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 [email protected]

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Jim Ziegler
Jim Ziegler

Jim Ziegler

Jim Ziegler ranks among the industry's most recognized and honored trainers, consultants, authors, speakers, and forecasters.

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Jim Ziegler ranks among the industry's most recognized and honored trainers, consultants, authors, speakers, and forecasters.

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