Morrie's Automotive Group CEO Karl Schmidt believes his group's 11-store count gives him an edge in hiring because he can offer a career path to attract and keep talent.
But Brad Gross, who runs a Chevrolet store in a tiny town in northern Michigan, said he also has an edge. He offers a lucrative living with good hours.
"If mega-store X is right next to me and he's working them to death and paying them a ton of money, I'd still hire and keep way more people than he would," said Gross, general manager of Schafer Chevrolet in Pinconning, Mich. "I'm confident in that."
Both are right. Large dealership groups, those with five stores or more, can afford training programs and offer employees avenues for career advancement, making them attractive employers and providing a deep bench of future leaders. But there is a risk: Becoming "too big" can lead to corporate homogeny, turning off some job candidates.
On the other hand, small dealership groups, those with four or fewer rooftops, often hit a wall in their ability to promote people, potentially driving talent away. But small dealers can provide broad experience across all departments, more access to leaders and more intimate mentorship with the dealer.
"Smaller dealers need not be at a disadvantage if they're leveraging their strengths to market effectively," said Adam Robinson, CEO of recruitment specialty firm Hireology in Chicago. "It's the difference between going to work at a start-up versus going to work at General Electric. Some people are big-company people and some are start-up people. Rarely do they fit both."
When looking at the role size plays in hiring and retention, executive search specialist Suzanne Malo said, "Each could have the advantage."
Most large dealership groups can recruit the best talent by having a full-time human resources department, something small groups cannot afford.
But large groups don't have the market cornered on structured training and career paths, said Malo, director of executive search at DHG Search in Greenville, S.C. She said many small dealerships gain an edge by giving employees access to the dealer principal as a personal mentor.
Both large and small groups can offer flexible hours and lucrative pay. But no matter the size, the ultimate key to retention is valuing employees and keeping them engaged in the welfare of the company, she said.
"Are they being involved in decisions even if they're not a manager? Do they think they're doing a great job?" said Malo. "Those who don't feel valued tend to leave because they're chasing the rainbow."
Schafer Chevrolet's Gross agreed. He said many dealerships, large or small, have an "environment problem," meaning they overwork people. Long hours lead to burnout and discontent among employees who then quit, he said.
Schafer Chevrolet sells 1,900 new and used vehicles a year despite being in a town of 1,000 people located an hour's drive north of Flint, Mich. Gross employs 50 full-time workers, 19 of whom are in sales. The average tenure in sales is 6.2 years. He credits his retention success to a policy he set five years ago that limits each sales employee's work week to five days and 45 hours. Previously, many worked six days a week and up to 70 hours, Gross said.
"The biggest benefit of low turnover is performance. We're in this little, tiny town and we're way overachieving," Gross said. "The No. 1 reason is because people like working here, and the No. 1 reason people like working here is they have a great schedule."