Making employee satisfaction a top priority

Competitive pay, good  benefits, added perks help stores retain staff

A customer walks into Store A and is immediately greeted by a well-kempt salesperson sporting a huge grin and walking with a hop in her step. In Store B, the customer wanders around and finally finds a salesperson with his shirt untucked, his hair a mess, who mumbles, “Can I help you?” Which store is that customer going to choose?

Many of the Powersports Business’ Power 15 dealers have found that positive attitudes are contagious, so the staff at their stores are going to come off more like example Store A. Though the Power 15 dealers have a lot of similar attributes, one that permeates throughout the group is a commitment to their employees.

“If we can create and maintain an environment where it’s fun to go to work, we’re going to get better people and we’re going to keep better people. I think happy employees create happy customers, and unhappy employees make unhappy customers,” explained John Schaller, president of House of Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee.

Schaller, whose dealership has 63 full-time employees, believes it’s his ultimate goal to create a workplace where people want to be. In that vein, he encourages a joyful environment.

Unexpected perks, such as free lunch and Christmas caroling, keep employees happy at the two Adam Smith’s Harley-Davidson locations in Texas.

“Even during the dark days of the recession, people from Harley who traveled to a lot of dealerships, people would tell me it was the only dealership that had positive energy. Nobody wants to go to a funeral home,” he said.

Dave Bamdas, who co-owns RIVA Motorsports & Marine, with three locations in Florida, also stresses a cheerful environment in his stores.

“We have, I’d say, a fun, progressive working atmosphere. We have an upbeat vibe here,” he said.

One of the keys to hiring and retaining high-quality staff is offering benefits. Many dealers offer health benefits; in fact more than 60 percent participating in Powersports Business’ Market Data Book Dealer Survey last fall said they did. But Power 15 dealers go even further, many offering paid vacation time, 401Ks and in-store discounts. Schaller gives his employees profit sharing benefits, and Adam Smith’s Harley-Davidson in Texas and RIVA Motorsports each contribute to their employees’ retirement plans. Leo’s South in Lakeville, Minn., works hard to make sure its 22 full-time employees get time off when they need it.

“We’re a family owned business and always have been, and we try to run it like that,” Leo’s South principal Wayne Bedeaux said.


House of Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee retains employees by offering profit sharing and promoting from within.

A key benefit most employees are looking for — and one that many Power 15 dealers provide — is competitive pay.

“I think we have to provide good wages.  I think if you’re worrying about making it from one paycheck to another, you have a hard time doing your job,” Schaller said.

Other perks are also used to keep employees happy. RIVA hosts a Christmas and summer party each year for its staff, which includes 170 full-time employees. This past fall, Adam Smith’s thanked its 90 full-time staff for a great 2012 by taking them to Main Event Entertainment for bowling, billiards, laser tag and mini golf, and in the winter, some of the staff took a bus to customers’ homes for Christmas caroling.

“We try to go out of our way to do things that people may not expect, like we take them to lunch or give them a prize that’s out of the ordinary,” said Neil Noble, general manager of Adam Smith’s Harley-Davidson.

In addition to personal benefits, employees also respond well to professional opportunities, which most Power 15 dealerships are happy to provide. Fay Myers Motorcycle World in Greenwood Village, Colo., for example, provides internal and OEM training, and the dealership brings in industry consults as well.

Leo’s South in Lakeville, Minn., has kept many staff on hand for years by treating them like family.

“We try to take care of each other. I think there’s an old saying, ‘A business is just brick and mortar; it’s the people that count,’” Fay Myers general manager Jason White said.

Schaller believes in the philosophy of hiring for attitude first and training the skill later. He encourages education and promoting from within.

“We post jobs internally, so if we’ve got a good person who isn’t happy where they are in the store, and we want to keep them, and if we can find them in a better place in the store, we want to keep them,” he said.

Because of their commitment to their employees, a lot of the Power 15 dealers report low turnover rates, which ultimately is a significant factor in their success.

“Really the focus is — and it’s not really novel — is if you treat customers and employees well, you build a good business,” Noble said. “If people have a friend in the motorcycle business, they find a place where they want to go.”

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