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Fixing a dealership’s culture starts by identifying the roadblock.

Company Culture at the Dealership

The perfect dealership culture is a delicate formula because it has to:

  1. Be authentic


  1. Resonate throughout the dealership and community.

To achieve a great company culture isn’t as simple as a creative marketing message or rules handed down from top management. Culture issues generally exist because there are roadblocks in more than one place. To truly get to a company culture that sticks and resonates, you have to find your roadblocks, address them, and continue to identify if roadblocks reemerge.

Many people think that roadblocks stop and start with the sales department. Others point fingers at all other departments. The reality is that a single customer looking to do business with us touches every single department in an effort to drive away in a new car. Thinking that way will lead us to evaluate all departments and bridge those departments together.

Starting with the sales team is the easiest place to start (as long as it isn’t where you end). Sales teams are the faces of your culture. If they feel unappreciated or aren’t given the right tools, it will filter into every conversation had with customers. Sales teams require written rules and processes, expectations, and training. Those three components can drastically change the dynamics of your showroom for the better. Just be sure to follow through with ____ if any individuals don’t adhere to the written policies and culture rules.

Sales Managers are more important to address in my opinion than anyone else. These people set the tone of what both customers and employees experience. Poor management (led by fear or berating) will quickly destroy your efforts. Hold them to higher standards and stick to the same disciplinary actions if they become toxic to your culture.

Finance. Ah, Finance. Make sure they play nice, educate, and work with the sales team and the back office. There is no need to create hierarchies where none are needed. The processes of handing off paperwork and/or customers should be seamless. The communication should flow back and forth between any departments that need to work together to get that customer closed, financed, and posted to your DMS.

I’m not sure why we give such little attention to the Back Office. They generally keep our operations running smoothly and make sure we get paid! These people shouldn’t be given the run around. They should be given what they require to keep things running smoothly shouldn’t they?

Internet teams and/or BDC teams should really be extensions of the sales team, not the red-headed step children. Managers of both teams should be given authority and respect. Sales Teams and Internet/BDC teams need to work hand in hand. The handoff of a customer to any department needs to be smooth, consistent, and timely. The experience needs to match. Far too many dealers have great initial experiences when contacting from the Internet but in-person doesn’t match and customers are lost (and armed with perfect bad review content).

Ownership can often times be the roadblock. Giving certain 30 car-a-month guys free passes when they break the rules, hiring people they shouldn’t be, keeping people they shouldn’t be. not understanding current marketing needs, or not having the vision for that culture you feel is important to set you apart as a dealership. We may feel that there is little we can do here. My advice is to speak in terms they understand. Move the needle where they need to see it move and get their buy-in. I’ve done the impossible in making ownership see the value in these things, so I know one person can make a difference!

Everyone else. Every single person in your dealership that deals with a customer (or maybe even doesn’t) should be armed with your voice, mission, culture, or whatever you want to call it. Receptionists talk to your customers and often times give them the very first (and sometimes last) impression. Sales teams are the ones who give your customer the first impression, the last impression, and all the ones in between. Finance talks to customers when they feel most vulnerable and excited. Get ready makes sure the vehicles look like the customer is expecting. The back office answers their questions and handles their issues with trade-ins after the sale. Service keeps in touch with them and takes care of them until they’re ready to be sold again. Make sure that the words they use, the manner in which they speak to your customers, the processes they put their customers through, and their follow-up practices match what you want your company’s message to be. Do they present themselves the way you want? Do they do the little things you want your dealership to be remembered for?

Sometimes it is the owners that are the problem and sometimes it is the get ready team or finance. It doesn’t mean you have to have the perfect team, but you have to make sure you have the right process. Any break can cause a culture to fail.

John Gatt
Culture is defined as the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguish one group of people from another..In my opinion the culture of any dealership begins with ownership having a vision of what they want their dealership to attain. Two main constituents are their customers and their total employee base from GM to the Get Ready department. The owners must clearly describe what customer experience is their goal and then hire a team of qualified people who understand and have the skills needed to translate the ides into reality. Then there must be complete loyalty to and from the owner and each employee. Each person must be motivated to earn the privilege of a satisfying career in a organization that stands out from all other dealerships.
Steve Tuschen
It is important to have a clear vision, inspect what you expect, but at the end of the day you do what you see management and your peers do. You can say provide great customer service to everyone, but if you then take advantage of the customer what does that show your customer and that is the culture you build, you have to walk the talk. A manager should be out showing their people what needs to be done. Picking up trash on the lot, not telling someone to go pickup trash, spend time in the different departments to learn their processes, go clean cars for a day and see what they are doing. Go set tire pressures in the quick lube and chat with people you would never spend time with. That will build a culture where people feel they are cared about, listen to them.
Shannon Hammons
Subi, Very well written and a lot of great points.

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