Germain Honda of Dublin, OH, No.133 on the 2015 WardsAuto Dealer 500, sold 3,033 new cars and 2,378 used cars last year, an increase of 2% and 10%, respectively. That’s fine but the store saw an 18% jump in service gross.
“In 2014, we didn’t grow new-car volume as much as we would have liked, but we increased the pre-owned sales by increasing our sales staff and building the inventory,” says Jessica Germain, the store’s former general manager who now serves as the Germain group’s director of customer experience and employee engagement.
The Germain dealership group has owned the Honda store for five years, “and we’re still figuring out the potential of the pre-owned market in the area,” Germain says. “We’re doing 150-200 cars a month, but the general manager thinks there’s potential for 300 pre-owned a month.”
The dealership group based in Columbus, OH, has 15 stores in Ohio, Florida, and Michigan. Years ago, it adopted a decidedly different employment strategy of hiring people with no automotive experience.
“We made that decision as a group because we felt in order to provide the right customer experience, we needed to get people who understand what customer service means,” Germain says.
“Those with automotive backgrounds we considered almost a liability more than an asset, because they had the traditional skill sets and habits that customers had been complaining about for years; the whole stereotypical car salesman behavior.
“We’d rather get people who are customer-centric, have a great personality, then teach them our process and our product. There’s no reason they have to have any previous experience in order to do that.”
Germain recruits at college career fairs, including Ohio State University’s.
“We’re trying to attract people who don’t know about the wonderful opportunities that our industry provides and the extremely competitive coming-out-of-college wages,” Germain says.
Once onboard, employees’ accountability is associated with their pay, but not in the form of a bonus.
“For so long, the thinking was if you get good CSI we’re going to bonus you,” Germain says. “We got away from that because we thought, ‘Why are we (giving bonuses) for something that’s part of your job?’”
Satisfying customers is an expectation not an exception, she says. “It’s a requirement of the position.”
Germain’s Dublin store is located less than an hour from assembly plant in Marysville, OH that manufactures the Honda Accord and Acura TLX and ILX. This has given the dealership a rare opportunity to form relationships with plant employees and strengthen communication and understanding between factory and dealer.
“A small group of plant leaders spent a whole morning with us twice,” Germain says. “We gave them a tour of our facility and they had an opportunity to ask our associates about customer requests and mechanical issues. It was really beneficial for both parties because there’s not a lot of communication directly from the dealer to the plant supervisors and team leaders. We can relay information through a tech line, but there’s not really anything to relay information directly to the people at the plant. The plant associates said they get wrapped up in their own world, so its nice to get out there and see the retail side of it in action – to take the perspective of a customer or a technician. It was really valuable.”