From the age of 16, I have been a guy who grew up in auto dealerships. I’ve held 11 positions over 29 years — 24 working for the same dealer and the last five for a reconditioning company. I’ve held many positions in a dealership, from office clerk to director. When I thought I had experienced it all, I was pleasantly surprised with new challenges every new day.
From my dealership experience and observations from my current seat, good processes and good people are the pinnacles of success.
I argue these two points here:
- Dealerships everywhere miss the mark when it comes to their non-revenue-producing employees
- When support teams ask for something, the importance of getting that “ask” handled quickly is much greater than you
Hit the Mark
I am no stranger to personnel expense. Fifty-two percent of my annual gross as a dealership manager went to personnel, making it the most expensive line on the financial statement.
I’m not here to preach about spending less on people or arguing you should save yourself into a bigger net profit. It’s more about efficiency and how dealerships everywhere miss the mark when ignoring or minimizing the value of non-revenue-producing employees to your dealership’s (and your) success.
When your support team asks for something it’s because they need it to complete a more significant task. Holding a payable is just a small part of cutting a check, finalizing a car deal, and getting a vehicle titled. You have a $250 bill on your desk, but it’s holding up $80,000. Plus, your dealer is still covering holding costs until that $80,000 is in your bank.
You have taken an hourly employee off their task. There’s only one of them (AP support), but they support 11 of you, including department heads. That means this holdup is also delaying 11 people because a five-minute task isn’t getting done, which quickly turns into an hour of inefficiency. I was a department head before I realized I was the problem. Arrogance is expensive, and you can quote me on that. When your support team asks for something, the importance of getting it done quickly is much greater than you.
I talk efficiency every day, but it’s usually related to service, parts, body shop, and sales. Business office efficiency rarely comes up, but it’s just as vital, if not more so, from a financial standpoint as vehicle holding costs and contracts in transit. Inefficiency here adds up to big money when the dealer’s left holding the expense instead of the bank.
Equip for Efficiency
Let’s talk tools, specifically technology hardware. I visit many dealerships, and too often, the business office is stacked with hand-me-down computer equipment plagued with slow, inadequate processors and low memory. That gigantic copy, scan, and print machine you require team members to share is stuck in a corner room away from desks. Reread those last two sentences, and if you don’t cringe, I believe you’re comfortable with wasting money.
We literally have people paid by the minute carrying out tasks that take time. Rather than asking someone to work harder, think about what we can do as department heads to help them work smarter by eliminating things that slow them down. Making minor adjustments can easily justify a $500 investment in hardware and could keep you from having to add that extra headcount. A $10-per-hour-employee that is 10% more efficient will cover your $500 investment in 2.8 months.
- Cut down their number of trips around the office by installing a small all-in-one printer, copy, scan machine at each users’ desks. You can purchase these for around $100, and high-yield aftermarket replacement toner cartridges are available from Amazon for $30. But remember, some brands have reconfigured their firmware to reject aftermarket cartridges. A multi-task machine like described in use at each desk will reduce multiple trips and eliminate the unproductive “walk” and “copier talk” time between team members who huddle there.
- Build, buy, or upgrade hardware in computers that exceed the minimum requirements to run your DMS. Have at least two monitors per workstation. Our team members almost always run multiple tools in our business, i.e., CDK, vAuto, Rapid Recon, banking, desking tools, etc. The minimum hardware requirement will let them down the moment they do more than clock in.
Now that hardware is upgraded and other efficiency changes made, it’s wise to focus on the softer upgrades that inspire.
A Good RX
Respect support people.
I once brought an accounts team member to tears because I was frustrated that she didn’t understand me. I reacted poorly, and not that she wasn’t capable of understanding, but I wasn’t explaining it in a manner she could understand. I had way more information than she did, and I made her feel inferior when I told her, “it’s not that hard.” It wasn’t that hard for me because I had the knowledge and the right tools. I was expecting her to hit a baseball out of the park with a spaghetti noodle. The problem was me and how I was explaining it. Note: If all your support team is frustrating you, search the mirror for the solution.
Let them know you care. A thank you, an occasional treat, and responding positively to someone having a bad day goes a long way. Besides making me feel better because I wanted to be a better guy, subtle acts of kindness made my job easier. But I’m not saying you now have a hall pass to be disingenuous. Your team members aren’t naïve, and they’ll see right through your fake actions.
Everyone in the dealership behaves and performs to the level set by management. A little attention and kindness paid to those rarely in the limelight will, as the great motivational writer and speaker Dale Carnegie taught generations, “how to win friends and influence people.”
A successful business is a built on a solid foundation supported by non-revenue-producing personnel. Give them the leadership, communications, efficiency tools, and respect they deserve.
Anthony Greenhalgh is the director of marketing and sales for reconditioning workflow company Rapid Recon. He joined the company in 2016 out of dealership operations as a fixed operations manager.