Small store means closer connection to staff


Jackson Hayes

VEGREVILLE, ALTA. – It is safe to assume that a dealership with 21 CSI awards from its factory knows a thing or two about making customers happy.

Such is the case for Brian Baron and Vegreville Ford in tiny Vegreville, Alta. roughly 100 km east of Edmonton.

Under current ownership for the last 25 years, the store has won 21 Ford President’s Awards with what its owner terms as a culture of care that starts at the top.

“Everybody knows how I think and all the managers are on the same page,” Baron says. “Our expectations are communicated throughout the store and they are discussed daily. With an engaged staff that likes to be there, you can see it in their work. Our salespeople are on the front lines and they make great first impressions. They are the kind of people who have a genuine interest in taking care of the customer and getting them what they want.”

Also key for Baron and his managers is communication. He says management has sit-downs with technicians once a week to deal with housekeeping and review something that went wrong or right.

New car sales are also examined to help hone techniques and avoid pitfalls.

And addressing problems immediately is paramount to running a smooth operation. If somebody is failing or having difficulties, it is addressed, not ignored.

Baron offered one example of a tech several months ago whose performance had started dropping off. It was explored further with the staffer eventually revealing had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s pretty tight here,” he said, noting the tech is expected to make a full recovery.

When asked how he ensures a happy employee base, Baron said it is paramount to hire right in the first place. He concedes he has had to learn the hard way on occasion, but after 25 years he’s gotten pretty good at “judging horse flesh,” as he puts it.

“Your gut tells you a lot. And remember, past performance is a pretty good indication of future performance. We also try to pay as well as we can. But more importantly, you have to treat your staff well. If you ask my wife, she’d tell you everyone gets to do whatever they want, whenever they want,” he said with a chuckle.

We all hear the studies suggesting a balanced life between home and work is an important element to production. Baron believes all stores should accommodate both sides as much as possible as a happy employee is a more productive one.

Keeping staff at Vegreville Ford happy includes maintaining an open door communication policy, treating everyone with respect and fostering an “emotionally mature operation” with as little drama as possible.

All things, from Baron’s view, that are made easier by the size of the store. The store has 35 staff in a town of less than 6,000.

“I look at some people who run big stores or multiple dealerships and say I don’t know how you do it. I want to know what’s going on in every corner and I want to know if an employee is having problems or getting married… if you have a guy that’s not focused, you have to know why and get them happy.”

Judging by some of the staff tenures rattled off – sales staff there for 24 years, 18 years and two at 10 years respectively with a sales manager going on 26 years – Vegreville Ford might have mixed up the elusive secret sauce.