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Now browsing: Hometown News > Business Columns > Earl Stewart

Earl Stewart
This Week | Archive

Relax. You're at Earl Stewart... Undercover car dealer
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Posted: 2014 Jun 27 - 08:53

Earl Stewart is the owner and general manager of Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach. The dealership is located at 1215 N. Federal Highway in Lake Park. Visit www.earlstewarttoyota.com, call (561) 358-1474, fax (561) 658-0746 or email earl@estoyota.com.

You may have seen episodes of the very popular reality TV show, "Undercover Boss." If not, the premise for this show is that the CEO's of companies disguise themselves as "just another employee" and infiltrate their own company. Their purpose is to learn what is really going on when their employees think "no one is looking".

What these bosses find out is often surprising, shocking and always very entertaining. Undercover bosses find, not only very bad employee behavior, but also very good. Of course they fire the bad employees and handsomely reward the good ones. In a recent episode, the CEO of "Menchie's Frozen Yogurt," Amit Kleinberger, bought one good employee a new car. He paid for the college education of another. He fired a third employee who was doing "terrible things" which hurt his company's reputation with their customers. Of course, the CEO's must disguise themselves so that they aren't recognized.

I've never gone undercover in my own car dealership, but I regularly do the next best thing. I hire people to mystery shop my company. I would do it myself, but I have only 148 employees and they know me too well not to recognize me even in disguise. Going undercover or using others to infiltrate your company is the only surefire way a boss can really know what's going on within his business. You've heard the expressions, "When the cats away, the mice will play" and "Don't tell me what you think I want to hear; tell me the truth."

I know that a lot of car dealers, owners and general managers, read this column and my blog. "Mr. Car Dealer...This one is for you." If you're the owner or general manager of a car dealership in South Florida, you probably don't like me very much. For seven years I did a live radio show with my wife, Nancy, which was critical of many car dealers. In fact, I mystery shopped your dealerships and told our radio audience what happened...the good, the bad, and the ugly. I also write about your dealerships in this column and my blog. I wrote a book about your shenanigans, "Confessions of a Recovering Car Dealer."

I believe in giving anybody the benefit of the doubt. I know that car dealers can be like any businessman and have things go on inside their businesses of which they are unaware. Therefore, I'm suggesting that car dealers that think my allegations are totally unsubstantiated and untrue go find out for themselves. Send in a mystery shopper to find out what really happens when a prospective customer or a current customer comes in to buy a car or have their car serviced. Right now all a car dealer knows is what his managers and reports tell him. Nobody likes to "tell the boss what he doesn't want to hear." Customer satisfaction surveys are very easy to manipulate. Most customers are surveyed by email and car dealers will "accidentally" get the wrong email address for an angry customer or reward a customer with a free tank of gas for a good survey.

Some CEO's of larger dealerships like the Penske Automotive Group, AutoNation, and even the Ed Morse Auto Group could actually go undercover just like in the TV series, Undercover Boss. Roger Penske, Mike Jackson, and Ted Morse could disguise themselves and find out what's really going on "behind closed doors'. I guarantee Roger, Mike, and Ted that they will be shocked and surprised at how some of their employees are treating their customers. How can I be so sure of that? It's because I've mystery shopped dealerships run by each of these CEO's. I regularly shop my competition to keep a competitive edge just like I shop my own company to find out what's really happening. By the way, Roger, Mike, and Ted, once your employees find out that you are mystery shopping them, it has a deterrent effect. That employee who may be inclined to take advantage of a customer will be more reluctant knowing he might be his boss or an agent for his boss.

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