Some of the Best Dealerships To Work For go to great lengths to instill healthy habits among their employees, say by promoting "Biggest Loser"-style weight-loss competitions or tobacco-cessation programs. Motorcars Toyota launched a Route 66 team Fitbit challenge, where teams competed to walk 2,448 miles, equivalent to the famed highway's route from Chicago to Santa Monica, with Fitbits provided by the dealership.
Healthy, unhealthy endeavors: It's all about bonding, dealerships say
Some indulge habits that don't exactly qualify as heart healthy, such as a three-minute contest to see how much food employees can chow down. Others have barbecue or chili cook-offs, "coffee Thursdays" or a free candy cart every Friday.
Some even do both.
Either way, the dealerships say, it's all about employee bonding.
At Crevier BMW and Crevier Mini in Santa Ana, Calif., an entire year of anticipation comes down to one three-minute hamburger-eating contest. The reigning champion: Ricky "Balboa" Lopez of the BMW parts department.
Al Parajeckas, the general manager of both stores, said the annual contest is part of a larger employee appreciation day, which is usually held during the third or fourth quarter of the year.
In-N-Out Burger delivery trucks bring in the burgers. Lopez has won every year but one, typically scarfing down five or six in the allotted time. The contest has been running for more than 10 years.
On the appreciation day, department awards or anniversaries are also recognized. "Personally, I think it really helps the morale. The employees love it. It's a little break for them," Parajeckas said.
A couple weeks after packing in the burgers, Parajeckas said, the store's Biggest Loser weight-loss competition usually starts, running to the end of December.
That's about the time of year that Yark Automotive Group's Biggest Loser challenge starts in Toledo, Ohio, said Emily Yark, the group's community relations manager.
The most recent winner, Mark Thomas, took home $760. Thomas is a salesperson at Yark Subaru, which is one of five Yark stores that made this year's list of the Best Dealerships To Work For, along with Yark stores selling Alfa Romeo-Fiat, BMW, Nissan and Toyota vehicles.
Sixty of Yark Automotive Group's 450 employees took on the most recent three-month challenge, which started in January. Thomas lost 60 pounds and 20 other employees lost more than 20 pounds. "Everybody came together and pushed each other," Yark said of the challenge. "And it was cool to see the motivation and see the group empowerment."
The Yark stores keep it on the healthy side. In April 2015, a Yark Nissan customer who owns a juice delivery service pitched a three-day juice cleanse to the employees. About 12 store employees decided to join in and consumed nothing but the freshly delivered juice.
"I think the first day was definitely a struggle, but they were feeling good and some continued on and did it again," Yark said. Some participants even concocted new flavors based on what they liked, she added.
Employees at Porsche of Beachwood, outside of Cleveland, also bond over food, though not juice.
Once a quarter, General Manger Phil Snyder puts on his chef apron to cook a pancake breakfast for his store. He serves food around 9 a.m., when the sales team arrives, and the technicians take a break and join in.
But that's not the only grub giveaway at the Penske Automotive Group Inc. dealership. Snyder keeps employees well-fed with chili cook-offs in the fall as well as holiday cookouts. Around Christmas, for instance, he closes down service and sales for a couple hours to have a three-course catered lunch.
Snyder said he has the advantage of working at a smaller store, so everyone already knows each other. It's a matter of finding new ways for employees to interact -- and people bond best over food, he says.
"There aren't a lot of times that people can have time together to sit down and talk, especially different departments," Snyder said. "We're just trying to break down that barrier."
For a more personal event, Snyder and the sales managers chip in money to put on an annual lamb roast for the staff, hosted by a Croatian sales manager at the store.
Dealership employees can bring their families, share a few drinks and take some time outside of work to get to know each other.
"Our staff works so many hours," Snyder said, "we do it to pay them back for putting the time in."
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