Ron MacEachern, group general manager for Suburban, a platform of 34 Michigan dealerships owned by Lithia, said the idea came from DCH Auto Group, another Lithia-owned collection of dealerships. DCH reported in a Lithia leadership meeting that it had hired 30 technicians after hosting three tailgate events in metro New York, according to MacEachern.
Intrigued, MacEachern initiated Suburban's own recruiting tailgate party and began advertising the event on TV and social media about three weeks ahead of time. The early promotion paid dividends, as Suburban hired four technicians who heard about the party and reached out before it even took place, he said.
The event resulted in Suburban hiring more employees overall than group leaders expected, though MacEachern, who described the initiative as "a huge success," declined to specify how many.
"The takeaway from this whole exercise was it's not business as usual," he said. "Normally we would place ads and wait for people to contact us. We're in a battle right now. I think the challenge that we face is that, how do we get a chance to talk to people we normally wouldn't get a chance to talk to?"
After February's event aimed at hiring technicians for Suburban's Ann Arbor stores, the group is planning two tailgate parties this month at separate dealerships in metro Detroit.
In addition to using TV to promote the parties, Suburban has employed broadcast and streaming TV and social media for a recruitment campaign that started last October. Those ads tout the reasons workers should consider the dealership group. Suburban plans to launch a new iteration of the employment campaign in mid-March, MacEachern said.
Jason Willis, CEO of Willis Auto Campus in Des Moines, Iowa, calls recruiting an "all-hands-on-deck" endeavor.
"Everyone's a recruiter at a dealership. You certainly can't sit and wait for an online portal to send you candidates," Willis said. "You've got to be in your community and finding people who meet your culture and your values who are eligible, whether this is a service adviser or a service technician."
Penske Automotive Group Inc. CEO Roger Penske told Automotive News that the retailer is seeing wage pressure throughout the company.
"What we've done is really put a relentless focus on recruiting across the country," Penske said. "And I think getting people to the company and to the business, we've tried to streamline that so it's efficient. Because people are available, then they're not."
For dealers who haven't yet reinvented their hiring strategies, it's not too late to start. Hireology's Robinson said he forecasts the labor imbalance will be around until at least 2024.
"Even then, in roles like technicians and other fixed ops roles, it's just never going to be enough," Robinson said. "If there was ever a reason to get serious about changing your approach, now's the time."
Melissa Burden, Urvaksh Karkaria and Jim Henry contributed to this report.