July 3, 2006 – Staffing challenges slow impacts of new technology

S&W dealership owner Jim Wilson Jr. is experiencing an age-old problem as his dealership tries to incorporate modern practices: staffing issues.
S&W is the Jasper, Ala., dealership that is the site of a year-long project to introduce technology and best practices. Five companies and a consultant are involved in the effort, which began right before the 2006 Dealer Expo in March.
Since that time, Wilson has been coping with the loss of his longtime parts manager, who retired just as the new technology was being put into place. MIC Systems installed a full support system, building a link between the new business management software and the existing PartSmart electronic parts lookup software.
“It’s been an absolute nightmare trying to get the right person in place to make this go,” Wilson said of the parts department. “It seems like we can’t get over the provincial hump because we can’t get a person in place to make it work. Every time we get to the point where we feel like we’re moving forward (with a new employee), he quits or we fire him. And then all of a sudden, we’re back to zero.”
And that’s exactly where the dealership is in regards to its new parts department system. After hiring from the outside did not pay off — something that frustrated Wilson because of S&W’s efforts to do background checks — the dealership looked inward, promoting somebody from the service department.
Is the new parts department system making it more difficult to incorporate new employees? And could that be a reason why S&W would consider going back to their old system?
Wilson doesn’t think so.
“We’ve experienced enough of the system to know it works and to know that we need it,” he said. “You’re talking to a dealership that really was working in the Dark Ages.
“We’ve had enough of it to know that if that system was up and running to its full potential, it would make life so much easier for everybody. And we know that. The problem is when you bring a guy in and he works three weeks and he’s gone, you bring in another guy in. Well, it takes three more weeks to train him.”
As the S&W parts department continues to try to get up to speed, other departments are getting increased training, including the sales department.Tory Hornsby, national sales manager for Dealership University, has been working with the S&W staff, a mix of young and experienced sales people.
“Sometimes you get very complacent in your sales attitude,” Wilson said. “You kind of short cut it. Sometimes you get into the mode of greet the customer, ‘Hey, how ya doing today?’ ‘Fine’ ‘What can I do for you?’ ‘Just lookin’.’ ‘Okay.’ And the conversation’s over.”
To enrich that, Wilson said Hornsby has been advising the S&W sales staff to ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Questions that can get a consumer more involved into a conversation and allow the salesman to prod for clues about what could be the difference in making a sale.
Where that sale takes place is also something S&W is working on.
“We tend to want to sell on the showroom floor and not in the office,” Wilson said. “And (Hornsby) said really and truly, you’re better off to get them in the office where you can sit down and put it on paper. And he’s correct. But we tend to short cut it.”
Besides sales staff training, Wilson is also shifting employees around to address any shortcomings in getting all the new software systems working as efficiently as possible.
“It’s all music to my ears,” said Neil Frame, general manager for MIC Systems, installer of the Brainstorm business management system. “And a pretty typical reaction among most powersports dealer owners.”
Frame said dealership employees typically go through three stages when introduced to new systems: fear, acceptance and enthusiasm. That enthusiasm often wanes over the next couple of weeks. “They start to forget what they learned in week one,” he said. “And they start to blame the technology for problems totally unrelated to the new software.”
In the fifth and sixth weeks, the owner starts to see a discrepancy between what he thought was working and what the daily reports from the new software are reporting.“At this point, the owner starts to embrace the changes and takes full responsibility for technology execution,” Frame said. “That’s what Jim Jr. did.”

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