A dealer once told me the following story, which I believe is quite typical in our industry:

“I remember sitting at my desk one day at my dealership, thinking all was right with the world, when my service manager walks in to my office, drops the keys to his demo on my desk, tells me he can't take it any more, and walks out of the dealership.

“My wife and I had plans to go out for dinner. I canceled (I had lost my appetite anyhow). Then I sat there. With that sinking, okay-what-do-I-do-now feeling in the pit of my stomach. I considered my alternatives; put an ad in the paper? Promote a green pea service advisor? Call around? Basically that's all that I could think of to do.”

The car business is tough, Wimps need not apply. So much of it is based on things that the dealer has only moderate control over — interest rates, the economy, the capriciousness of factory policies, product, allocation, etc. Yet the biggest problem dealers all over the country tell me that they continually have is utterly controllable. That is, finding and retaining good people.

For some tips, I asked Eric Blaushild, founder of AutoPeople, a national recruiting firm for car dealers. “Your first priority,” he says, “is to hold on to the good people you have.”

He offers the following:

Things To Do To Keep the Good Employees

#1 Give, and show, each and every person who reports to you dignity and respect.

#2 Thank them REGULARLY for the job they are doing.

#3 Ask them often what you can do to help them do their jobs.

#4 Make certain that their working conditions are good.

#5 Involve them in decisions that affect their departments.

#6 Remuneration MUST be at or above market.

#7 Each employee must have the long-term opportunity to advance, and they MUST know it.

#8 Make sure they know what YOU are doing.

#9 Let them know every time you see them that you care about them.

#10 Care about them.

Inevitably the time comes when you need to replace someone. How do you go about it? Here's one method to avoid — running an ad in the classified section of the newspaper.

Numerous surveys show that only the unemployed, least loyal and most poorly motivated of all employees respond to classified ads.

After all, what effective employee in his or her right mind is going to jeopardize his or her career by confiding to a post office box? In fact, what good productive manager is going to peruse the want ads anyhow?

Blaushild says, “Good people can be found through the newspaper rigmarole. But you may as well buy a lottery ticket. It's the same process.”

How to find Mr. or Ms. Right then?

Says Blaushild, “There are several effective ways. Keep track of good people you encounter over the years. Remember, effective workers don't have to look for a job. They're either content where they are or, if they're interested in advancing their careers, they're probably hooked up with a good search firm.

“Cultivate people within your organization. That's probably the best way. And don't be afraid of a good reliable recruiting firm. They're busy all the time doing what you do only in times of duress or emergency. In fact, our surveys confirm that someone promoted from within an organization has a much higher probability of success than any other method.

“Someone recruited through an executive recruiting firm such as AutoPeople would be the second method of choice, while the worker found through the help-wanted ads comes in dead last.

“For unknown reasons, some business owners place far more time, money and effort into purchasing the “best” equipment than they do in hiring the best manager for the job, when everybody knows that it's the person, not the equipment that's going to make or break the enterprise,” Blaushild concludes.

So many of a dealership's problems are caused by incompetent or mediocre people. But don't despair. There are ways to find the good ones. A dealership, like a baseball team, should develop and nurture as much of its own talent as possible. When you must look outside of your organization, consider a recruiter. There are several quality automotive recruitment firms out there.

Here's my last point, and perhaps it's the most important:

You, as the dealer/principal must (and I cannot stress this emphatically enough) personally interview and hire your key people. This is one task you cannot delegate.

Your managers often have priorities much different than your own. Remarkably, many won't hire people whom they perceive as being more competent than they are. They think, mistakenly, that to look good they must surround themselves with mediocrity. Your dealership must reflect your vision, not theirs.

When I visit a dealer I generally see a correlation between his or her attitude towards employees and the profitability of the dealership. The recruitment and retention of quality people should be your “Job 1.” All else flows from that.

Don Ray is the president of the George B. Jones Companies, a national accounting and consulting group for retail automobile dealers. If you would like to know more about tax issues facing dealers, contact him at 800-323-6736 and donr@gbj.com.