Auto Industry Veteran Lisa Copeland Discusses How to Make Every Dealership Employee a Brand Ambassador

Lisa Copeland

Setting the right tone for the new year is crucial for any dealership. Now is the time to throw out bad habits, try new strategies, and watch out for emerging trends. Joining us today to lend her insight into 2020 is auto retail powerhouse Lisa Copeland who is no stranger to the CBT Automotive Network. Lisa is the founder of Lisa Copeland Global and CEO of Cars Her Way and host of the Cars Her Way Show on iHeartRadio

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Jim Fitzpatrick: Hi, everyone, Jim Fitzpatrick with CBT Automotive Network. We are so happy to have with us, via Skype, from her headquarters in Austin, Texas, Ms. Lisa Copeland. I know that you know that face and this name. She’s been around the business now for a little bit. I don’t want to make you sound old, Lisa, because you’re not, but you’ve been a driving force in the industry. We want to thank you for that. And you’re also the founder and CEO of Cars Her Way. So thanks for joining us today.

Lisa Copeland: Thanks, Jim. Happy new year.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Thank you. And happy new year to you as well. When you’re on … About a year ago, you and Brian Benstock joined me on the show here to talk about attracting and retaining more females in the retail automotive space. How have things changed in the industry from your perspective since that interview?

Lisa Copeland: They haven’t. They haven’t. I know that AutoNation got a new CEO, and so that’s Cheryl, and that’s very exciting. And I do feel like maybe you, me, and Brian were a little bit instrumental in that, in that placement.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I think we were.

Lisa Copeland: I like to at least say so.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right, I was just going to say I’d like to think we were, but …

Lisa Copeland: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it sounds good in the press at least. And I think she’s fantastic, but I don’t think that you can turn the Titanic overnight. Right? And so, it takes a while. So like I said, I am rooting for her, and I’m rooting for AutoNation, and just to see what they do, because so goes AutoNation, so goes the nation.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. And so many dealers are watching that, right? And how she handles it. Obviously, seven years ago, Mary Barra took over GM, and you can see obviously what she’s done with that company, which is incredible work through some very difficult times. But it was a female at the helm of that company for the last seven years. So some great-

Lisa Copeland: Well, and I also got to hang out with Laura, who’s the president of Aston Martin, during Formula One. She invited me to come-

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. There’s another OEM president. Yeah.

Lisa Copeland: Yes. And she was wonderful. She invited me to sit in the Aston Martin suite at Formula One and be her guest. And wow, she’s got a vision for Aston Martin too. So yes, we’re making a bit of progress at the C suite, but there’s still so much more to do when we look at the retail automotive industry and that showroom floor.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s exactly right. Yeah. In your opinion, what do we need to do in order to attract? What’s the top two or three things that dealers need to focus on to attract and retain more females on their showroom floor or in their service centers?

Lisa Copeland: For all employees, you’ve got to provide a place that they want to work, that they want to be proud of. You’ve got to provide a place where it’s okay if your kid is sick or if you’re sick or if you need to take care of your family. You know, 52% of women today are single moms, right? So they’re possibly just relying on one income. So it’s really scary for women. You know, and I don’t want to say just when we’re talking about women now, it’s scary for women to go into a strictly commission-based job not knowing what next month holds. That isn’t even a good fiscal responsibility. That’s not even a good fiscal decision for her to make if she’s got kids at home that she’s solely responsible for. So I can go on and on and on. But what’s interesting to me, Jim, is that other retailers do not have a problem hiring women into retail. So think about that. Apple’s got more than half women retail and they work retail hours. You go to the mall, you go to Dillard’s or to Nordstrom or to Neiman Marcus, it’s the majority are women. They’re working retail hours. What is the difference?

Jim Fitzpatrick: And I think it should be said that the retail hours, you know, when you say retail hours, everybody thinks a lot of hours. But the reality is I’ve got friends that work for Apple in their Apple stores, they have a 40-hour workweek. They don’t have a 60-hour workweek or a 70 hour workweek or-

Lisa Copeland: They also have a guaranteed salary.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And they’re on guaranteed salary. That’s exactly right. So we’ve got to break out of that notion that no, if you’re not selling enough cars, you got to be here. Oh, and by the way, if business is really good, you got to be here. Okay. So when are the individuals and the staff supposed to take off with their families? And as we’ve said before, that’s means so much to today’s employee. Right? Whether they’re a millennial or they’re a generation Z or they’re a baby boomer. I know boomers that are like, “Guy, your hours in that car business is, they’re absolutely crazy.”

