Not THIEVES in the night…THIEVES in plain sight! The new world of digital splendor has produced a lot of entrepreneurs who think nothing of stealing employees from dealers they call on and I think it’s just plain wrong.
As the digital ‘E’ world has spawned hundreds of new companies selling internet/digital services that identify potential customers, attract customers, follow customers, inform customers, direct customers, manage customers, commandeering hefty portions of dealership advertising/marketing budgets in the process, many of these companies have used dealership personnel to stock their human resource pool. Dealers often pay attractive salaries to entice digital-savvy techs onto their team, then spend tens of thousands of dollars training them, sending them to seminars, classes and trade shows. Often the brightest of these dealership employees are invited to speak at vendor-sponsored events, promoting the vendor/supplier products and services. And then suddenly, the dealership employee becomes a ‘rep’ for the vendor.
There is nothing wrong with being upwardly mobile and enhancing one’s own career, but I find it distasteful for a marketing company to ‘sell’ a dealership employee on the value of its vendor services, especially where that employee’s advice is critical to the recommendation of purchase of those services, and then months later that same dealership employee is ‘hired away’ by the vendor. There may not be any wrongdoing, but there is always the nagging question of whether it was ‘quid pro quo.’
“Dealers often pay attractive salaries to entice digital-savvy techs onto their team…”
Regardless of how one feels about President Trump, it is inarguable that one of the best things our current President did without a lot of fanfare was immediately make his cabinet and closest advisors sign a ‘non-compete’ contract, that they would not work for any company that the government directed business to under their recommendation for at least 5 years, and in some cases for life.
How can a dealership protect itself against the theft of an employee?
- For starters, never take the advice of just one dealership employee for any vendor/supplier service or product. No matter how skilled, trained or brilliant in his or her specific field, always engage others, even outside resources, in a second look or opinion before making a major services expenditure or contract for services. Always ask your employee about competitive vendors and consider having several vendors make a presentation to not only the department head in charge, but to other members of the dealership team.
- Don’t temp the tempted. Establish a ‘gift policy’ if you don’t already have one in place. One such policy is a prohibition of any gift to any employee in excess value of $25 and no more food or beverage than can be consumed within 24 hours. This policy should be acknowledged and signed by every employee on the first day of employment.
- Have an employee agreement. Even in situations where you hire ‘employees at will’, you can still have documented language about general policy that outlines basic dealership rules and benefits. As part of that agreement, you can stipulate that employees will not accept employment from any vendor or supplier of your dealership for a reasonable period of time.
- Have a vendor agreement. Make a ‘non-hire’ addendum part of every single vendor supplier agreement you sign. Simply, that vendor/supplier agrees not to hire anyone under your employment without written consent of the dealership for as long as the vendor does business with you, and for at least one year after terminating a service agreement. Your consent might include reimbursement of employee training expenses and/or discounted services from that vendor for a period of time.
Your lawyer can draft language that is reasonable and defendable.
The bottom line: There is nothing wrong with an employee wanting to ‘move up’ to what he or she considers is a better opportunity. And there is nothing wrong with another company making an offer to your employee as a matter of course in doing business with you. But for you to find, hire and spend thousands of dollars on training for an employee, only to have another company hire that employee away without compensation to the dealership is wrong in my book. It may not be illegal, but it sure is unethical.
In preparing this article I spoke with several dealers who have experienced this ‘theft’ not only in the marketing department but in the parts department and body shop. Two of the dealers specifically mentioned a dent removal service who seems to be notorious in introducing their service to a dealer, then hiring the dealership employees who excel in the craft.
Not only do you want to guard against unethical hiring practices, you want to be ON guard for any unethical influences such as gifts and trips. Many years ago, I was offered a very expensive vacation in Mexico if I would take advantage of an advertising program on behalf of my client. I turned it down, but it always festered in the back of my mind as to how an employee might react to an offer like that. That was the year we established a clearly defined policy on gifts.
Here is a paragraph from an employee ‘gift policy’ statement that has been used by the ad agency I founded for many years.
Gifts to employees are limited to small gifts or premiums not exceeding a value of $25.00 when offered by media as a thank-you gift AFTER a media buy has been placed, or for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries or client milestones. Examples of acceptable gifts:
- *T-shirts, coffee cups, key chains, pens and pencils, and calendars.
- *Cookies or candy in an amount that may be consumed in 24 hours.
- *Flowers and plants.
Total dollar value of such gifts and premiums shall not exceed $25.00 per incident and shall not exceed $50.00 within any 12-month period.
If you’d like a free copy of the entire gift policy, please email me.
Author: Jim Boldebook
JIM BOLDEBOOK is Founder of CBC Automotive Marketing, an advertising/marketing agency working with some of America’s most successful dealerships. He has been in the broadcasting, advertising and marketing fields for almost 50 years. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org