By Lisa Bernstein, WPO member and General Manager of Performance Lexus RiverCenter

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It’s time to change the way we work in order to attract the new worker, and please the new customer.

Inspiration comes from many corners. I like to look at other businesses, see how they are adapting to challenges and how they are stepping up to meet them. But sometimes, the inspiration can happen from within, as is the case with a quote in a recent Automotive News Edition by Akio Toyoda.

The present automobile industry is being asked to make a paradigm shift, I want to continue planting seeds with a look to 10 or even 20 years into the future. When it comes to making ever-better cars in a smart way, it is becoming apparent that there is still room for improvement. We need to change the work style.

Akio Toyoda was speaking about his vision for Electric Vehicles as well as the future of Toyota, but I took from his statement, “We need to change the work style.” This thought clearly applies to all of us on the retail side of business. It applies to changing our work style to be able to hire the best of a new generation of sales associates, and a new generation of customers that experience that relationship.  We need to reexamine everything we do from the customer’s perspective and, just as importantly, from a sales associate’s perspective. Then we must strive to match both perspectives to create a better, more sustainable experience.

Traditionally, if a person wants to sell cars (any brand) for a living, they commit to long work days and weeks, often including Saturdays, evenings and holidays. This is hard for many as it means a mom missing out watching her child walk onstage at a school play, and that means fewer women wanting to sell cars, which means fewer women in sales interfacing with women customers in the showroom. At a time when more and more women are buying luxury cars.

These schedules also mean we are going to have a harder time attracting millennials (men and women), unless we change our work style. They value “time” more than money. They value experiences more than money. And, NO MATTER WHAT THE EARNING POTENTIAL OF A POSITION, a millennial who isn’t ready to commit to a 55-hour work week will not apply to our dealerships. That’s just a fact of our times.

In order to attract this diverse group as dealership sales associates, WE NEED TO RETHINK OUR WORK STYLE. We need to evolve to meet their work schedule needs, respect their passionate beliefs and offer them a work environment that allows them to participate in the capacity of what theybelieve is – and I quote Akio once more – the “best job ever”—!  By doing this, we will invite and retain enthusiastic and excited employees who exude passion for our brand.

Here’s one way I changed our work style that bore fruit: I hired two full-time college students to work part-time – as a team – to become one, seamless full-time associate. They work from the same desk and are able to hand off customers as needed to one another. While sales associates typically work on commissions, we attempted a new structure with hourly pay (more than what they were making at the local Starbucks) and a set bonus for each vehicle sold, split evenly between them regardless of who made the sale.

This program has proven highly successful for the dealership as well as for the team. In two months they’ve sold 26 new and pre-owned vehicles.

Recently, both decided to work full time for the summer. One of them will resume their part-time position in the fall when classes begin. The other graduated in May and has decided to stay on full time in sales.

Moving forward, I can see this program helping seasoned sales associates ease into retirement. They can partner with one of the part-time associates, share a loyal customer base, and reduce their work hours while still generating income for themselves and the dealership. They also play a vital role in training a new part-time person, which will allow for the smooth transition of handing-over their clients in a non-threatening way.

While I am not advocating an entire sales floor of part-timers, I believe that there is room for both. Room for change. Room for inspiration. Room for sustainable success. Room for the future.

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