Lisa Copeland: They are crazy. And I got to tell you, Jim, I think Detroit has it right. Since the last time you and I spoke, I went to visit my dear friend Ali Reda, the number one car salesman in the world, which I know is a friend of yours also. And he works Monday through Friday, nine to five. Maybe six o’clock if it’s late, his whole dealership does. So as an industry, if we would take on what Detroit does and open five days a week from nine to six and that’s the only time that somebody can go buy a car, then guess what? The game changes. And that was so big to me when I spent the time that I spent with my dear friend Ali at his dealership. I mean, it was a well-oiled machine. He did it 42 hours a week. And everybody, work-life balance, everyone’s happy and he’s the number one car salesman in the world. So there’s something there, right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. And what’s wrong with setting up hiring more people to set up a 40-hour workweek for your sales department? Look, in fact, if you work for a lot of these companies, Best Buy or the others, you actually get in trouble from HR if your hours go over 40. Why? Because now they’re going to pay you time and a half. Or on Sunday, double-time, whatever the case might be. So their managers are instructed to say, “Look, you’re out of here. Punch out at eight o’clock because that’s going to be your 40th hour and you’re not going over time.” And yet, they still thrive, both the salesperson and the company. And I think we can learn a lot from that. Now, there’s dealers watching me right now saying, “Jim, you don’t have a clue,” which I do have a clue about the business. I’ve dedicated my life to it. And I know that a dealer’s concern is that’s going to raise their payroll, that’s going to raise their cost of labor on their dealer statement. But you know what else raises the cost of labor way more is a high turnover rate? You know, is a culture-

Lisa Copeland: It was on the tip of my tongue.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right. It is a culture that people say, “This place sucks. I don’t want to work here.” And that flows through right to the customer experience. Right?

Lisa Copeland: Yeah. And it isn’t even the … And what’s interesting when you look at turnover and for the dealers that are watching, it isn’t even the, “This sucks. I don’t want to work here,” which happens all the time. But then that person is out in the community telling everybody who will listen to them that that’s a bad place to work, it’s a bad place to buy a car, that the dealer is a tyrant, is a bully, this, that and the other. So nothing about it makes any money. So to your point, if we would put in some logical work hours and enough staff to cover, so 40, 45 hours a week, everybody could make a living. Now all of a sudden, if you want to flip the switch on that, you’ve got twice as many brand ambassadors out in your local community speaking the praises of your dealership. “This is a great place to work. My dealer is awesome. You know, we are different than every other dealer in the country.” You have twice as many people out there when you’re not at work trying to sell cars for you and trying to be out there and be your brand ambassador.

Lisa Copeland: And I sat down with a dealer on the West coast a couple of months ago and I had that conversation with him. And he’s like, “Lisa, the light just went off.” And he’s literally hired, not as many as I wanted him to, but 30% more salespeople, which to me was a huge win. I mean, the sales managers thanked me, the salespeople, I mean everybody down to the receptionist. I mean, I thought they were going to have a Lisa Copeland day, for goodness sakes. But he got it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: You won the key to the dealership.

Lisa Copeland: Right. But he got it. He was like, “Oh, I didn’t even think about when they’re not at the dealership.” I said, “A happy employee is a brand ambassador. An unhappy employee is an absolute torpedo to your reputation, to your store, and to business.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Part of that happiness for the sales department also lies in the guaranteed compensation. So that somebody gets into the business, goes, “Look, I know I need to pay my rent and my car payment and my heating bill. Okay? Am I going to make enough to pay that?” “Well, if you sell enough cars, you will.” “Well, I’m getting just getting into the business, I’m just getting started. I can’t live on 1500 bucks a month. I need a real salary, you know, $40,000, $42,000, $45,000 a year. And is that plausible?” You’ve been a dealer, and a successful dealer at that. What do you think when you hear a proposal like that? If somebody said to you, “Lisa, you got to pay these people a real salary so that they can learn the business, get in the business, and thrive in it after 90 days, six months, a year.” Is that a plausible approach to pay salespeople north of $40,000 a year salary?

