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Published on August 17, 2009

Reward hard work, loyalty

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Opinion

AKRON (Aug. 17, 2009)—While "the customer is king" mantra is well known and accepted, one of the most important ways to ensure customers are satisfied is to guarantee the people serving them are feeling good, as well.

That means making sure they're paid what they're worth—not low-balled so the owner can skim a few more bucks off the bottom line to the detriment of others.

If a dealership's employees are happy and excited about their jobs—even in tough times—chances are their attitude will reflect in the way they serve customers. And that bodes well for the company's long-term success.

Tire dealers interviewed for the "Dealership Compensation and Benefits" special report in this issue all stressed this point in one way or another. Undoubtedly, it's one of the reasons these dealerships are riding out the recession in relatively good shape.

Asked about how they pay their employees, many dealers repeatedly stated that, at a minimum, it was important to provide employees with a livable wage, even in tough economic times.

Think about how easy it would be to change that position when the economy worsens and revenues shrink. But that's the time to hang tough and believe in your work force.

Most of the tire dealers interviewed also offered programs to share the company's profits with those who help create their success—from the tire buster on up to senior managers.

In fact, saying their pay scale is higher than the average for their area seemed to be a source of pride for many dealers.

Listen to what Gregory Zacher, president of Elliott Tire & Service Inc. in Seattle, said about pay.

"As owners of the company, one of our gut beliefs is that we want our people to be able to afford to go on vacations, buy a house, have a car of their choosing, send their kids to college."

Or, as one of his partners succinctly put it: "Money's just like manure. It's no good unless you spread it around."

Jim Enger, owner of Enger Auto Service & Tire Inc. in Mentor, Ohio, follows a similar philosophy. Despite the recession, he recently increased rather than decreased pay to avoid causing hardships for workers.

Realizing that cutting pay would have put "morale in the toilet," he opted to boost the amount of money employees could earn in bonuses each month as a motivation to bring in more sales. The guys "are charged up and ready to go," he said.

Mr. Enger looks at this lingering economic downturn not as a time to lower wages and cut costs. Instead, it's a time to "compensate talent above the market norm" to attract top-tier talent to the dealership as well as retain and motivate the company's employees.

Such actions take guts and a relentlessly positive attitude about the future. Dealers must go out on a limb a bit and trust that their troops are in there pulling for the dealership's success right alongside the owner. After all, their livelihoods depend on it, too. Chances are they'll reward the dealership in return.

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