“Military veterans don’t count the number of hours they are scheduled to be at work. They stay as long as necessary to get the job done.”
In 1978 Southern Auto Group opened its first location in the Hampton Roads area. Since then the company has swelled to eight core dealerships across the Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, and Norfolk areas carrying ten name brands of automobiles, two state-of-the-art collision centers, and over 500 employees.
Shane Mawyer has served as the company’s human resources director for the past seven years. She has attended RecruitMilitary hiring events since May 2012 to find top talent for positions in sales and auto repair. These events have delivered a good return on investment for Southern Auto. At a Norfolk event in the fall of 2014, nine veterans were hired. “We were impressed with the quality of the candidates we found there. Veterans are good at operating within a structure, and we like that.”
Why veteran talent?
For Southern Auto, it’s all about work ethic. “Military veterans don’t count the number of hours they are scheduled to be at work. They stay as long as they need to get the job done,” she said. One veteran hire found through a RecruitMilitary hiring event was named “Top Sales Consultant of the Month” during his first month on the job, and consistently remains one of the company’s leading sales consultants.
“Veterans approach the task at hand with a ‘can-do’ attitude,” she said. Some of the company’s veteran hires have been named “Sales Consultant of the Month,” and “Sales Consultant of the Quarter” at Southern Auto.
Leadership is a key quality that veterans bring to the table, and one that is necessary to succeed in the car business. “One car sale can result in up to five referrals,” said Mawyer, “and once you get started, it’s kind of like running your own business. You must network, gain contacts, and follow up on leads. That takes organization, motivation, and leadership.”
Furthermore, “Buying a car is one of the largest purchases you make in your lifetime,” she said, “And, people buy cars from people they like, so a sales consultant must have a talent for creating a rapport easily and quickly.”
Mawyer also acknowledged that the auto sales business has evolved. “Today, dealerships are expected to maintain high customer services scores, as directed by manufacturers. Consumers are far more educated due to the Internet, and have all sorts of information at their fingertips. That’s why it’s important to for our sales consultants to be up front, straightforward, honest, and knowledgeable.” She finds that this ability typically comes easily to military veterans.
Don’t be shy
Southern Auto brings sales managers to hiring events to conduct on-the-spot interviews. If those go well, candidates are encouraged to interview again at a dealership a few days later.
Mawyer is on the lookout for a friendly personality, and she especially likes it when candidates step right up to meet her. “Don’t be afraid to approach a recruiter’s booth and introduce yourself. It makes you appear confident,” she said.
She also looks for:
- A professional appearance. “It’s a must if you want to succeed, especially in sales.”
- Good communication skills. “I want a candidate to be able to tell me about his or her development, teamwork, and leadership abilities.”
- Length of service. “To me, this denotes stability. Did you move up the ranks? That is something I want to know.”
But selling cars involves much more than shaking hands and offering test drives. “There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes, therefore a candidate must also be detail-oriented,” Mawyer said. She noted that military veterans are a natural fit for the car business because they are already process-driven.
Gaining new know-how:
Mawyer noted that although veterans are adept at operating within a structure, they must be flexible enough to embrace a different structure when they enter a new workforce. Once on board, the extensive training that new technicians and sales personnel receive sets them up for success. “You must learn the product. Today’s cars are more like computers,” she said.
Sales consultants are placed in groups of 10-20 and receive both classroom and online training on a variety of topics. Manufacturers also require certification through an online testing process to guarantee that new employees have sufficient knowledge of what they are selling. Trainees also shadow another sales consultant to learn how to demonstrate the cars, and how to close a sale. A key part of the training is getting comfortable when approaching potential customers. “The worst they can say is no,” said Mawyer.
Technicians also undergo a rigorous apprentice program which requires them to work side-by-side with a master technician. They must also complete the manufacturer’s training and certification process.
Setup for success
For candidates with the right motivation, auto sales can be a lucrative career. Full-time sales consultants receive a training salary and then move into a commissioned pay plan. They also receive a competitive benefits package that includes insurance, 401K, paid vacation and holidays. Frequent financial incentives are offered as well.
In fact, Mawyer frequently tells job seekers they have “everything to gain, and nothing to lose” when they pursue a career in the automobile industry.
Wired to Thrive: Fritz Toussaint
“Southern Auto hires so many veterans that I kind of feel like I’m home.”
After serving in the Marine Corps for 13 years as a hydraulic diesel mechanic, the warm climate of Virginia Beach called Fritz Toussaint to settle there after his service. He was studying to become a radiology x-ray technician when a gap in his coursework led him to attend a RecruitMilitary career fair in his area to see what employment options were out there.
“I never saw myself selling cars for a living,” he related. Nevertheless, he approached the Southern Auto booth and spoke with a recruiter. “I guess they liked my personality, because they called me the next day for an interview and then hired me on the spot. I thought, ‘Why not see if this is something I could be good at?’”
Indeed, Toussaint appears to be wired for success. After just a few months on the job, he earned “Sales Consultant of the Month” honors for both November and December 2014. He has also found that the culture suits him well. “Southern Auto hires so many veterans that I kind of feel like I’m home. There are other salesmen from the Navy and the Army also, so I’m with my peers,” he said.
Once he was hired, Toussaint adapted well to Southern Auto’s training program and overall environment, which he attributed to being a Marine. “You are given a lot of leadership, no matter what your rank is. You have lots of expensive equipment in your care, and there are lives depending on you, so it’s very important to do your best and double check everything,” he said.
Listening ability was another indirect attribute that has come in handy. “As a leader in the Marine Corps, there are a lot of people who you mentor. You tend to know what is going on in their lives, and you learn to be a good listener.” He found that skill translated very well to his current role. “It helped me to listen to a customer’s needs and place them in the car that is right for them,” he said.
Toussaint found that although the structure in the civilian world was different, it was not impossible, especially for a veteran. “We are versatile and taught to adapt our skills to a new environment all the time. The ability to think quickly has helped me to succeed,” he said.
What does he think helped him get noticed at the career fair? “Marines are known for how we present ourselves. We take pride in our appearance and are well-dressed. Because I represent the Marine Corps at all times, I was able to be confident in my approach to different companies, and I think that made a big difference.”
Toussaint has a few secrets to success for newly-transitioning veterans:
- Keep your options open.
“Keep your options open and don’t limit yourself to your MOS skill set, because you are so much more than that. You don’t realize how much you actually know. Your experience as a leader, taking care of equipment and inventory, administration and paperwork are very valuable,” he said. “I was not seeking a sales career, but in the Marine Corps we are constantly selling ourselves. It comes more naturally than you would think.”
- Realize your full capability.
“Believe me, if you can handle 4,000 Marines, this is cake!” he joked.
Toussaint pointed out that there is a lot more to selling a car than just being friendly. He was in charge of training more than eight squadrons, up to 4,000 Marines. “I had to make sure everyone had the correct paperwork for inspections. Believe me, if you can handle 4,000 Marines, this is cake!” he joked.
He went on to cite the Marine Corps Fit Rep (a yearly evaluation) as an example of how to pinpoint his achievements. “I had really been trained all along on how to present myself and talk about my successes,” he said.
- Trust what you’ve been taught.
“For example, the computer skills you already have will help you. You may not realize how much you know because you’re just doing your job every day. But in the civilian world, you are probably way ahead of others,” he said.
Because veterans wear so many hats aside from their MOS, Toussaint pointed out, “When you put it all together, veterans really are masters of all trades.”