Power to the People
“Great employees take great care of customers,” says the general manager of McGeorge Toyota in the Richmond suburb of Henrico, Va. “It’s all about employees and customer retention. I’ve always gone after customer satisfaction with employee satisfaction. People who are well-trained, who love what they do, take the best care of customers. That’s been my approach.”
Farlow shares that perspective with third-generation Dealer Principal Rod McGeorge.
“Rod and I are a lot alike in the way we think of success,” Farlow says. “It’s about what we can do for our employees, and that gives us a very high retention rate. When I got here in 2007, we had about 120 employees. Now we have about 40 more, most have been added in service operations. But it’s basically the same team I walked into eight years ago.”
Overall sales retention is 49.4 percent, while service retention is 65.8 percent.
As for employee retention: “Our sales turnover is under 20 percent, and our service turnover is next to nothing,” Farlow says.
To describe the atmosphere for McGeorge Toyota employees, Finance Manager Ed Adams uses a single word: Empowered.
“We’re empowered to make sure that our customers’ satisfaction comes first,” Adams says. “Service, parts, sales, we all have a tight-knit relationship. I have 33 years in the business and 12 years at McGeorge. Never have I been in such a family-oriented atmosphere. It’s not what we’re taught, it’s just what it’s like working with these people.”
General Manager Bob Farlow (second from right), like Dealer Principal Rod McGeorge, does everything he can to keep employees happy. Why? Because happy employees take great care of customers
McGeorge Toyota employees are taught to do what they can, the best they can.
“A mentor told me you don’t have to change people, you have to change what people do,” Farlow says. “If someone isn’t performing, it’s my fault, not theirs. I have to do something different to get them to perform the task. It’s never their fault, it’s always our fault.”
Farlow isn’t saying everyone gets a free pass, rather that everyone’s roles need to be kept in perspective.
“The thing that ruins relationships is unmet expectations,” he says. “So we try to spend a lot of time with people setting their expectations. We let them know the minimum expected. We tell them what they need to do to be above average, we tell them where we think they can go, and we help them get there.”
All for One, One for All
In essence, everybody’s in this together. When things are bad, they’re bad for everyone. And once they get better, they get better for everyone. When the economic and recall crises hit simultaneously in 2009, management was forced to roll back 401(k) contributions. With both catastrophes safely in the past, earlier this year Farlow announced that they would replenish the fund, along with escalators for longtime employees. It was an immediate cost of about $300,000 for the dealership.
Meanwhile, Farlow says there are no meetings behind closed doors, emphasizing a transparent policy. And he makes sure to meet with teams off the lot on a regular basis.
If an employee faces a personal ordeal, that ordeal becomes the dealership’s, too.
“There’s nothing we won’t do for our employees,” Farlow says. “If it’s important to them, we try to find a way to make it important to us.”
As far as customer satisfaction goes, the dealership goes beyond taking care of employees. For example, McGeorge Care extends ToyotaCare for two additional years for free. And customers can use a complimentary rental car if their service visit takes longer than two hours.
That creates a sense of community and appreciation for customers and employees alike.
“There’s a human element, not just a business element,” Adams says. We just want to help people in our neighborhood.”
See related stories: Lending a Helping Van and Driving Change.