Silicon Valley car dealer embraces a tech giant culture

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Volkswagen showroom that shares a home with Del Grande Dealer Group’s headquarters features a mural of surfers in nearby Santa Cruz, hand-painted columns by a local artist and classic VW Beetle and microvan models with their beachy, Northern California vibe.

But don’t be fooled by the casual atmosphere.

Like its high-tech neighbors in the heart of Silicon Valley, Del Grande means business. And that means satisfying sky-high expectations of customers and employees by nurturing a team culture that encourages soft skills such as caring and hard ones including financial results.

Silicon Valley is one of the most competitive job markets in the country. Operating a traditionally low-margin retail business in such an environment isn’t easy.

Living expenses are high, so Del Grande offers salaries that meet or beat the market’s going rate — plus benefits, training programs and employee appreciation through in-work events and off-site fun that includes opportunities to win prizes, including cash.

“You can have all this cool stuff, but if you don’t have a team and a culture and an organization where people want to come to work, feel appreciated and have opportunities for growth, really nothing matters,” said Jeremy Beaver, CEO of Del Grande Dealer Group.

While the cool stuff doesn’t include the unlimited free food and foosball popular at big tech companies such as Google, Del Grande does cater meals and snacks for regular employee-appreciation events and has installed classic arcade games in technician break rooms.

“While we can’t have free-food cafeterias in every store, that doesn’t mean we can’t have as much appreciation for our team as everyone else,” Beaver said.

In the hallways above the VW showroom, walls are covered with hand-drawn storyboards from the group’s leadership summit. This year’s theme — “Rocketship,” which is also the name of the “vision” coffee table book that came out of the summit — envisions a growth phase as the retailer comes out of the pandemic.

“Expand our footprint,” “Home delivery free up to 50 miles,” and “7 steps to a world-class walk-around” are among the ideas logged on the boards that find their way into the yearly vision book that sets the tone for the group’s 1,100 employees.

One thing that doesn’t change from year to year is the group’s mantra: Integrity, Caring, Performance and Efficiency — in that order, Beaver said.

“It’s less about the financial and sales numbers,” Beaver said of the leadership summit and the vision book, which is shared and discussed throughout the 18-store group.

“We spend probably 10 percent of the time on that. We spend 90 percent on where we’re going, how to get there and being able to cascade that message to our team,” said Beaver.

During a tour of Del Grande’s headquarters, Beaver showed off one of the group’s training centers, along with a design center, call center and in-house tech operations.

Del Grande Dealer Group has been recognized as a top workplace for 11 years by a Bay Area news group. Its attrition rate has fallen to 13 percent so far this year from 37 percent last year, the retailer said, and employee satisfaction rose to 80 percent from 75 percent.

New- and used-vehicle sales last year rose 17 percent to 23,822 across the group.

The company also revises its goals quarterly and may drop initiatives that aren’t working or need changing. But that’s part of Silicon Valley culture — the freedom to fail.

“There’s plenty of things we have ideas on and they don’t necessarily work and we have to change them or tweak them,” Beaver said.

This year’s “Rocketship” theme was chosen because the group is launching several new initiatives, such as home vehicle delivery, and added four dealerships. The theme also emphasizes teamwork since sending a rocket into space depends on everyone doing their jobs, from top executives to workers on the ground.

When the management summits started in 2013, the written material that came out of them was little more than a PowerPoint presentation, Beaver said. Later, there was a spiral-bound version and finally the current highly produced mix of images and words that’s far more approachable than a slide deck.

“The book is the physical piece of it, but it’s really about the concept of what we are going to do, how we are going to do it together and getting feedback and collaboration,” Beaver said.

The leadership summit and vision book reflect those values. “There are financial things that are in there, but what DGDG is about is understanding what the best practices are from the area we are living in and how many of those we can incorporate into a sustainable business.”

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