900. Remember this number.
My columns over the last several months have described the incredible things Tucson businesses are doing to counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Companies are being innovative, adjusting their models to recover lost revenue and remain open.
One specific aspect of the pandemic’s impact that is felt everywhere is the loss of jobs. At its peak, national unemployment was nearly 15%; a number not seen since the Great Depression. That peak has ebbed in the last two months, with unemployment now hovering around 10%. An improvement, but still devastatingly high in terms of its impact on families and the economy.
I mentioned 900. That is the number of employees at Click Auto Group, spread over 10 locations throughout the Tucson area. In the midst of business closings and job losses, not one of Click Auto Group’s employees was laid off. Also, the Click Auto Group did not take a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the government.
I met with Click Auto Group’s leadership team — Chief Operating Officer Sam Khayat, Chief Financial Officer Jill Oliver and Daryl Koeppel, director of parts and service — to find out how they did this, to better understand what they did, and how they accomplished zero layoffs in such difficult circumstances.
The first thing they told me is that “we’re all in this together.” Everyone is part of the family. They asked themselves “What is the right thing to do?” The answer was to keep jobs; to keep the family together.
Easy to say. Not so easy to do. That is where the work began in (believe it or not) late January. They assembled a COVID-19 task force to keep everyone informed as to how to stay healthy. Where to go, where not to go, procedures to follow, all by ZIP code.
Khayat led a daily conference call with 150 managers. They talked about business issues, policies, procedures and, most importantly, staying safe. This focus on safety was not only for the sake of their employees. It was also for the safety of their customers.
As you can imagine, even with these preemptive steps, the business was hit hard in March and April. Gov. Doug Ducey issued his stay-at-home order on March 30, and it was not lifted until May. Over that time frame, revenues were off almost 50%.
The entire Click team focused on redesigning their business for this new environment. A few of the alterations that charted a path to their recovery:
- Salespeople worked from home. They prioritized quality over quantity.
- Altering the interior configuration of shuttle vans for only two-person travel.
- At-home pickup and delivery of new or used car purchases.
- Closing the cafes inside the dealerships.
- Setting up 6-foot distance markings, rearranging furniture, providing sneeze guards, face masks and latex gloves for each person.
- Creating special offers for first responders, health-care workers, and grocery workers for vehicle discount purchases and free maintenance services.
They tracked everything. How many new business calls were made? How were the follow-up calls with existing customers? How was the follow-up on online leads? Service satisfaction calls? If someone touched the Click Auto Group in some way, they were followed up with in a professional and courteous manner.
The Click organization was purposeful in letting the Tucson community know they were open for business. When the lockdown really settled in back in March, the Click organization increased their volume of advertising. A more conservative approach would have been to conserve cash flow and cut back, especially if your customers are staying home. The Click Auto Group went in the opposite direction. They increased their outreach through an increased ad spend.
All of this hard work paid off. Sure, they experienced a downturn in business. But, it was short-lived in comparison to the overall economy. Business volume began to return to normal in May, and has been improving since then.
Yes, the pandemic has been hard. Out of these difficult times the Click Auto Group innovated, reinvented, and just hard-worked their way through it.
As a result, 900 families are weathering the storm because 900 employees worked together like a family.
Ken Cook is the co-founder of How to Who, a program on how to build strong business relationships. Learn more at howtowho.com.