Lisa Copeland: You know, I don’t know anybody … I take it back. I think CarMax does it. I just sent a family member of mine. She found a car at CarMax. And kicking and screaming, I couldn’t get her off of it. And the best experience she’s ever had. I mean, I didn’t even have to go to the dealership. She never went to the dealership.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I purchased a car from CarMax, loved it. It was great.

Lisa Copeland: Easy. Easy peasy. Dealers, take note, take note. And so, but that salesperson had a salary, because I asked her to ask some questions, of almost $50,000 a year. Sales person. Yeah. And it was just an unbelievable experience. So you know, did I ever pay that? No. So for me to sit and say … Do I think it’s great? Yes. I think 50 is probably a little high, but at $40,000 plus bonuses, unit bonuses and things like that, people can pay their bills in most parts of the country.

Lisa Copeland: Number two, you have to put KPIs on there. And then newsflash, you’ve got to get your sales managers and your management to actually manage these people. So if they’re not hitting their KPIs, then help them get there or help them find their next career. Right? So it isn’t just, “Hey, let’s just pay everybody 40 grand or 50 grand and just let them go.” I mean, the accountability has to start going all the way up the chain at that point. And then at that point, the dealer will ROI on that salary from everything from brand ambassador, lack of turnover, a happy employee. You know, blah, blah blah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And the sales manager that’s hiring that individual on a commission-only basis, he’s not working on commission only. You know he’s guaranteed $100,000 a year or better if the dealership does nothing. So that’s what it took to get that talent in that spot. Right? And the same holds true even at the next level down, which is incidentally where we found this man. This sales manager came from the showroom floor. So if we want better managers, let’s hire better salespeople. You want to hire better salespeople, then we got to do what we got to do in the area of compensation, time off, benefits, 401k accounts and such. And so, you know, that’s really going to be, I think-

Lisa Copeland: All that’s great, benefits and 401k, but if you’re never home to seek the benefit of it, right? So there’s that. And I had told you that over the last month or two, I’ve gotten several people that I know asking me to be references for them because it isn’t that they want to switch dealers, they want to get out of the car business. And I told you that was 60% men and 40% women. I mean, like every time I get a text from somebody I know from the audit, I’m like, “Oh boy, they want to get out.” And they do. They’re tired of it. They’re tired of the grind. They’re tired of working for people and dealers that are not appreciative of what they do and frankly don’t find enough value in them to make sure that they have enough money to pay their rent.

Lisa Copeland: And I’ll tell you, there’s a dear, dear friend of mine, dealer, Adam Arens. I know you know Adam, Patriot Subaru. Wonderful, wonderful human. And you know, he said something that really impacted me. He said, “I pay all of my employees health insurance because I believe everybody has the fundamental right to have …” I mean, he pays all of it. And, “Because I believe that people have the fundamental right to have health insurance.” That’s the guy I want to work for, or gal.

Jim Fitzpatrick: He’s walking the talk, isn’t he?

Lisa Copeland: He does. He walks the talk every single day. And so for those of you out there, check out Adam Arens. And this is unsolicited, Patriot Subaru.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. No, there’s no question that he is definitely a leader in our industry, does a phenomenal job, knows the industry, came up from the showroom and then went, I think he was with JM&A for some time, did a great job there and then became a dealer principal and he’s grown his auto group and highly successful. So the guy knows the car business.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So switching gears a little bit, you were a dealer, as I mentioned, a successful dealer and you crisscross the country speaking to dealers and working right there in the showroom floor and working with dealer organizations and their sales department and such. What do you think GMs need to focus on, dealer principles and GMs, need to focus on now that we’ve started 2020 off and for this year? What do you tell your people? Hey, if you had two or three things that you really need to focus on, what are those?

Lisa Copeland: Well, beating the drum. But number one, people. The people are the lifeline of your business. Number two, training and educating your people. I mean, I go into stores and people are just, they’re clueless. They don’t even understand social media. They don’t understand technology. They don’t understand. There’s so much that they don’t understand and the dealers don’t want to invest, or the GMs. Their advertising budgets are just so blown out of proportion and their training budgets are sometimes one 20th of what their advertising budget is.

Jim Fitzpatrick: If there is even a training budget.

Lisa Copeland: Right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Lisa Copeland: So I’m like, “Okay. So you’re going to spend six figures to bring all these people into the front door and then your people don’t know what to do with them.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. That’s right. What do you say to the dealer that says, “I hear what you’re saying Lisa, but today, the salesperson isn’t as relevant because the customer is online, they do some of the process online, they already know the car they want to buy, they know the stock number, they know the trade value, they’ve already been sold on the car pretty much. So the relevance of that salesperson isn’t what it was 20 years ago.”

