The Right Culture Creates Awesome Car Dealerships

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Every day I speak with dealers who have been selling cars for more than 25 years. That means they started 10 years before Facebook or Twitter appeared on the scene, and nearly 20 years before Instagram.

To go back even farther, in 1990 the first web page was published over the internet, something mysteriously called the World Wide Web (cue the Twilight Zone music). 

By 1996, the internet had more than 10 million users. Today, it’s estimated in excess of four billion.

I go down memory lane as a reminder that selling cars today is unlike what it was just a quarter of a century ago.

Granted, most dealerships are all-in with digital marketing. They maintain web sites, post inventory on multiple third-party sites, follow industry recommendations for search-engine optimization and so on.

Certainly, these are all smart things to do. But those actions are technological and mostly tactical in scope.

The basics of the business haven’t changed: You still greet, qualify customers and conduct walk-arounds the same. But the way to differentiate yourself needs to evolve. You still block and tackle the way you’ve always been taught, but now you run the play a little differently.

One way to run your play differently starts with culture. Ask yourself this simple question: Does your store’s culture satisfy the needs of today’s workers and customers or is it stuck in the past?

Solving the Dealership Culture Problem

It’s probably unrealistic for a car dealership to model its culture after technology companies, such as Google or Facebook. Part of what passes for culture in those enterprises might be better described as perks, from foot massages to free lunches to open work spaces. And that’s not what’s important in a dealership or to car buyers.

So, what is culture in a dealership?  According to Great Place to Work, “Culture is the pervasive beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company. In a great company culture, employees trust leaders, have a sense of pride in their work and enjoy their colleagues – and the culture serves the strategy.”

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Yet as a business topic, culture can seem overwhelming. If you do a Google search on “company culture,” you may be surprised with how many hits you get (hint: a lot).  Here are four steps toward creating a culture to fit today’s expectations:

1. Define

Simply put, your culture is your dealership’s personality. Do what it takes – hold offsite meetings, brainstorm, bring in a consultant – to agree on a common definition of your culture before trying to implement it.

Is teamwork more important than individual accomplishment? Are you a price-driven or value-driven store? (Tip: be value-driven.) Do you bring together the best of traditional and innovative technology? A good place to start is by identifying three to five of your company’s core value propositions. (Wards Industry Voices contributor David Adcock.) 

2. Promote

Once you’ve identified your culture, don’t stop there. Promote it daily in every way, and not just with colorful posters. Consider forming a committee to champion your culture or assign someone the role of supervising its execution.

Create a mantra that captures your culture. I still think about the mantra from the popular TV show “Friday Night Lights”: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.” Make sure your culture is present in your store and not only appears on your website, but across your lot, from car stickers to hanging banners.

Don’t overlook training. Yes, you should train for culture. And not just once. Otherwise, whatever you expect will not be happening. Train on your culture as often as needed to ensure it weaves itself into the fabric of your staff’s daily activity.

3. Reward

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If superior service is part of your culture, find a way to reward your service team for excellent contributions. If helping others is a core value, then acknowledge employees who volunteer after-hours or who assist co-workers or customers. If innovation is important, reward those who suggest practical ways to make your business more efficient. The reverse is equally true. Train those who may not be living up to the promise of your culture. After all, actions speak louder than words.

4. Live it

This is the “walk the talk” part. It must start at the top and ripple throughout, every day, even when nobody is looking. Teamwork. Transparency. Innovation. No matter how you define your culture, it needs to be evident to employees and customers. Managers are role models, cultural ambassadors.

Dealership culture is often assumed, overlooked or misunderstood. Some might feel it is too difficult to change their store’s culture. Or that their culture is baked into the dealership. Or that it simply doesn’t matter.

After years in the automotive industry, I can say with confidence your culture matters, from the employees you hire to the behaviors you reward to the customers you attract. And it’s not just my opinion. Studies show employees are more productive when their values are aligned with a company’s.

Go for it. I know your culture will be awesome.

David Adcock is the executive vice president of Binary Auto Solutions, a leading provider of customized programs for dealerships. He can be reached at [email protected]



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