Young candidates often start as service greeters before moving into the Genius program, so managers can assess their work habits, personality and social skills.
BMW Portland has up to four Geniuses at any one time. Apprentices receive extensive in-car tutorials from program veterans on staff, attend a five-day Genius course at BMW's race track in Southern California and take hours of online training.
Many candidates have no prior experience with autos.
Blake Weaver, 20, was a manager at a 24 Hour Fitness when he started and is now a sales consultant himself. Another salesman, Luke Trelease, 23, started working at the dealership at 19 and joined full time straight from college. Jamison Kleser, 24 and now a full-time Genius, was a manager of a grocery store before joining two years ago. Dylan Haxton, 24, started three years ago and is now a service writer.
Having such young people in positions of responsibility is relatively rare in the luxury end of auto retailing.
"But one thing we found out was these guys were all car enthusiasts. That's what we look for," Clark said, noting that several staffers frequently go to race events and spend time on BMW online forums, which serves as indirect publicity for the dealership when people are exposed to their expertise. "Because in this business, if you are not enthusiastic it can be really hard to get into it. And that enthusiasm, I'll tell you, is contagious."
After a couple months helping customers pair their Bluetooth phones, tagging along on house calls to buyers who need a refresher on how to use the technology, and providing showroom support, they spend at least a month with each of the top four sales consultants learning the art of the deal and how to use the dealership's customer relations management system.
By taking clients on test drives, handling delivery and answering questions, the apprentice Geniuses act as a flex force, which lets Clark keep a lean sales operation.
BMW Portland sells 185 to 200 new and used vehicles per month, and as many as 250 vehicles during the end-of-year peak season.
The industry rule of thumb is that a salesperson sells about 10 vehicles per month. Following that formula, the dealership would need about 20 consultants, but Clark is able to do the job with just 11. And that puts more money in everyone's pocket.
"A salesperson could struggle to sell three cars in one day, but it's actually very easy if you have that BMW Genius helping you out," said Clark. "And the customer doesn't suffer. The customer is not waiting. The Genius will be going over product with you and that Genius will stay with that customer, while the salesperson handles sales. And if the sales consultant is off, the Genius can fill the void.
"So, it's allowed my sales consultants to make a good living," he said.