"You've got to focus on the customer, you've got to focus on each other, you've got to communicate, and you've got to be organized," says Mitch Walters, owner of the Friendship Family of Dealerships, an 11-store group in Tennessee and North Carolina. Two other Friendship dealerships are also on the list of Best Dealerships To Work For.
Profiles of the three Friendship stores and 97 other honored dealerships -- as well as rankings, videos and feature stories -- can be found at autonews.com/bestdealerships2013.
Just after receiving the award, Walters said, "I couldn't be more proud. This is one of the best moments of my life. We take great care of our team and our team takes great care of us."
Friendship Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram of Bristol has 53 full-time employees. Last year it sold 705 new vehicles, up 26 percent from 2011.
As part of a "servant leadership" philosophy, all employees have the option of contributing part of their paychecks to the Friendship Family Fund. The fund collects money to be redistributed anonymously to other employees in times of need.
"It's not just a place to work, it's a way of life," says General Manager Tom Hall. "It's a culture where we care about our community."
The dealership emphasizes healthy living. Tobacco use is banned on the grounds of the dealership, and Friendship covers half the cost of a gym membership for employees.
Friendship offers profit sharing. It provides tickets to concerts and nearby NASCAR races. The dealership recognizes top-performing employees with cash rewards or weekend getaways.
An annual highlight for employees is the summer picnic. This year, Friendship rented a farm that offered hayrides, a zip line and other family activities.
The commitment to treating employees well extends to the business operations as well. Walters delivers an annual State of Friendship to Friendship Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram of Bristol's employees to update them on the dealership's financial standing.
"They want to have good communication from top down," Walters says. "They want to have communication in addition to a fair paycheck. There's no sense in not doing it this way."
Joseph Lichterman contributed to this report.