KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Most car dealers pay outsiders to train their staffs. Not Aaron Zeigler. Instead, he sells his in-house training to other industries, including college sports teams.
"We've always had an extensive training and development company for our organization. It's one of the ways we've been able to grow," said Zeigler, president of Zeigler Auto Group and Zeigler Motorsports here. "We said we could do this and help other companies to do the same thing."
This past spring, Zeigler launched Elevate Leadership and Team Building Academy. He expects it to grow into a "multimillion dollar" business.
Elevate is an extension of Zeigler University, using much of the same curriculum, but renamed to appeal to organizations outside the auto industry. Zeigler University began 12 years ago to develop Zeigler employees' leadership skills for advancement. It has been a success, reducing average employee turnover to 6 percent a year from 40 percent before the training, he said.
With five full-time trainers and some guest instructors, Elevate operates its custom-tailored classes in a spacious room on the second floor of Zeigler Motorsports.
The room has three black walls blanketed with overlapping white words such as "believe," "vision," "success" and "humble."
"We ask our employees to use words to describe our organization and culture," Zeigler said. "The more people who say the same word, the bigger the word gets on the wall. When we have a new hire orientation, we can take them to the wall and say, 'These are the words that describe us as an organization.'"
The fourth side of the training room has windows overlooking a massive powersports showroom lined with off-road vehicles, motorcycles dangling from the ceiling and a simulated mountain and waterfall. The environment sets the tone for Elevate's lessons.
"Companies will come in for half a day and do the classroom type stuff and some really unique team-building exercises and learn about leadership," Zeigler said.
In the afternoon, the participants ride in two- or four-person all-terrain vehicles known as side-by-sides on Zeigler's four outdoor off-road and motocross tracks just yards from the dealership. Zeigler got that idea a year ago when he took his top technicians and service writers to Michigan International Speedway to race cars for a day.
"I realized throughout the day just how much closer I'd become with the technicians and the service writers. We had this really cool experience racing cars," Zeigler said. "I thought, 'Boy, we could really incorporate that into our team-building academy and it could really help, not only us, but other companies as well.'"
Elevate costs $6,000 to $10,000 a day or $25,000 for a three-day program, he said. Demand has been strong. So far construction firms, health-care companies, college football teams and Michigan State University's basketball team have hired Elevate.
Internally, Zeigler continues to tweak Elevate and Zeigler University's curriculum. He picks the brains of his employees by conducting a survey twice a year. He studies the results and talks to employees on ways to improve leadership and culture, he said.
"If the culture is right, people are happy and excited to come to work," Zeigler said. "They're making money and they don't ever want to go anywhere else."