Keyes Hyundai finds success hiring salespeople from non-automotive backgrounds

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Keyes Hyundai of Mission Hills in Los Angeles is finding sales and customer satisfaction success with its practice of hiring automotive retailing outsiders.

After Lithia Motors Inc. acquired the dealership as part of its purchase of the nine-store Keyes Automotive Group in November 2020, Kevin Grant and Robert Lowry were transferred from another Lithia location to lead the Hyundai store. The pair had been hiring people with outside industry experience at their previous dealership and decided to roll out the strategy right off the bat for Mission Hills.

“What we decided to do is to stop looking at resumes and stop looking for car people,” Grant, general manager, told Automotive News. “And let’s start hiring for personality.”

Grant and Lowry, general sales manager, worked with a Lithia recruiter to develop a job posting aimed at individuals looking to try something new. The ad sought applicants for customer service roles without specifying that the jobs were in car sales, Grant noted.

Keyes Hyundai advertised on job posting websites such as Indeed and also Craigslist in three categories — accounting, skilled trades and the food, beverage and hospitality industry, Grant said.

“We told the recruiter, when someone applies to the ad, just start setting us appointments, send them to our calendar,” he said. “We want to talk to everybody.”

So far, the dealership has hired individuals who have been restaurant servers, actors, even an insurance agent. And the approach is evident in the store’s sales performers — Keyes Hyundai’s top nine sales reps are from nonauto backgrounds, Grant said.

Store managers are drawn to waitstaff in particular, he said, because servers come in contact with all sorts of people and have to deal with both difficult and relaxed customers.

“But you’ve got to treat everybody the same,” Grant said. “That’s kind of the strategy we were going for.”

In one instance, managers hired an Uber Eats driver who had been delivering food to the store.

“We’ve hired people that literally drive for a living and turned their careers around,” Lowry said.

Keyes Hyundai of Mission Hills sold 1,490 new vehicles and 983 used vehicles in 2021, Grant said.

Macgregor Reed is one of the store’s outside hires.

Reed, who was working as a server at a martini bar, responded to an online job posting and was quickly scheduled for an interview with Grant. He started working at the dealership as a sales rep in January 2021.

“Everything before that I was doing was just a means to an end, just a paycheck,” Reed said. “Whereas here, there’s a direct correlation between the work that I put in and what I get out of it. That’s awesome. I’m not just trying to find the minimum amount of work to do.”

The hiring strategy has helped the dealership’s customer service performance — satisfaction scores are high, Grant said. And employee satisfaction is also high.

Keyes Hyundai of Mission Hills, which was honored as one of Automotive News’ 100 Best Dealerships To Work For in 2021, has 61 employees, and around half were hired from outside automotive retail, Grant said.

The new hires typically start in sales and go through a month’s worth of training. The first two weeks happen in a classroom setting using a training manual developed by Grant and Lowry. Trainees then shadow a veteran sales rep for two weeks.

Two outside hires have been promoted to the store’s finance department, and another was promoted to a sales manager role, Grant said.

Given the training, the outsider strategy does take longer than hiring experienced sales reps, Grant said, but he’s OK with that.

“You can go out, hire a bunch of veterans, if you can hire them, and maybe they will perform better in the first 30 or 60 days,” Grant said. “But when you raise your own sales staff and team, they seem to bond. And sooner or later, they’re going to take over and be a lot better than those veterans.”

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