Selling cars! What an opportunity!

It should be a no-brainer to attract high-energy and motivated people into auto retail careers

As we slowly emerge from another winter, dealerships across Canada will be hiring salespeople for the spring market and hunting for “The Next One.”

However, I am not convinced that dealer principals, general managers and sales managers themselves are always “sold” on the car business as a career choice for young people or those seeking a second career. For 37 years I have been hearing, “There are no good salespeople out there”, “It’s hard to find salespeople”, “We’re not getting any quality applicants”, and so on.

Yes, it can be a little depressing staring out of a showroom window when it’s -20 degrees on a bleak February night in Canada. Sometimes it can be equally depressing in the spring or summer when you’re caught with a customer at closing time on a Saturday and you’ve been invited to a get-together with friends or family and you show up two hours late—and you didn’t make the sale. The retail automotive industry certainly has its ups and downs and challenges.

However, consider the following thoughts, and afterward ask yourself if this messaging is getting through in your recruiting efforts, your hiring process and in your marketing efforts to attract people to your organization. This may also serve as a reminder and motivator to your current team.

In the retail automotive industry, we welcome people with no sales or technical experience. This is a people business; cars, SUVs and trucks just happen to be our product. When people without experience bring to a dealership energy, enthusiasm, a positive attitude and a desire to succeed, this industry gives them an opportunity. Many companies will only hire people with experience and hence the conundrum, “How do I get experience if no one will hire me.”

In the retail automotive industry, we hire both young and old. A few months back, I had the pleasure of meeting a sales consultant on the West Coast that was 19 years old and had just delivered 26 new vehicles in a single month. On the East Coast I know a sales consultant that is 86 years old (he looks 66) and he continues to be a positive and productive contributor to his dealership. In corporate Canada it is extremely difficult to get hired if you are “too young” or lacking relevant experience. At the other end of the spectrum, corporate Canada places less value on employees that are over 55; they are either pushed out the door (packaged off) or moved to a dead-end job within the organization.

In the retail automotive industry, we welcome the energy, ambition, information-retention and technical savvy that younger people bring to this business, and we give them an opportunity without previous experience, (and in many cases), without related experience.

At the same time, we also welcome the life experience, knowledge, people skills, calmness and confidence that comes with age. The retail automotive industry has provided a new lease on life for many enthusiastic people that want to begin a second career, or escape from the mundane of their current. Where so many industries close the doors to those under 25 and those over 55, the retail automotive industry welcomes both—with open arms and limitless opportunities.

The retail automotive industry also recognizes the positive qualities of both men and women. We have so many women in this industry that have become highly successful sales consultants, financial services managers, sales managers, service managers as well as general managers and dealer principals.

Most importantly, women are paid the same as men. It remains a fact that in much of the corporate world, women often earn less than their male counterparts with the same education, experience and qualifications. Dealerships compensate people based on performance and attitude, not gender.

The retail automotive industry also welcomes people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Whether white, Black, Asian, Indian, Latino or other, dealerships recognize that people from different cultures bring determination, ambition, a work ethic and serve the various people that walk through our dealership doors.

And, if candidates bring to us a post-secondary education; a college diploma or a university degree, we think they are pretty amazing—it demonstrates determination, commitment and organizational skills.

However, if post-secondary education was not part of the journey, people with a high school diploma are not discriminated against based on their lack of education. Instead, they are judged on their life experience, energy and attitude. And with no post-secondary education, literally thousands of men and women in the retail automotive industry have been promoted into management positions and senior leadership roles. Corporate Canada requires a university degree; without it, you need not apply. Depending on the organization, most will also require an MBA or CPA to advance into senior management.

The retail automotive industry teaches us the skills of customer service—and serving people of all income and ethnic backgrounds. It teaches us organizational skills and time management. It teaches us marketing and entrepreneurial skills. It teaches us product knowledge, a sales process and presentation skills. It teaches us negotiation and closing skills.

Dealerships also expose us to a wide range of some of businesses’ most advanced online and software technologies. For those that choose a path in management, it teaches us team building, coaching and leadership skills.

For those that want the opportunity to lead and inspire, the retail auto industry allows numerous paths to management positions. Sales consultants can become financial services managers and sales managers. Sales managers can become service managers and general sales managers. General managers can become managing partners and Dealer Principals.

Others can leave the retail dealership and find leadership roles with industry suppliers and even OEMs. Further, retail automotive dealerships promote people based on performance and attitude, and often quickly.

I work with a highly successful West Coast dealer group with the honour of being recognized as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies—amongst all of their general managers and managing partners, there might only be one that is over 40 years of age. In corporate Canada, people often compete with 20 or more other people for a first level promotion—one that can take years, and where people are often promoted based on their schmoozing skills and Machiavellian politics.

And with all of this, this is an industry where sales consultants, financial services managers, sales managers and general managers can earn an incredible income. The average Canadian income currently sits at $60,055 annually (Stats Can). The average combined household income sits at $75,452 annually (that is 2 people working and earning).

Many Canadian sales consultants will earn that much or more (as a single earner) in their first or second year of the business. And yes, there are significant numbers of sales consultants and managers that earn well over $100,000 annually—some earn $200,000 or $300,000 annually, and we even have Canadian sales consultants that have topped $500,000! Executive pay is considered $300,000 annual. Canada’s top one per cent earn $253,900 annually (Stats Can). You are creating one per centers with Grade 12 educations!

So, yes, the retail automotive industry is not always easy and nor is it perfect. It can be long hours with highs and lows and many challenges. Customers are not always right, but they are always our customers.

Colleagues and bosses may sometimes have differing opinions. However, this is one of the very few remaining industries that allows virtually anybody with integrity, a positive attitude, an outgoing personality and a work ethic to truly succeed, be recognized, grow and advance—and to do what they love.

Dealer Principals, general managers and sales managers, you have transformed so many people’s lives. You have taken them away from mundane, dead-end jobs. You have taken others away from high pressure jobs with crushing hours, toxic cultures, little recognition and no upward opportunity. You have allowed blue collar workers with broken bodies to wear white collars and start new. You have taken that chipper, young man that sold you your cell phone from $40,000 a year to $80,000 a year.

You have helped people buy their first home and their first vacation home. You have helped put kids through university and pay for weddings. You have provided people with a dynamic, ever-changing work environment selling many of the most recognized brands in the world. You have given people life-long, transferable skills, opportunities for advancement. You have even given them opportunities for ownership.

Can we not sell this?

About Chris Schulthies

Chris Schulthies is the president of Toronto-based Wye Management. Wye Management provides sales and management training (showroom and digital) for dealerships, dealer groups, OEMs and industry suppliers in Canada and the U.S. You can contact him at or 416.908.6346.

Related Articles
Share via
Copy link