When Michael Norris started his career in automotive sales three decades ago, he vowed right away to find better ways to build a thriving workplace culture.
“My first manager said when [customers] walk into a showroom you should see a $300 bill on their forehead, and you want to get it.
“I thought, ‘My God, can you think of anything worse to train people?’ ”
Norris created what he calls a “faith-based” management approach, which helped his store, Volvo Cars Edmonton, land on Automotive News Canada’s 2023 list of the Best Dealerships To Work For.
“We have no religious symbols at the dealership at all,” said Norris, who employs 58 people. “We all say we work for the big boss. You can have a different boss.
“If your decisions are guided by ‘Is it the right thing to do?’ things work out very well, especially for the customers and each other.”
Communication and workplace culture emerged as key differentiators between the Best Dealerships and those that didn’t make the list of 35. For example, at winning dealerships, an average of 96 per cent of employees said they were “treated with respect, not as just a number,” compared with 79 per cent at nonwinners, according to the survey administered by Workforce Research Group.
REVVED UP ON RACING
The Best Dealerships To Work For also scored high on communicating management’s goals and ensuring employees had fun.
Motorsports help bring employees together at McLaren Toronto, said General Manager Chris Green.
“The people that work here are true, genuine car people. That’s where it really starts from.
“We’re passionate people, to the extent that some of us have motorsports backgrounds.”
All staff are involved in regular track days at the Canadian Tire Mosport Park, 95 kilometres northeast of Toronto, driving their personal vehicles as well as cars from the dealership.
There are other opportunities for the staff of 37 to bond outside of work, such as weekend barbecues at the store, restaurant dinners, karting and laser tag.
The highlight is participation in an annual charity race at Canadian Tire Mosport Park. McLaren Toronto races a BMW 330i, with staff involved in the vehicle’s preparation.
“You get excited about it,” said Green, adding that these shared experiences translate into better performance at the dealership.
“It’s enthusiasm, it’s wanting to be here, it’s wanting to do better what you do, wanting to do better for your customers.”
It also contributes to employee retention. McLaren Toronto has some of the most experienced technicians in the 14-store Pfaff Automotive Partners group, Green said.
SHARED VISION, VALUES
Four Birchwood Automotive Group stores — Birchwood Honda on Regent, Birchwood Kia West, Birchwood Toyota and Jaguar-Land Rover Winnipeg — made the 2023 Best Dealerships list. The “mission, vision, values, goals and expectations are shared openly with every team member,” said Sarah Giesbrecht, director of human resources services at the group.
“We value everyone’s feedback on how we can improve and achieve our individual and team goals together.
“It is crucial for all team leaders to maintain an open-door policy so that every team member feels comfortable sharing successes, challenges and ideas for improvement,” she said.
Birchwood is based in Winnipeg and has 16 dealerships in Manitoba.
Regular meetings with managers are documented and address career development, achievements, values, character and work ethic, Giesbrecht said.
“Once they’ve set up the plan, their manager works as a coach to help them attain their career goals.”
Norris said a dealership with a strong moral compass leads to happier employees and a healthier bottom line.
“We’re the most awarded [Volvo] dealership in Canada,” he said.
According to the Workforce Research Group survey, 98 per cent of employees at winning stores said their dealerships were committed to producing high-quality products and services, compared with 88 per cent at nonwinners.
Dealers can be successful with a money-based approach, Norris said, but a moral approach to deal-making is also profitable and pays dividends by fostering trust with customers.
“If people realize they’re potentially getting ripped off, they’re going to fight for every dollar.
“If they’ve been back for their fifth vehicle, and they know their family is respected, treated well and trusted, negotiations are very fast and fair,” he said.
“They know we’re not going to take advantage of them."