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Dealerships look outside the industry to resume hiring, but slowly

Ford said dealerships she is working with are hiring for sales and technicians but also need managers. Some are offering cash bonuses as an enticement. (See story above.)

Hireology estimated there were 28,485 open positions in auto retail at the end of December, a figure that grew to 39,790 by the end of January.

Public dealership groups made some of the biggest reductions in employment early in the pandemic, with many saying thousands of the cuts would be permanent.

Asbury Automotive Group, which furloughed 2,300 employees in early April, is replacing people who leave, “but we’re not at a point where we’re hiring back people,” CEO David Hult said last week.

“We’re always opportunistic when it comes to technicians, but even there, it depends upon the brand and the location,” Hult said. “I think we’ll have a much greater need from that when COVID calms down.”

LaFontaine Automotive Group, a 22-store group based in Highland, Mich., is in hiring mode and has successfully recruited from the hospitality industry. CEO Ryan LaFontaine often will leave his business card with people who provide excellent customer service when he picks up carryout food. One recent hire in the group’s business development center is a former restaurant manager.

People who have worked as servers, bartenders and managers typically do well after going through LaFontaine’s training, group spokesman Max Muncey said.

Dahl’s Ladwig said her group resumed hiring last summer and aims to add sales and service jobs in its BDC, plus sales reps and service technicians. In January, Dahl hired nine people, including two with hospitality backgrounds, for sales and body shop estimator jobs. Some recent hires worked at a hotel and a grocery store.

Dahl has ramped up advertising its culture in its recruiting efforts. The group’s hours — stores close at 6 p.m. several days a week — can appeal to hospitality and retail workers accustomed to working nights and weekends, Ladwig said. The customer service skills those workers have adapt well to auto retailing.

“We can teach someone to write service or how to work in the BDC,” she said.

“You can’t really teach someone how to care, like, really care about a guest and that experience.”

Jackie Charniga contributed to this report.

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