As some dealerships stay open longer and later in the name of customer convenience, Kelly Automotive Group is moving the opposite direction to benefit its employees.
The Danvers, Mass., group this month started closing its eight stores on Sundays to create a better work-life balance for its staff. It's something the company has thought about doing for several years.
The dealerships will stay open on the last Sunday of each month and during some important holiday weekends such as the day before Memorial Day, but the change is a noteworthy gamble at a time when retailers are clawing for every sale in a slowing market.
Kelly Automotive, which sells Ford, Nissan, Infiniti, Honda, Volkswagen and the FCA US stable of brands, says it typically has sold about 50 vehicles companywide on Sundays. While there is a concern that Sunday shoppers could head to nearby competitors who remain open, the group is willing to take the risk. COO Brian Heney believes the Sunday sales likely will shift to Saturday or Monday.
Heney said staffers had their first Sunday off July 7. He said the team enjoyed having the extra time away for Independence Day weekend celebrations with their families.
More pros than cons
"Time will tell if it hurts our volume or has an effect on our overall profitability," he said.
"It'll be better for our employees and company if we could close on the majority of Sundays throughout the year," Heney said. "Our pro list outnumbered the con list at this point in time. To people who aren't in our industry, it would seem like it's not such a big deal to close on Sundays because a lot of the world lives like that. In this business and retail environment to make this move, it's monumental."
Massachusetts, like most states, has no law forcing dealerships to close on Sundays, and many stay open seven days a week as a result. Robert O'Koniewski, executive vice president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, said it's up to dealers to make decisions based on numerous factors such as balancing the overhead costs and employee morale.
"We've had strong blue laws forever here, going back to the Puritan days," O'Koniewski said. "Then in the '80s, there was a move afoot to start weakening the blue laws as it relates to stores being open on Sundays. Over the last 30 years, there have been various laws passed to allow for various activities on Sundays."
Kelly Automotive plans to stay the course even if profits drop more than expected. But Heney thinks the group could break even or see profits rise, in part because of payroll savings.
Heney says the group can counteract a potential dip by improving performance in service, new cars and used cars. If the group can maintain volume, Heney said the change would be better for the bottom line because expenses would be lower.
"Our profitability might stay the same or better because you don't have all of the expense that's related to Sundays with time-and-a-half and all the stuff you have to do on a Sunday," Heney said.
"We can make more money and work less hours if we do it properly," he said. "That's my goal for everybody. Make better decisions generally, and we will make more, and we will have happier people."
Sales event atmosphere
While stores will be closed on Sundays, the group will monitor online customer inquiries.
The schedule shift also means staff members will have to make sure the stores are ready for Monday mornings before they leave on Saturdays.
"We're going to have to make sure the store is clean and ready for business when you come in Monday because it's going to be busy," Heney said.
Heney hopes the last Sunday of each month will feel like a sales event. Other weeks, he thinks staffers will work to make Saturdays and Mondays more successful. The group normally sells 85 to 100 vehicles on Saturdays and 45 to 55 on Mondays.
"I believe we set the tone," he said. "If our mindset is that Saturdays and Mondays are going to be very busy and exciting, we'll have a sense of urgency. Our people portray that to the customer and they feel it and it makes them react. If a store decides they're going to keep doing things as they do it today, the numbers are going to go backwards and the numbers will suffer. We can't allow that to happen. I do think we'll have a sense of urgency on Saturdays and Mondays more so than we have today."