Invest in Your Team

Aug. 12, 2019

Build a culture every employee would describe as ‘fun’

I was able to finally reach Ms. Sally Thomas to talk to her about the amazing business she runs in North Carolina. It had only been a few hours since I had left a message and she apologized for not calling sooner but that day she was having her monthly team meetings. Of course, I had to ask, “Tell me more about those.” She explained that, each month, she brings not only all her managers in, but also her CSPs (customer service professionals), to talk about goals, review the previous month and financials, discuss the current and upcoming month, and any issues they are facing or need help with. They also spend time strategizing and either have a guest speaker or trainer regularly. These statements will give you the first insight about why this company is so amazing! 

Sally took over the family business in 2012 with her brother and business partner, Bryan (their father started the business in 1981). At that time, the company consisted of four retail locations (now eight), one commercial location (now two), and a wholesale, online and Mighty auto parts divisions. It was a strong company with a solid reputation, but disjointed and siloed with little communication between divisions and under-utilized the benefits from being a vertically integrated organization. Her first goal was to have seamless cohesion and communication between the five divisions, a focus on people and training and finally growth for the businesses (by the way she has accomplished all three). She desperately wanted to improve the Mighty auto parts business, which, at the time, derived roughly 75 percent of its revenue from supplying to their own stores. Today, roughly 25 percent of sales are from their internal operations, overall margins improved over 13 percent and they are on track to have their seventh consecutive record sales year. Additionally, in March, they were honored as the Franchise of the Year and in 2018 their GM took home the operational excellence award.  

The retail division is where Sally’s true passion lies and allows her to use her design, marketing and team building skills the most. Believing in the DSP 20 Group’s philosophies, they worked to achieve a sales mix of 30 percent tires, 30 percent parts, 30 percent labor, 5 percent tire labor and 5 percent other, while improving their overall gross profit margin and reducing payroll. Next, they revamped their website, going from a generic cookie-cutter version to one created in-house and are currently in the process of revamping it again. With the opening of new locations, they partnered with a local university to become the primary football sponsor, as well as support numerous collegiate basketball, baseball and soccer teams. They continued to utilize radio and direct mail but added Podium to the marketing plan, which increased their online reviews significantly and allowed their exceptional customer service to shine in the spotlight. 

All of this is great but the real secret sauce to their success, Sally said, is their people. They have a team of servant-minded individuals who lead by example and strive for excellence daily. She believes it begins with recruiting people who fit in with their company’s culture. During the interview process, they do not concern themselves with the person’s industry knowledge, instead focusing on values, drive, charisma and aptitude. 

They also took a serious stance on continual education and training and spent six months developing a career path and training program that every employee must go through before starting work in a store. During the two-week course, they learn everything from the basics to company goals. In addition, employees who have furthered their skills have the opportunity to apply for what they call “shift weeks” four times per year. If approved, they attend additional training that gives them the opportunity to further their career path. Believing that education never stops, she requires all managers to go through and pass basic accounting and leadership classes, as well as earn their aPHR certification in human resources, all provided to them in house and at the company’s expense. Sally keeps motivation up by having routine contests that aren’t solely based on financial compensation, but on experiences the employees may not otherwise have. Some of them include sky diving, white water rafting, skeet shooting, music concerts, sporting events, a weekend at a nice resort and much more. She said these outings create a bond that goes beyond the walls of the shop! In fact, in a blind survey, employees were asked to describe their company in one word and the adjective used the most was “fun!” That’s a place I want to work!

At the end of the day, Sally’s goal is to give her team opportunities, encourage them to be more than they dreamed and to lead them to collectively live the company’s mission of serving others through the automotive industry. She believes that by being a blessing to others, we are, in turn, blessed.

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