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Solving the Dealership-Life Imbalance

Brutal work schedules lead to spousal pressure and high turnover. Da Man has a solution you can implement today.

April 6, 2016

The car business is tough. The hours are long. We work nights and weekends. If you’re not here, you’re not selling cars. If you’re not selling cars, you’re not making a living.

I’ve been in the retail side of this business for 40 years. I’ve seen many things change and evolve, but the extreme work schedule really hasn’t changed that much. Many salespeople and managers find themselves putting in up to 60 hours a week.

What do you want, a 40-hour workweek? You already know the answer. “Suck it up, buttercup! We need coverage!”

Recently, on one of my blogs, a young car salesman new to the business asked how he could achieve some sort of balance between family life and the demands of the dealership. As is all too often the case, his wife, parents and in-laws are constantly on his back for not spending enough time at home with the kids. Sure, he’s making money — double the income from his previous job — and their quality of their life has greatly improved. But they’re beating him up and treating him as if it was his decision not to be home.

“Spouse pressure” is the No. 1 reason for the high rate of turnover in dealerships. I’ve been saying so for at least 30 years. I’ve written about it and featured it in many management seminars and keynote speeches.

You might guess I’m a bachelor, and you might be wrong. I’m just lucky. My wife, Debbie, has stuck by me from the time I was a salesman and sales manager working from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Leaving retail didn’t reduce my time away from home either, as I’ve been on the road more than 200 days a year for nearly 30 years, since starting my training company. Her family didn’t get it, at least not at first. But I made good money and provided a high quality of life and financial security.

The opportunities are staggering. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to pay the price to get there.

Let’s say you’re a high school graduate and you’ve narrowed your career options to surgeon or car salesman. To become a surgeon, you will have to complete four years of college and another four years of medical school, where you’ll rack up about $100,000 in student loans. You then have to complete a two-year residency (which doesn’t pay much) before you will have an opportunity to join a private practice or buy into a partnership. The going rate for the latter is about $250,000. If you make it that far, after 10 years, you can start to put a serious dent in all that debt.

Now let’s say you decide to skip college altogether and apply for a job at the local car dealership. A mid- to high-performing sales pro in a store with a decent pay plan can make $100,000 in his or her first year. Become a manager and you double or triple that income. After 10 years, you will have made more than a million dollars, and maybe, just maybe, you can become a dealer or start a company in an associated industry and pull down at least $1 million a year.

In other words, a green pea has a better chance of becoming a millionaire in 10 years than a freshman pre-med student.

When dealers ask me how to reduce turnover, I always tell them to reduce hours, increase staff and divide them into three teams. But I’m not flooding the floor. I want to reduce the hours per team — including the manager of that team, closers and everybody in the variable departments. The new schedule includes some nights off and one weekend a month off, mandatory.

Whenever you’re open, you’ve got two teams on and one team off. On the last weekend of the month, it’s all hands on deck. Every time a dealership loosens the schedules and reduces hours, productivity increases. There’s also less friction and stress on the floor.

Long hours and high turnover are a huge problem, but there is a solution. As a dealer or top manager, you can’t be afraid to take a leap and make the necessary changes. Your employees — and their families — will thank you. 

Jim Ziegler is the president of Ziegler SuperSystems Inc. Contact him at


  1. 1. F&I Dude [ April 19, 2016 @ 12:42PM ]

    I love reading your column, but you make it sound like it's easy to become a car salesman and make six figures. Only the best sales guys make over $100K - I'd say fewer than 1 out of 10? Most guys quit within 6 months.

  2. 2. CarZzzar [ April 19, 2016 @ 01:30PM ]

    Jim...I have been doing exactly this for the past 5 years. This model enabled me to attract a whole new type of person into the retail side of the car business. We worked the staff 36 scheduled hours with the expectation that they may have to work 40-45 hours. Each team of Product Presenters (liners) had a Floor Sales Director (closer) assigned to the team. The team trained together on a daily basis. The income achieved by position was all about the expectation given in the interview process. My product presenters earned $50k and the closers over $100k.

  3. 3. Arnold [ April 20, 2016 @ 06:05AM ]

    Having come from another career field to start this second career I find the industry filled with poor management and ownership strategies

    You have outlined the number one problem I've seen in my 3 short years in the biz

    I chuckle when I see the turnover bitching when a great prospect walks out to make less or when Csi blame gets projected and never analyzed properly

    In the coming years the industry will significantly change as the marketing will be forced to deal with the next generation of buyers. The sales force will have to match the buyer experience. Those companies who get this will benefit those who don't won't. I recently overheard the talk of let's unionize... think about it imagine the consequences good and bad. Just don't overlook the reason for such a conversation.

  4. 4. Claudia Willett [ April 21, 2016 @ 04:19AM ]

    Yup...25 years of hours beyond 40 hrs per week..Weddings and birthdays and other family occasions missed..A heart attack stopped me in my tracks..So know the stress in the car biz can take its toll..The money is great but the piper will be paid.

  5. 5. James [ May 16, 2018 @ 08:16AM ]

    I would love to see this take place at my dealership. I am new to the business, and am doing good, but I am having to miss so much with my family that I am beginning to think that I should seek life elsewhere. I love the money I make, but I don't feel like it is worth losing my family to do it.

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Author Bio

Jim Ziegler

President & CEO of Ziegler SuperSystems

Jim 'Da Man' Ziegler joined the magazine in 2011 to deliver his On-the-Point message about the car business to dealer principals and store managers. He'll offer strategy advice on everything from sales and F&I to marketing in the digital age. Catch him every month at

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