Franchised dealers employ a variety of administrative staff necessary to support and coordinate operations. Competitive pay and opportunity for advancement are available to office managers, comptrollers, secretaries, accounting managers, cashiers, telephone operators, bookkeepers and clerks.
Computers are used extensively in auto dealerships to assist in record keeping and accounting, new- and used-car sales, finance and insurance sales, parts inventory management and repair order scheduling.
The office manager is responsible for organizing, supervising and coordinating administrative operations, which include payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable, inventory control, benefits management and human resources. Often he or she has worked their way up from an entry level position.
The top administrative post is general manager, who is often the dealership owner as well. He or she is responsible for the successful operation of the entire dealership. This position requires excellent business management skills and experience in all dealership departments.
Finally, ultimate responsibility for the success of the dealership rests with the dealership owner or president. Franchises are awarded only to individuals who demonstrate that they will be good representatives of the manufacturers in their local communities. This takes proven automobile experience, management skills, personal integrity and financial backing.
Keep in mind that, although many dealerships have been in the hands of a family for generations, many dealers come up through the ranks, starting at the bottom of the dealership ladder and progressing upward through hard work, talent and ambition. You can, too.
Service is one of the most important departments in a dealership. It is a key profit center with more people, facilities and equipment than any other department. It is also the key to the success of a dealership. If customers do not receive courteous, prompt and reliable service, it is unlikely that they will come back.
Today's service technician job is more skilled and challenging than ever before. New cars and trucks are far more complex than they used to be, and a modern service bay is beginning to look like a science lab, with lots of expensive, sophisticated diagnostic and repair equipment, including computers.
The "grease monkey" image is a thing of the past. Line technicians must have an extensive knowledge of mechanical, electronic and computer technology, and this knowledge must be updated constantly to keep pace with rapid change. Technicians are well-paid (frequently based on skill and speed) and are in high demand. Dealerships around the country employ 245,000 technicians.
The dealer and the manufacturer make a large investment in ongoing training for all service technicians, and that is why it is so important to employ skilled, motivated personnel.
Young people seeking a career in this field should be mechanically inclined, have good reading comprehension and basic math skills, and enjoy working on cars and trucks. High school and technical school training in auto mechanics is an advantage, of course, as is training in chemistry, electronics, physics and computers. But the most important qualification may be your desire to succeed at this highly skilled trade.
If you have no previous training in auto mechanics, you can get started in a dealership as a porter or car washer, helping to prepare new and used cars for delivery and familiarizing yourself with the way the dealership team works. If you develop good work habits and demonstrate a desire to advance, your job may lead to maintenance and repair work on the lubrication rack or as a light repair mechanic.
The next step is apprentice technician, where, under the close guidance of a qualified technician, the shop foreman and the service manager, the apprentice must learn the trade thoroughly in order to advance to the job of full technician.
Because it is more difficult today for the service technician to make all necessary repairs on cars and trucks, many large dealerships employ service specialists who concentrate their skills in a single area, such as tune-up and diagnosis, electrical systems, front end and steering, automatic transmissions, air conditioning, brakes, radiators, diesel engines or light or heavy truck repairs.
Body repairs and painting are also highly specialized skills that are frequently treated as a separate operation with its own facilities and manager. Young people usually enter this field as body shop helpers until they have mastered the skills of painting or repair.
Because the job is challenging and the pay and benefits are good, many service technicians are content to remain in these positions throughout their careers. But this training and experience may also be used as a step to becoming shop foreman, service advisor or service manager, which require excellent communication, organization and supervisory skills. And some of the best salespeople come from the service department.
The shop manager or foreman is usually the best service technician. He or she supervises and trains other technicians and makes sure that their finished work is done properly and promptly. Large service operations may also have a service dispatcher who assigns the work to mechanics and directs the flow of cars through the shop.
Service advisors meet the customer, write the repair order, estimate the cost and time needed to do the job, handle customer complaints and help bring new business into the service department. In addition to having a sound knowledge of auto mechanics, service advisors must also be able to work with both the public and the shop technicians in a courteous, professional manner.
The overall responsibility for the reputation, efficiency and profitability of the service department rests with the service manager. He or she is responsible for controlling costs, building a loyal clientele, maintaining good employee relations, setting and obtaining sales and profit objectives and maintaining service records. This is a demanding management position that may lead to fixed operations director (in charge of the service, parts and body shop departments), general manager or even dealer.
The service department is an increasingly important source of dealership profits. Dealers have invested more than $5 billion in parts inventory and complete more than 200 million repair orders annually — more than one repair per licensed driver in the United States! And auto technician pay has been rising faster than the rate of inflation since 1988. Service presents one of the most promising career opportunities in a dealership, with a clear line of advancement for those with ambition and skill.
A well-run, efficient parts department is essential to a successful dealership. Not only does it support service and sales operations, but many large parts departments aggressively sell parts and accessories to the public and to other dealers and independent repair shops.
A sound technical background, an ability to work with people, a keen sense of organization and attention to detail are the key qualities of good parts employees. You can enter this field by becoming a pick-up and delivery person, parts helper or shipping and receiving clerk. But often the best experience is acquired in the service department, where knowledge is gained in the frequency of repair and parts replacement of the cars and trucks sold by the dealership.
This knowledge is important for counter salespeople, who must not only be able to work with the service and body shop managers and technicians, but also act as troubleshooters for customers doing their own repairs. They must be able to suggest complimentary products and ensure that the customer is exposed to the full product line. They keep track of inventory, replenish stock when necessary, provide price quotes and keep up to date on new products.
The overall responsibility for the parts department falls to the parts manager. He or she hires, trains and supervises all department personnel. Controlling inventory, security, merchandising, displaying and advertising are responsibilities of the parts manager, as well as interfacing with commercial customers. Like all management positions in a dealership, it is a demanding, well-paying job that can lead to the position of general manager or dealer.
Automobile salespeople are front-line professionals representing the dealership as well as the manufacturer of the products he or she sells. They must have an understanding of the products they sell, finance, insurance, state and federal laws, warranties and the automobile industry in general. Salespeople are organized self-starters who can stick to a tough daily routine and prospect for new customers by telephone, mail and personal contacts. Most important, the sales staff should be excellent communicators who truly enjoy working with people.
To keep the sales staff up to date on the latest product developments and sales techniques, dealers and manufacturers conduct regular training sessions and encourage salespeople to take advantage of a wide variety of outside sales and business courses.
And, like many high-technology fields demanding extensive product knowledge, automotive salespeople are specialized. In many dealerships there are separate sales forces for used vehicles, trucks, recreational vehicles, fleet sales, and rental and leasing operations. New-car and used-car sales managers plan, organize and coordinate the activities of their respective staffs under the direction of a general sales manager, who ensures that the dealership meets sales quotas. A finance and insurance manager establishes relationships with financing and insurance companies and sells those products to vehicle purchasers. There may also be full-time customer relations and marketing managers to support the sales staff, in addition to a showroom receptionist or greeter.