In April 2008, department managers at McGeorge Toyota-Scion near Richmond, Va., saw the store's financial data for the first time, and for a specific reason.
"There were hundreds of millions of dollars of sales, but there was no expense consciousness in the store and we were losing a lot of money," says Bob Farlow, then the dealership's new general manager. He had persuaded dealer Rod McGeorge to share the accounting details.
By October 2008, department managers were being held accountable for their departments' net results. So when the recession kicked in, Farlow says, "We had things starting to get dialed in. We were sitting in pretty good shape."
McGeorge Toyota-Scion survived the recession without layoffs and has grown with the market since then. In 2012, it sold about 4,000 new and used vehicles.
During and after the recession, many dealers began routinely sharing financial data with lower-level managers -- a sharp change from the prerecession practice of keeping that information close to the vest, consultants say.
Dealers who share their data want their managers to understand how the business operates. They then hold those managers accountable to deliver profits, often by tying their pay to net rather than gross.
"Transparency creates that ownership mentality that smart dealers are taking advantage of," says Tony Troussov, director of training for dealership consulting firm Automotive Development Group near Minneapolis. "You don't want to expose everything, but if you can share some of that data, it is very helpful to the business."
Many dealers shared financial data with their management staff even before the recession, says Paul Stowe, director of retail operations for dealer consultancy NCM Associates Inc. in Overland Park, Kan.
But since the recession, Stowe says, he increasingly sees more dealers sharing financial data with managers.
"It's a significant shift and it's one of the best things that's happened to our business," Stowe says. "We have far better businesspeople running these stores now and that is reflective of the fact that we need to engage our managers to full awareness of what it takes to run the store."
There is no hard evidence confirming how widespread the change is, but many dealer consultants say they are seeing it more often.