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Dealer Ops

Team Building: Putting The Right People On The Bus!

I’ve been entrusted to build a new Mazda dealership from scratch in beautiful Mesa, Arizona. As we started the journey of building what should be the #1 Mazda dealer in the Southwest and, hopefully, the United States, I wanted to share some of our strategies for putting together our initial team.

Now, I certainly didn’t write the book on being right, and am I by no means an expert on team building. There are many more people in the automobile business smarter and more talented than I am. That being said, I was the person with the keys to the store. So, it was important for me to rely on my network of industry experts, friends and colleagues to come up with a blueprint for success.

It is important to note that you only get one chance at a first impression, so it was important to get things as right as possible the first time. In the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, Mr. Collins wrote about how important it was to get the right people on the bus and figure out where to put them later. So, utilizing some of those strategies as well as others from the Cardinale Automotive Group, we set forth our plan:


We totally ignored the local newspapers and recruiters. First of all, we were new in town and nobody knew who we were. Next, if you opened up the paper, there were FOUR pages of automobile sales help wanted ads in the Arizona Republic. How were we going to compete with that? Then, have you calculated how much it costs to run a help wanted ad in the paper? Do you track number of applicants and the quality of applicant? Most companies don’t. A concern with recruiters is that they get paid to hire bodies. Do they fit your culture (more on this later) or are you hiring to hire? By no means am I knocking recruiters, because I‘ve used recruiters with great success in the past, but it isn’t the cure all for staffing. Finally, we were not going to be the highest paying company nor the lowest, which might make recruiting difficult going against ads that touted “$10,000 signing bonus … 50 percent commission….blah, blah, blah.”

So, we made a conscious decision: go online. If 70 percent of customers research vehicles on the Internet, it would make sense to recruit people who were comfortable, if not savvy, on the Internet. The results were very impressive. We received over 100 applications within a two week period utilizing sites like and Most, if not all, of these applicants embraced technology and had a skill set consistent with what we were looking for. More often then not, these were people we found to have better character and stability.


Once we screened our candidates, we applied these criteria above to the candidates in the interview process. Now, being hip doesn’t mean what kind of music they listen to or the way they dress, it is an acronym for the type of people who we want on our team. Being hip stands for three things:

H= Hunger for success

We were looking for people who are hungry for success. It can be broken down in a few ways. First, we wanted to find people who were dedicated lifetime learners. In every interview, I asked applicants what was the last book they read. You can find out quite a bit from that answer. The point to this question is that if someone is a dedicated lifetime learner, they will constantly trying to improve themselves. I got quite a chuckle from people who said that they didn’t read or didn’t have time to read.

If you know anyone who has written a book or writes articles for a living, you know it’s quite a task. Here you have an opportunity to learn everything someone knows in a matter of four to five days by reading their book. Why wouldn’t you want to do that? This was absolutely critical in the screening process. Next, we wanted someone who wasn’t satisfied with the status quo. My old boss had a saying that you never stand still. You’re either moving forward or backward. We looked for people who were either moving forward or attempting to move forward in their career.

Finally, a little ambition is always a good thing. If someone is happy with just hanging outside and grabbing people off the lot, that’s probably someone who isn’t a good fit for us. We looked for people that weren’t afraid to get out of their box and prospect. How do you determine a good prospector? We looked at how they lived their lives, what interested them in their private lives as well as what they like to do in their off time.

I= Integrity

This should be obvious, but not as easy to figure as others. I bring this up because some great salespeople lack in the “I” department. You only tolerate what you tolerate. We don’t lie, cheat or steal from our employee, customers, vendors or lenders. We expect that in return from our employees. The problem we found with some people we talked to is that, while probably great salespeople, they had a distorted perspective of what was right and wrong. This is a nonnegotiable and knocked out more than I expected.

P= Positive Attitude

Again, another obvious characteristic, but some people are great salespeople but have a tendency to whine, complain and bring others down. What we were looking for in terms of positive attitude was someone who looked at the glass as half full, not half empty. Positive energy breeds positive energy. It fosters an environment where people want to come to work, care about other employees and look for a way to make an impact in our business.

I’ve had some terrific salespeople who were “high maintenance.” In building a business from the ground up, this wasn’t something we wanted. Positive energy and attitude is like, what in “Good to Great” was called the Flywheel Effect. The Flywheel Effect describes that with time, focus and energy and with all of the team members pointed in the same direction, the companies' efforts build momentum which results in their success. Like the flywheel in an engine, the continuous rotation begins to take on a life of its own. Positives breed positives and negatives breed negatives. If everyone has a positive outlook on life, the positive energy makes things happen. It’s slow at first, but once it gets going, it’s a beautiful thing. Again, you tolerate what you tolerate, and we don’t tolerate negative attitudes or negative people because it slows down the Flywheel Effect.

Don’t Settle!

The number one obstacle I’ve always been warned about is that you’ll have large turnover whenever you start a new business. I can attest to that occurring in the other start up dealership I was involved in. “Good to Great” talks about not settling for or tolerating people that don’t fit our culture. It is about hiring the right people, and then figuring out what seat on the bus they need to be in later. Too often, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this, we hire people that we suspect aren’t a fit just to fill the hole. It was important not to make that mistake here.

I’ve worked for companies that told me to fill my sales floor no matter what. As I mentioned earlier, you run the risk of straying from your company’s goals by hiring to hire. How many times have you taken a square peg and tried to put them in a round hole because you thought they’d grow into the job or your culture would conform them? I’ve been guilty of this in the past, and as we were building this team, we made a conscious decision to not do this. Too often, we reach. I mean reach by taking someone who we think will fit and through a variety of circumstances, it doesn’t work out. It’s like in the NFL draft when a team takes someone that is so far off the draft board, Mel Kiper, Jr. asks what that team is thinking, not that we’ve never heard that before from an owner or corporate office.

While it’s perfectly acceptable to think out of the box and take chances on people, it’s not acceptable to reach if they’re not HIP or don’t fit the culture. Don’t settle for less than you need, even at the expense of running short. Personally, I’d rather run short with the right people than have people who are negative, unmotivated or just burning through my employer’s customers.

When we opened, we ended up hiring 15 regular salespeople and four special finance salespeople. Now, we had some natural attrition, but we only lost three people out of our first group we hired. This is a direct result of applying the above guidelines to our hiring process. Another pleasant surprise was that a couple of the people we hired we needed to “move their seat on the bus”, because they were more qualified then we originally anticipated. The lesson here is to stay true to what you want to accomplish and not settle for anything else and things have a way of working out for the best.

Vol 2, Issue 5