"It's designed to attract, reward and retain top dealership employees," said Nick Reese, senior manager of customer quality and business strategy for Nissan North America.
Participants receive bonus money either monthly or quarterly for achieving training certifications, using a tablet during sales delivery and meeting objectives such as sales volume, customer satisfaction and service retention. Sales consultants can earn an increasing monthly retention bonus for each consecutive full year of working at a Nissan dealership. That goes up to five years.
Nissan also puts together conferences for the top 50 sales consultants who take a plant tour and meet executives. Next spring, Nissan for the first time will host a conference for the top 50 service advisers, Reese said. Employees can use retention bonuses toward buying a Nissan.
Since launching the program, Nissan said average tenure of top-performing sales consultants has increased by 24 percent, while the number of top service advisers with more than a year of tenure has jumped by 54 percent.
"It does help in keeping people," said Fanelli, who said his store has low turnover. Penske reported a turnover rate of 23 percent for the store in 2017. "People don't want to leave for that reason. It's additional money."
Nissan in August wrapped up training for about a third of its dealerships on subjects such as reducing response time for online job applications, improving digital interaction and correctly completing the employee onboarding process, which integrates new employees into the organization. One dealership group that implemented the processes reduced turnover by a third in a year, said Nissan spokeswoman Jeannie Whited.
Ford said ESI Trends has worked with automakers and their dealers to create stronger processes for hiring and onboarding and has done employee surveys for brands on turnover and retention.
"Our studies have shown that employees become fully productive at year three," Ford said in an email. "This is where we see the biggest correlation between profits and retention. Each 10-point increase in dealership retention increases total gross profit about $500,000, much more for luxury stores. Currently the median tenure for all positions is 2.6 years, so there is significant opportunity to improve profits by focusing on retention."
Hireology, which provides hiring software to one in eight franchised dealerships in the U.S. and hosts their career sites, also is increasingly working with brands that want to help their dealerships make better-quality hires, said CEO Adam Robinson. Hireology is working with GM, which is funding dealerships' use of Hireology this year, Robinson said. It also works with Nissan, Ford, Kia, BMW, Fiat Chrysler and Volvo.
BMW provides its dealers with access to Hireology. At the end of August, 67 dealerships were using it. It's just one of several tools the brand offers to help dealership recruiting.
Each unfilled key position at a dealership costs $1,000 in gross profit per day, so boosting hiring speed increases profitability, Robinson said.
"The average Hireology dealer, their average time to fill is 23 days whereas the broader industry average is more like 34 days," he said.
At Audi Huntsville in Huntsville, Ala., Audi's programs and training are helping it hire key positions, said Matt Meyer, the dealership's managing partner. It has hired a technician out of the Audi Education Partnership, a program Audi of America launched in 2015 with technical schools to help train technicians and give them career opportunities with the brand.
"It's been a good source to find techs," Meyer said.
Meyer said Audi also offers performance-based bonuses for employees who, for example, properly complete multipoint inspections or have high customer satisfaction index scores. Sales employees can achieve bonuses based on sales objectives through the Audi Ascent program, he said.
"They do a really, really good job on incentivizing the employees," which helps keep the dealership's turnover low, Meyer said.
Mike Choate, service manager at Mercedes-Benz of Draper in Draper, Utah, says the luxury brand offers numerous programs to help with hiring and retention ranging from hiring veterans to the Mercedes-Benz DRIVE training and development program. It's a training partnership with Universal Technical Institute, including dealership placement assistance that to date has 450 graduates.
Choate said his dealership has hired three technicians.
Mercedes-Benz of Draper also sends employees each quarter to the Mercedes-Benz Brand Immersion Center in Vance, Ala. During the customer experience center training, employees from dealerships, plus Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-Benz Financial Services employees, tour the automaker's assembly plant, visit a museum tracing 132-years-plus of brand history and learn about Mercedes products. Employees also get to drive a variety of vehicles ranging from the CLA to the G class on an off-road course.
The center, open for four years, has trained more than 20,600 employees, including more than 17,000 from dealerships.
"We hope to inspire brand appreciation and passion and then channel that passion down into customer service excellence," said Wynn Springer, brand immersion training manager for Mercedes-Benz.
It works to excite dealership employees and helps retention, Choate said. The goal, he said, is to "really engage them there and hopefully build some brand loyalty and some loyalty to the dealership."