How Walser Automotive Built a Culture of Retention and Growth with 2,000 Employees
Steak dinners, annual trips to Mexico, maximum 40-hour workweek caps, tuition reimbursement, wellness programs, and personal development opportunities—these are only a few of the long list of benefits available to the 2,000 employees at the Minnesota-based Walser Automotive Group.
To be clear, it’s a hearty investment and requires several in-house teams to pull off, but the effects of strong employee retention and recognition efforts have been more than worth it: The dealership’s F&I numbers are higher per franchise than any other dealers in the Minneapolis market, the group is competing with Best Buy and Target for talent (not other dealers), CSI is above zone at all locations, and turnover rates are less than half of the industry average.
So despite the looks CEO Paul Walser may have received from many in the industry when he decided to overhaul the culture to promote recruiting and retention at what is now 22 dealerships across Minnesota and Kansas (recently acquired in 2016), those skeptics are now looking to Walser as a model for the modern dealership workplace, particularly in fixed ops.
“I think in this market right now, talent is very tight,” says Candice Crane, chief talent officer for the Walser Automotive Group. “It’s very difficult. I don’t know that there’s an easy job to fill in this environment … That’s why it’s been such a priority.”
The Foundation of Recruiting
The foundation of the recruiting efforts starts with the in-house recruiting team, which consists of five recruiters, a director of recruiting and a recruiting coordinator, who support all positions in Walser. Crane says that they use a variety of aggressive, diverse tactics to entice a broad range of candidates.
“We look at multiple ways to attract talent,” she says. “If we didn’t, I think we would put ourselves in a position where we’re missing out on a pool of potentially really good candidates.”
Those multiple platforms include partnering with high schools, trade schools and universities to attend career and job fairs, hosting onsite career fairs at various dealerships to give potential candidates an idea of the working environment, creating a formal employee referral program that offers bonuses to employees who refer job candidates, and partnering with Glassdoor to where candidates leaving feedback on their current employers will receive notifications regarding a Walser opening.
“It’s about hitting a lot of different sites so we’re not missing out on anybody,” Crane says. “It helps us to make sure we’re hitting different pockets. You really have to be diverse.”
The recruiting team also looks for candidates outside of the automotive industry. Crane says that those in the hospitality industry generally have the demeanor and customer service skills necessary for success in the industry, particularly in customer-focused roles.
Building a Training-Centered Cultured
Upon being hired, every Walser employee goes through a dedicated, personalized training experience with the in-house training team. That training can vary from three days to 13 weeks, providing a mix of classroom, on-the-job and systems training.
“We might take someone who is very customer focused but may be their first time in the automotive industry,” Crane says. “We really work with them to make sure they’re confident and set up for success. We think that there’s huge benefit. It really helps the employee get comfortable and up to speed with what they need to do.”
Automated processes triggering workplace set up, training plan, and personal log-ins take place behind-the-scenes to ensure a smooth transition to Walser. Upon arrival, the employee will hear Walser's past, present, and future and begin training. A dedicated person at the specific location anticipating your arrival after training will introduce you to the team and take you through our location orientation.
The benefit of this type of onboarding, Crane says, is that it doesn’t pull away from time on the shop floor and ensures that the manager or trainer knows exactly the level of knowledge and training the employee has.
“The training shouldn’t be detracting from shop floor productivity,” she says. “Instead of having to take longer, the training staff is really there separately and it’s not detracting from the main job.”
Retaining All-Star Employees
It’s not just the initial training that makes Walser stand out; it’s also the investment in the personal development of every single employee that has ensured employee retention rates stay high. The training team is responsible for holding what are referred to as “career conversations,” where they engage with employees on what they want to do next, how they envision their careers, and the ways in which Walser can help them achieve those next steps.
"It’s important because it shows that we not only say we want growth, we also mean it,” Crane says. “It’ll help us as a company grow. As we grow, employees have a chance to grow with us. We want people to develop and experience new things. They’re right there to help us at the next step, whether it’s opening another dealership or a management role.”
“We like to offer a wide variety of benefits,” she says. “Our goal is to be competitive within the marketplace so they’re excited about the efforts. We want them to focus on servicing cars and customers, and not feeling upset about the benefit offerings that we have.”
Of the many retention programs the dealership has in place, they include:
- Recognition dinners for high-performing employees
- An annual trip for the highest-performing employees
- The DRIVEN wellness program, which includes a workout facility equipped with exercise machines, weights, personal training sessions
- Wellbeing rooms for mothers, meditation and prayer
- Ongoing training. An average of 25 learning opportunities are available each month. These classes cover selling, customer service, communication, etc. Not all trainings are job-specific as each month, employees have access to personal development opportunities including personal finance classes and Microsoft training.
- Medical, dental and vision insurance, life insurance, accident, cancer, short-term disability and long-term disability, 401(k), PTO, flex spending
- Tuition reimbursement
- Employee discounts on vehicles, service and parts
- The opportunity to volunteer and give back their time via the Walser Foundation, which donates 5 percent of pre-tax earnings and provides grants to organizations that benefit education at all levels, as well as those organizations that help build a strong workforce for the future. Walser sets aside a certain amount of PTO for all employees to donate their time with the Foundation. Last year Walser employees and their families donated more than 1,000 volunteer hours.