The Nissan brand's woes are being felt on the lot.
"My fear is losing good guys because they just can't make it anymore," said Fanelli, who noted the dealership inventory is down from 450 new cars in stock to around 250. The dealership sold 1,231 new vehicles in 2018, down 17 percent. Last year's used-vehicle sales rose 7.3 percent to 976 vehicles.
The store's turnover rate is up slightly, from 23 percent in 2017 to 26 percent in 2018. In 2019, the rate has stayed steady to slightly up, Fanelli said. The store's performance is better than the industry average of 46 percent in 2017, the most recent year available, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. Penske's companywide turnover rate is 21 percent year-to-date, a spokesman said.
With Nissan of Turnersville's turnover rate edging up, Fanelli is doubling down with morale and paycheck-boosting programs.
"I want to come to work, have fun," Fanelli said. "I hate to see somebody walk in the door with their head down."
After losing a couple of salespeople to competitors, which shrunk the sales team from 16 employees to 14 in the past six months, Fanelli decided not to rehire for those jobs. Instead, he let the remaining sales employees divvy up the business so they could earn a larger piece of the pie.
"It's the difference between somebody making their bonus and not making their bonus," Fanelli said.
The store also hosts sales competitions that reward top producers with spiffs and prizes, such as televisions. A full-size basketball hoop installed in the showroom allows workers to shoot baskets for chances to enhance their bonuses. Big rubber dice are used to roll for spiffs.
"It gets the guys laughing and gets their morale up," Fanelli said.
The dealership also caters breakfast and lunch for employees on Saturdays, typically the busiest day of the week.
To improve employee work-life balance and reduce burnout, Nissan of Turnersville has a Summer Saturdays program that gives employees two Saturdays off each summer.
"The toughest part about the auto industry for me is you don't get two days off in a row," Fanelli said. "I make sure that I give employees an opportunity to have Saturday and Sunday off."
The dealership also has employees work just one 9 a.m.-to-9 p.m. shift each week, compared with the two or three 12-hour shifts typically required in the industry.
"I just don't see the benefit of having more guys fight over the same customers on a daily basis. I'd rather they have their time and come in fresh," Fanelli said. "When I was a salesperson, if I had more time off, when I did work, I wanted to work harder."
Rafael Rivera, a 14-year veteran at the store, is motivated by the opportunities for advancement available. "I can move up the career ladder if I want to," Rivera said.
The salesman said he enjoys the camaraderie of the workplace. "Everybody here gets along," Rivera said. "I have no problem with nobody."