Lisa Copeland: You know, I totally and absolutely fundamentally disagree with that because at the end of the day … I mean, even the guy at CarMax, even the guy at CarMax that helped my family member was just … He knew that car inside and out. By the time my family member had gotten there to pick up the car, he knew everything about it. And it was a pre-owned, of course. He knew what was remaining on the factory warranty. There’s still that human touch. And if you look at, Cox has done studies, several of them have done studies out there, that the consumer, and of course I usually speak to female consumers, but consumers in general, we want the human touch. We just don’t want to deal with some buffoon or somebody who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I still want to talk to somebody if they’re knowledgeable.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Or somebody that we know in our heart of hearts won’t be there in three months. Maybe the next time we come in for the carpeted floor mats.

Lisa Copeland: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I mean, sometimes that’s how bad it is, right?

Lisa Copeland: It’s that way a lot of places, unfortunately.

Jim Fitzpatrick: It’s crazy. It’s crazy. So, you know, I know what it’s like firsthand in social media. Do you think all salespeople should be in social media today, that are in the auto industry?

Lisa Copeland: That’s a loaded question. I would say yes and no. Yes, if you’re good at it and you have a high emotional intelligence. You know, I look at some of the guys out there that we know really well, Sean Hayes and my good friend Glenn Lundy and several these guys out there that are just, they’re excellent, man, they’re pros, right? You know, they get on social media and they have an idea, they’ve got content, it’s strategic, and wow, it went. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Now, let me just ask one question. And what’s a little bit confusing to me on that is that in both of those cases, great guys, by the way, and I love what they’re doing for the industry, but they’re more industry focused on the do’s and don’ts than they are to the consumer. From my perspective, if I’m one of their customers or my kid plays ball with their kid and I go on and I see Facebook and it seems to me as though, and they might have two Facebook accounts, I don’t know, but the one that I’m coming across that seems to get the most traffic is the work that they’re doing for other salespeople and other managers in the auto industry as a whole, which is great work. I love everything that they do. But how do you … Is that what we should be … When we go on social media, should it be about the industry or should it be about what consumers want to know about?

Lisa Copeland: Now that’s a great point. Like if you go to the Cars Her Way Facebook page, what we’re talking to is we’re talking to female consumers. We’re talking a little bit about the industry. We’re talking about cool cars that are coming out. We’re talking about movements for women and the way that women are advancing in 2020. So to your point, it’s excellent point, those guys have now moved to a different bracket. But when you look at sales people, like another good friend of mine, Amy Bannor, just a girl selling cars, I’ve got another…

Jim Fitzpatrick: Just a girl selling cars.

Lisa Copeland: Yeah, Brittany Foster, Alaina at Allen Chevrolet, she just did selling in heels. Gosh, I just, I just promoted her page. And so, you have to decide what lane it is you want to play in. But to answer your question, to be on social media and you want to do it for your business, then you’ve got to have a high emotional intelligence. You know, you’re not allowed to get on there, put inappropriate pictures, inappropriate comments, talk about politics, talk about anything that is not 100% related to the fact that you are lining yourself up to be an industry expert. Because that’s what your customers are looking for. You know, they’re looking to work with an expert, they’re looking to work with an authority. And are you going to brand yourself as an authority within your brand, your dealership, and the manufacturers that you represent?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Is it okay to post pictures of yourself with current customers that took delivery? Is that a good idea?

Lisa Copeland: Yeah, I think it’s a great idea. The only way that I think it really works is if the customer will allow you to tag them in it so it goes to their Facebook wall.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So for salespeople that are listening, if you’re not in social media, you heard it right here from the pro herself. In 2020, make a commitment, learn it, get into it, and try to understand it. But it definitely can go to work for you, right Lisa?

Lisa Copeland: Yes, yes. And be sure to brand yourself as an authority, as an expert.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And be consumer-focused, not industry-focused. Don’t come out with three tips on how to close a customer with a higher gross profit. Right?

Lisa Copeland: No.

Jim Fitzpatrick: No, not going to help.

