The Serra Automotive Group operates 42 dealerships and 55 franchises in seven states. Employment has grown to 1,970 from 1,861 in 2018. Unit sales of 23,566 and revenue of $761 million are both up from year-ago levels.
The 12-franchise Serra Auto Plaza in Grand Blanc, MI, captures the No.4 spot on the 2019 WardsAuto Dealer 500 with 13,358 total unit sales and total revenue of $433,385,024.
Matt Serra, grandson of founder Al Serra and executive manager of the Auto Plaza, has led several initiatives that he says have helped attract and develop personnel and create a world-class customer experience.
“Our three-year technician apprentice program addresses the industry-wide lack of quality technicians and matches employees with our values and culture,” says Matt Serra, whose father Joe is president of the dealership group.
Under that program, employees are hired as hourly-rate lube technicians and advance to a flat rate after 90 days of training. After achieving state, factory and Automotive Service Excellence certifications, they are eligible to apprentice for a year with an experienced technician before advancing to be a stand-alone line tech.
“Our lube-tech team is night and day compared to just a few years ago,” Serra says. “We have higher-quality candidates who want to make a career (as an auto technician). Eight people have gone through the program and are now stand-alone line technicians; eight more are in the program pipeline.”
Serra’s service-adviser compensation plan pays 50% weekly salary and 50% bonus, based on a total Auto Plaza pot of controllable gross.
“This does three things,” says Serra. “It allows the adviser to really focus on the customer and educate them on what their vehicle may or may not need where there’s no incentive or pressure to upsell.
“It helps with the team environment, because it’s not about what one individual can write but what the team can do from a sales perspective to feed our technicians.
“And because they’re paid off of a big pot, not just off of what they individually produce, it allows them to have a more flexible, well-balanced schedule. We found that under the traditional pay plan, advisers had to work a lot of hours in order to produce individually enough to make a good living.”
Matt Serra adds: “We’ve always had a good internal culture, treating each other and our customers excellently, but we knew we could take it to another level.
“We turned to the Di Julius Group in Cleveland which specializes in world class-customer experience training. They work with Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton and groups that we look up to. They showed us how to get all 450 people at the Auto Plaza rowing in the same direction to deliver the best customer experience.”
Serra says the message, “Create big impacts through small acts” has had the most notable impact internally and with customers. “It means you can do something for every customer, every time and in every situation, little things like holding a door or just smiling,” he says.
“It’s been a real powerful thing for us.”