Crime can occur anywhere, including dealerships.

Consider these recent headlines of violence:

  • “Cleveland Police Investigating Multiple Shooting at East Side Used Auto Dealership”
  • “One Dead, Two Hurt in Attack Outside Gurnee Car Dealership”
  •  “Car Salesman Arrested in Shooting of Boss”

Dealerships and other businesses have little control over random violence and its perpetrators. However, sales personnel by their nature sometimes can potentially detect a perilous situation.

“Salesmen who already know how to read a visitor’s ‘buy’ intention should also use this skill to read an approaching individual’s ‘harm’ intentions,” says Buddy Riddle, a former terrorism investigator and now a deputy sheriff in Texas.

Dealerships are not immune from criminal violence, but they are unlikely spots for rampaging gunmen intending to wreak a maximum amount of havoc.

“Car dealerships are not good targets for a mass shooter, because people there are not concentrated like in a classroom or movie theater where a shooter can do the most harm in the shortest amount of time,” Riddle says.

In general, most workplace shootings are committed by a disgruntled employee or someone who goes to a place of employment to harm a spouse, ex-spouse or former lover.

For this reason, a salesperson’s ability to read faces and body language can serve as an early warning system, Riddle says.

Workplace gun violence still is relatively rare, but businesses of all types, dealerships included, are susceptible to staff-on-staff bullying and abuse. 

Bullets may not fly, but words, behaviors and actions of bullies and abusers threaten co-workers, undermine morale and damage business reputations.

Managers may not be able to stop random acts of violence. But they can thwart workplace abusers and bullies by hiring effectively, training on conduct expectations and implementing zero-tolerance policies, says Terry Dortch, CEO of Automotive Compliance Consultants.

Because negativity can quickly spread in a workplace, employers need to spot the traits of what business-management author Marilee B. Sprenger calls “toxic workers.”

Their characteristics include unbridled gossip, unconstructive criticism, high drama, bitterness, constant complaining and blaming others.

To avoid hiring someone like that, Dortch says job-candidate screeners should be on the lookout for transient work histories, signs of substance abuse, a sense of entitlement and narcissism.

Problem employees also are prone to explosive, manipulative, caustic, dishonest and passive-aggressive behaviors, he says.

These individuals fixate on what they get rather than what they can contribute. Most co-workers of people with toxic personalities seek to avoid them and fear them and will often be manipulated by them. But at times they can be strangely engaging.

People continually exposed to such individuals lose time from work due to stress and perform poorly on the job. Often the toxic personality is a high performer, making it difficult for management to know how to handle the situation.

No one should agonize, Dortch says. “Don’t allow any one employee to get away with unacceptable behavior just because they produce.”

That means toxic individuals must go, even if they are the dealership’s highest producers. Otherwise, the long-term backlash of their behavior can harm the profitability and reputation of the store.

Dealers lacking firm hiring guidelines can be too easily enthralled with a job candidate’s game face and behavior, only to be unpleasantly surprised once the person is on the payroll.

Dortch, whose firm conducts hiring and human-resources compliance training, cites the following to help dealers and managers avoid hiring troublemakers:

  • Screen all candidates: That ranges from senior managers to porters. Do you want a porter with a history of drug abuse driving your vehicles?
  • Look for red flags: Those include credit and debt issues that could lead to theft, especially by someone in a position of handing money and accounts.
  • Trust your eyes and gut: Assess candidates visually when interviewing. Consider the appropriateness of their dress and language skills. Do they make or avoid eye contact? Are they fidgety? Listen for a tendency to avoid answering specific questions about previous positions. Look for work-record gaps and short job tenures.
  • Train everyone: That will not solve everything, but it can eliminate the possibility of being held legally responsible for toxic individuals’ behavior if a matter ends up in court. Training demonstrates a proactive concern for the workplace.

The auto dealership is more likely the target of bullies and abusers than it is of gun violence. But in their own way, toxic individuals can hold dealerships and its employees hostage.

The damage they do might not be fatal, but it is serious enough to take action.

Jim Leman writes about automotive retail operations from Grayslake, IL, where he also works on keeping a ’46 Plymouth Business Coupe on the road.