A holistic approach has not only built Sherwood Park Toyota into one of Canada’s leading Toyota dealerships, it also helped Art Angielski and his staff ride out the pandemic.
“We run the dealership as one unit, not as separate departments,” said Angielski, Sherwood Park’s general manager. “In meetings, we’re all on the same page, and our managers are focused on what’s best for the dealership as a whole, not just their departments.”
It appears to be working. When the dealership, in the Edmonton bedroom community of Sherwood Park, opened in 2007, the business plan called for 700 new-vehicle sales a year. In its first 10 months, it more than doubled that target.
In 2020, despite the impact of the pandemic, Sherwood Park sold 2,203 new vehicles, said Angielski, adding that his dealership is a perennial Prairie zone leader and is in the top three across Canada.
Toyota Canada doesn’t divulge dealership sales numbers, but spokesman Michael Bouliane confirmed that Sherwood Park Toyota is “one of our top volume dealers in Canada.”
PROFITS CAN’T BE RUSHED
Angielski also cited the decision-making process surrounding used cars and the effort expended on reconditioning inventory before it’s sold. While other used-car managers might wish to skimp on reconditioning and hoard profits, Angielski said, his departments are willing to split profits — or even take less profit — to deliver a better car to the customer.
“We sacrifice short-term gain for a long-term, stable profit,” he said.
The team approach sounds easy in concept but is difficult to pull off in practice, said Shane Weimer, a partner and national automotive retail leader in the global accounting and consulting practice of BDO Canada.
“It can get very tough to get everybody to buy in on this, especially if it means managers are not making as much money,” Weimer said. “I’d be very surprised if the compensation structure didn’t take that into account.”
It does, said Angielski, adding that employees typically earn more than their contemporaries at other dealerships.
“It’s been going through an evolution. When we started, I never looked at the car business and tried to replicate what’s out there. We built a culture where the dealership comes first.
“Our pay structure is unique. It’s why we’re outperforming everybody.
Sales managers, for example, aren’t paid based only on the performance of their own departments but on the performance of the sales operation as a whole, Angielski said.
PANDEMIC SLUMP? HARDLY
The holistic approach also informed his response to dealing with the pandemic, when no staff were laid off and the dealership maintained its pace.
“My employees have been with me through the good times and the bad times,” Angielski said. “If we have to put money back into the business, we’ll ride this out as long as we can.”
The result? In 2020, Sherwood Park beat its frenetic new-vehicle pace of 2019 by one car, 2,203 to 2,202. This, while overall sales in Canada last year fell 20 per cent, and Toyota sales decreased 19 per cent.
Angielski credits much of his dealership’s success to that two-way loyalty. Few staff leave; higher-ranking positions are usually filled by promotions; and staff are part of the community, running into customers at baseball or hockey games, pitching in where needed and patronizing local businesses.
It starts with one question: “If I don’t buy from my neighbour, how can they buy from me?”
As a result, Angielski’s repeat and referral business is “north of 50 per cent.”
‘HOW HE TREATS HIS PEOPLE’
Angielski’s management style deserves credit, Weimer said. “When you do what’s right for employees, it’s not the pay that’s keeping them there,” he said. “Certainly, they’re all paid well, but I’m sure it’s how he treats his people.”
Turnover can be a killer in the automotive trade, Weimer said, so keeping that down is key to longterm, sustainable customer relationships and profits.
“I’ve seen dealers at over 40-per-cent turnover in a year,” he said. “Even at 20-per-cent turnover, you have hiring costs, training costs, opportunity costs as new staff get up to speed.
“The team mentality wins. Always has and always will.”
The approach is translatable to other dealerships, Weimer said, but aspects of it are difficult in larger centres. “It’s not the team mentality that’s difficult; that you definitely can do,” he said. “With a very large community, it’s harder to get into the community and show that support when every other dealership is trying to do the same.”