John Kot has long been a hands-on trainer, an approach he credits with facilitating employee buy-in and helping him grow his business.
“I’m training the staff myself,” said Kot, who employs 229 people at eight dealerships in British Columbia. “Employees appreciate that the president is doing this, rather than someone from the outside.” Kot said his self-led training — an approach he has taken since buying his first dealership 20 years ago — enhances employee satisfaction and retention, which in turn boosts sales performance and customer satisfaction.
At his Victoria Hyundai dealership, for example, there has been no turnover of sales staff in two years. Turnover at his seven other stores has been less than five per cent.
“Sales staff feel they’re getting developed,” Kot said. “They see so many of the managers started on sales floor.
“Eighty per cent of our management has been developed homegrown, with the extensive training, and [that] is key to the success of the company. They all have become our work family.”
Kot Auto Group is based in Kelowna, about 450 kilometres east of Vancouver. The company devotes three hours a week per dealership for training. One of those hours is conducted by Kot, who rotates through the locations. Other sessions are led by each dealership’s senior management.
Kot’s sessions are recorded and posted on a YouTube channel that’s open to the public.
DO-IT-YOURSELF HAS RISKS
While Kot has a proven track record, his training approach is not suitable for every organization, said Robert Levesque, a Nova Scotia-based consultant who has worked with automakers and dealerships for decades.
“John is one of the best operators out there,” Levesque said. “This guy is hands-on, and I respect everything that he does.”
However, any dealer who relies entirely on internal resources for training risks missing out on a global overview of trends in the industry. “They are so close to the trees, they don’t see the forest anymore,” Levesque said.
Sometimes, he said, dealer principals fail to recognize shortcomings in their own strategies.
Rather than rely entirely on “if-it’s-not-broke, don’t-fix-it” strategies rooted in traditional approaches, a dealer can hire an outside consultant, who can more easily identify shifts in the industry, Levesque said.
“This is the most dangerous thing that can come to any company,” he said. “We call it paradigm paralysis.”
Kot said the best way to nurture development of skills is to share the knowledge he has accumulated over nearly four decades. He began selling cars part time at age 17 in his hometown of Weyburn, Sask., 115 kilometres southeast of Regina, and formed Kot Auto Group after purchasing his first dealership, Kelowna Hyundai, in 2011.
His lessons include not only basic sales techniques such as greeting strategies, referrals and closing but also fixed-ops and service processes and general topics such as the corporate vision.
He even cites lessons from his sports idol, NHL hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.
“I’ve had a great response from the employees by doing this,” Kot said. “They constantly reach out after and want to chat more.”
Yet, staff buy-in also hinges on Kot’s willingness to walk the talk. “If I want to teach someone to be on social media, then I have to be on social media myself.”
Kot still finds time to get directly involved in the sales process, demonstrating to staff that he understands the challenges they face in the rapidly evolving sales environment.
“I used to be a great salesperson,” Kot says in one of nearly 30 training videos on YouTube. “I’ve always been pretty good at building rapport and being able to close a deal. ... But the business is changing.”
The shift in buyers’ expectations accelerated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a desire for touchless and remote interactions. Kot wants his dealerships to “get ahead of the curve” by adopting new technologies as they become available, he said. Dealerships need to be able to provide a seamless experience, using text and video to update customers and tablets to simplify the service process.
Kot said he does a lot of self-training, mining insights from industry leaders. But Levesque questioned how a CEO could find the time to both run a dealership group and stay up to date on industry trends.
Levesque pointed to the use of the SnapCell or BombBomb video messaging software to send replies to customer inquiries. A sales associate can quickly prepare a customized video walkaround of an in-stock car, showing a potential customer its features.
“When a customer gets that reply, the response rate is multiplied by 10,” Levesque said. “That dealership is not going to come up with that strategy on their own.”
Levesque conceded that Kot leads by example, and that has value. “The risk he’s facing,” Levesque said, “is the market will shift, and his group will be left behind.”