I was having a conversation the other day with my former Controller who is now selling cars at a dealership in South Florida. Within the last year, she relocated and wasn’t able to find a controller’s job, so she decided to go into auto sales. The conversation was concerning how to sell more cars and make more money.
Let me share with you some personal history. When I first started selling cars in the early ’70s I, and many of my co-workers, worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. (Dealerships were closed on Sundays back in those days.)
For those of us who were successful, that is what we did. For the most part that never changed in my entire dealership days, as a sales person, manager or dealer. I like working so it was never a big deal to me.
In 1980 I became a partner in my first dealership with my good friend, mentor and long time business partner Ashton Lewis from Chesapeake, VA. At that time Ashton owned Bill Lewis Chevrolet in Portsmouth, VA. Our partnership started with Parkway Pontiac-Volvo in Chesapeake, VA.
A couple of years prior to that I left the retail automobile business to work for ADR, an F&I training company out of Raleigh, NC becoming Vice-President of Sales. At that time we had over 850 dealers in 7 southeastern states. To put things in perspective, one of the current, larger F&I companies is JM&A, part of Southeast Toyota. They weren’t even a factor in the F&I business in those days. It was Pat Ryan and ADR and that was about it. It was during that time I got some great exposure to many ways of doing business.
When Ashton and I opened Parkway Pontiac-Volvo in 1980 I was determined to change the business by focusing on the training and development of people. We opened an off-site training center for the express purpose of recruiting and training a different breed of sales person. We had two fulltime trainers/recruiters and a very nice training center with closed circuit TV for role playing, etc.
We primarily recruited college graduates on the pretense that they were entering into a management training program. Our training program not only consisted of spending two weeks in the classroom and ongoing training, but also included a rotation through the various departments in order for them to become familiar with all aspects of the operation.
I was very demanding about a dress code. Somewhere along the way I had read the book "Dress For Success," and I was totally sold (and I still am) on a dark suit and a long sleeved white shirt. I think someone spending $20,000 to $30,000 with you is deserving of that sort of respect. Will it sell more cars for you? Probably not. Will you perform better if you look the part? Absolutely.
So here’s the point, back in 1980 we were trying to solve the recruiting and hiring problem and to this day it’s not changed very much at all.
If a new sales person is going to earn a living they need to work bell to bell, period. If they work bell to bell, they can earn a decent living, but they lose their family and social life because they don’t have the time and energy. If they work only their shift they eventually quit or lose their job because they aren’t earning any money.
According to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students who will graduate this spring are receiving job offers with starting salaries averaging $50,034 per year, up 3.5% from last year.
Keep in mind that is an average, some higher some lower, but it’s the average. Go look at your records. Of the sales people who worked a full year last year what was their average? Now realize the average you are looking at includes some who have been with you for many, many years. I’m thinking even with that, your average may be well below a first year worker with a college degree?
I shudder to think what your numbers might look like if you pulled out those sales people who have been with you for more than 12 months and did your calculation on just the ones with only one year of experience.
So, we are right where we started back in the early 80’s. Unless a new sales person works a ton of hours they cannot make any money. And, if they work the hours, make money, they don’t have a life. After all these years we still have not been able to solve the two biggest problems. Hours and money.
Another issue the industry is facing is that we are still trying to hire people with skills that do not fit today’s buyer. Today’s buyer and today’s seller are the same people. Think on that one for a minute.
With the Internet and the amount of online selling that continues to grow we have to think differently about the type of people we hire, the skill sets, the type of selling processes we utilize, the hours we require them to work and the way we compensate them.
So back to the conversation with my former Controller who is now selling cars. Here’s what I told her: "You will never be successful, and you will never make any real money working your shift. If you are not willing to pay the price you are wasting your time." It’s the same conversation I would have had with her some 30 years ago. Just plain sad. That’s all I’m gonna say, Tommy Gibbs