Finding, selecting and keeping auto retail

The recently held National Automobile Dealers Association (Nada) 2023 Conference in Sandton, where the future-proofing of businesses in the industry was the running theme, David Lowrie of MSXI Australia highlighted issues surrounding the next generation of auto retail talent.

David Lowrie

Lowrie by his own account has “30 years’ experience in the business implementation game” and is currently the Group Head of Learning Solutions at MSXI Australia. He is touted as a “global thought leader on unlocking company performance through Employee Engagement”. He has also been actively involved in the South African automotive retail industry for the past 20 years. Lowrie uses his ever-cumulating experience to globally help OEMs and other companies in the automotive retail industry to set their people and retail development strategies.

Part of his address was titled “Building the next level of auto retail talent” in which he highlighted five key areas. Lowrie did not so much offer solutions but encouraged stakeholders to start thinking around the five areas.

As a backdrop, he set the exodus of retail talent after the COVID pandemic. He explained that the best employees left the industry during the “Great Resignation” because there were just no vehicles for them to sell.

Changing Roles

Different retail models, changing customer expectations and rapidly changing vehicle specifications and technology are all challenging what is seen as the ‘normal’ dealership model, said Lowrie. “DPs will have to start thinking about where they are going to find the staff that can cope and deal with these new demands,” he said.

Talent Attraction

“How are we going to attract these people,” Lowrie asked. “No one finishes high school or university and then decides to go and sell cars. What are we doing to attract people into our business now that these new roles have emerged? From a dealership perspective, we need to really rethink our employee-hiring practices and look at our dealership business as its own brand,” explained Lowrie.

Talent Selection

“Selecting the right talent once you have found them also requires a major rethink. When you think about companies like Apple and Disney, the two main criteria they use to select people are attitude and personality. They believe they can teach them the skills later. Unfortunately, we are still too focused on skills in our industry,” warned Lowrie. He used Proton in Malaysia as an example. “Proton is getting dealers to go out to universities and talk to electrical engineering and computer graduates to try and attract them to come and work at dealerships,” said Lowrie.

Employee Engagement

“An engaged employee is a powerful asset. When I talk to OEMs about their retail network development and particularly their academy structures, I keep telling them the only thing they should look at in terms of measuring their return on investment is learner and employee engagement. Where we have put this in place, it has become the only measure they worry about. For you as a dealership it is a critical factor in keeping your employees. For 95% of the top global companies, employee engagement is their top priority. Keeping them informed and inspired means keeping them in the business,” said Lowrie.

Talent Management

“If you go to any of the big employment-seeking sites, you will see that talent management is the fastest-growing role player, especially since COVID. We need to ask ourselves, ‘how do we take the talent we got and upskill them?’ Not only to retain them but to groom them to be the next team of managers, CEOs and DPs. It is a critical success factor and it’s really going to hit us in the next ten years,” he warned.

Lowrie concluded by urging conference attendees to start planning now. “All these things are going to trickle down on us whether we like it or not. What we can do now is start thinking about it,” he said.

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