop skills to do better work. Subjects include personal finance, management training and techniques to overcome negative thinking.
Not all classes are mandatory, but the dealership operation ones are. Employees unwilling to master the latest customer relationship software or used-car pricing systems won't be working at Honda of Covington for long.
She is a stickler for processes and a firm believer in the benefits of new technology. She's at her computer at 5:30 every morning reviewing the digital record of everything that happened at the store the day before.
"Before I've left the house, I've checked sales' customer satisfaction score vs. district and national, and I check the service scores and the daily sales retail delivery registration reports vs. the competition," McCants said.
"I'm a numbers person. I can tell you 24/7 this is where we need to be. So many dealerships just wing it."
The attention to detail has kept Honda of Covington humming along consistently as the No. 2 Honda dealer in the New Orleans area.