Lisa Copeland: You’ll never see that on Cars Her Way. I will tell you that.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So we’re going into NADA here in the next, I guess, like four weeks. We’re going to be at NADA. You’re going to be talking about a lot of different things. What are some of the trends that you see for 2020? What are you following? What do you think will sit … If we’re sitting here a year from now, what are you going to say I told you so, that’s a hot trend?

Lisa Copeland: Well, I think the number one opportunity for dealers today, and this is what this manufacturer has hired us for, is the service drive. I still think it’s, you know, we spend all this money to bring in outside customers, to fight with our competitors, to do this, that and the other when we have enough business sitting on our service drive, if properly worked, that we would, in my opinion, never have to spend another dollar advertising to the outside world.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Lisa Copeland: So we look at equity mining, we look at asking them for referrals, we look at talking to them about helping us, doing customer testimonials, all kinds of things that is sitting right there in your backyard every single day. And dealers are spending $50,000, $100,000, $200,000 a month going out and trying to find it off the streets and then completely, 100% ignoring their service departments.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. And it’s really a shame, isn’t it?

Lisa Copeland: That, to me, is the number one trend.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And you think about the data alone, like you just pointed out, the data alone that’s coming into that dealership from the service drive about vehicles that either were sold there or weren’t sold there, but now they’re in your database. And, I mean, to work that properly, you could throw your ad budget away and say, “I’m not using it.”

Lisa Copeland: Oh, and just, I mean … And talk about social, right? People do business with people they know, like, and trust. So imagine if you’re a sales person, you’ve actually stuck around for a while and you’re out there and you’re talking to your service customers. “Hey, could I grab you for a second? Would you do a little testimonial for me and talk about what it’s like to do business with me? Do you mind?” I mean, I’m telling you, customers, as long as you did a good job, they’re happy to help out. Customers are good people. There’s a reason that they bought a car from you. Because they know you, they like you, and they trust you.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So what’s on the agenda for Lisa Copeland in 2020?

Lisa Copeland: I’m working on another book.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow, that’s great.

Lisa Copeland: And I said I would never write another book and then it’s all of a sudden something happens. I’m like, “Oh God, I’m going to write a book about it.” It’s just what I do. I do that in my spare time. And then just really, really working on continuing to help our clients and the manufacturers. 2020 is going to be hard.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

Lisa Copeland: That is my personal opinion that we’re going to see some correction and we’re going to need to be more strategic than ever. And number one thing is how do we hire and retain the best and brightest in all industries? That’s going to be really, really a challenge. If you live in a place like I do, in Austin, Texas, you’re competing with Google and Dell and none of those people … Tesla. And then none of them require a college degree to go to work for them in sales. None of them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow.

Lisa Copeland: So that barrier has been taken down. And so, if you’re out trying to find the best and brightest talent, what are you going to do to get there? Let’s see. I could work at Google, I could work at Apple. I’m talking about Austin. I could work at Dell or I could work at Tesla.

Jim Fitzpatrick: A lot of the companies you just mentioned though now have a representation and footprints in a lot of the major cities around the country.

Lisa Copeland: They do.

Jim Fitzpatrick: We have Google and Microsoft and Facebook and such. So they’ve got offices here in Atlanta, as well. So as the case around the country.

Lisa Copeland: So if you’re a talented young, not so young, whatever, person, and you’re looking for a great quality of life, and you know, it isn’t just about going home quality life, it’s about loving what you do and the people you work with and being proud of the company you work for. It’s going to get tougher and tougher for car dealers, retail franchised car dealers, to hire the best and brightest.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Lisa Copeland, founder and CEO of Cars Her Way. If you don’t know that brand, get online right now. Get on your computer, get on your phone, check it out. Cars Her Way. I know you’re going to love what you see. We’ve got to make a bigger commitment to females in the industry, not just on the consumer side, but also on the employment side, and they need to be running our dealerships in the future as well. So Lisa, I want to thank you for all the work that you do in the industry and the time you’ve given us here on CBT news. We very much appreciate it. We want to have you back. So you need to be a staple here each month.

Lisa Copeland: I would love to do that. Thank you so much, Jim. And thank you for always fighting, I mean, authentically fighting for women in the auto industry. I mean, you and I’ve had the same conversation for probably the last 8 to 10 years. I don’t know how much has changed, but we’re working hard at it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Well, we’ll die fighting, won’t we?

Lisa Copeland: That’s it. Thank you, friend.

CBT Automotive Network, the number one most-watched network in retail automotive. This has been a JBF Business Media production.