From financing to vehicle trim levels to extended service contracts and the like, car buyers get peppered with a lot of questions while buying a vehicle. Savvy dealership officials are posing one more to certain customers: How would you like to work here?
Buy a car, get a job
From customer to crew
Dealers who hire some of their customers for jobs at their stores say these are some of the benefits.
- Already familiar with the store's selling process
- Proven fans of the vehicle brand
- Shortens the hiring cycle
- More likely to stick with the job
- Lowers dealership's turnover
In an Automotive News survey of the 100 Best Dealerships To Work For, more than half of respondents said they look for and hire customers for jobs at their stores. Hiring customers offers some intrinsic benefits, store officials say. For one, they're already familiar with store operations and like the brand. In addition, it can shorten the hiring cycle, because sorting through resumes is not required.
And customer hires seem more likely to stay on the job for a while — no small thing in an industry where employee turnover is a vexing and costly issue, dealership officials say.
"We've hired five or six customers within the last three years or so, mostly on the sales side," says Benjamin Ishmael, new-car manager at AutoNation Chevrolet Greenacres in Florida. "It's an advantage because they see the whole sales process firsthand, from the meet-and-greet to the presentation of the vehicle and the financial numbers.
"They get a full appreciation of what it would be like for them to be a sales associate, versus someone who's never purchased a car from us."
Dealerships are always on the lookout for anything that makes finding qualified job candidates faster and easier.
"Finding the right employees is time-consuming and hard, especially if you're not looking in the right place," says Lou Harmel, general manager at AutoNation Chevrolet Airport in Orlando. "We've found that the best two places to find employees is our customer base and referrals from our existing sales force.
"We currently have two salespeople on our floor who were customers that worked in another field," he told Automotive News. "But after they went through our sales process and saw how transparent it is, as well as how much fun we have with our guests, they decided to jump on board."
One of the two sales associates has been employed for more than a year, the other for about seven months. That's a decent indication that they'll stay for the long haul, Harmel says, noting that if salespeople leave, they tend to do so within the first three months of employment. In addition, the dealership has hired customers to fill several service and accounting positions.
Customer hires and employee referrals tend to stay on board longer because they're already "tied in," he notes. "They know what they're getting into. Former customers and employee referrals both tend to stay longer because they have more of a vested interest in staying in the store," he says.
At Garber Nissan-Hyundai in Saginaw, Mich., General Sales Manager David Tokarsky reports some customers have asked about job openings after buying vehicles or when taking delivery. The store is part of Garber Automotive Group, owned by Richard Garber.
"When this happens, we take it as a huge compliment to the entire team," Tokarsky wrote on a survey form.
What kinds of traits do dealership officials look for when sizing up customers as potential employees? Attributes cited include a positive attitude, high energy, an outgoing personality and enthusiasm. And a ready smile, they note.
"We look for people who are able to open up and relax with a personable personality," wrote Robert Smith, customer relations manager at Larry H. Miller Hyundai Peoria in Arizona. The dealership is part of Larry H. Miller Dealerships, owned by Gail Miller. "These types of people help others feel comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable environment, as most perceive dealerships to be."
"We look for people who are outgoing and personable — someone who can just make themselves at ease and is comfortable communicating with people," Ishmael says. "In any sales atmosphere, you want to develop that comfort level when you're interacting with someone for the first time."
Harmel looks for a willingness to work, which he says is detectable through things such as a customer's energy level and positive attitude. "You can tell when someone walks in," he says. "I can teach someone sales skills, but someone's base personality is what makes people buy cars.
"If people like you, they're more likely to buy from you," he says. "We have good products, a good dealership and a good company — the last piece of the puzzle is good people."
Of course, store officials agree that without a good work environment and transparent sales processes, jobs at dealerships won't be attractive to customers. For example, Ishmael says AutoNation uses processes that make vehicle sales easier from start to finish. That, in turn, helps customers see how easy it is to sell cars.
"When you give them an exceptional experience from the moment they walk through the door, they're intrigued," he says. "They admire our low-key, non-pressure approach."
In addition, dealership officials say they routinely ask their employees to informally keep an eye out for potential employees. Harmel even carries that philosophy outside the confines of his dealership; he always carries business cards for times when he sees people that impress him with their energy and attitude.
"It's just one more avenue we use to hire people — you can't put all your eggs in one basket," he explains. "If I meet someone in, say, a supermarket who I think is a good fit, I always ask if they're interested in a job. If you ask the right question enough times, you get good answers."