Team builder

“We’re about building relationships — with our people, our customers, with everybody. If the people can’t do that, then generally they don’t stay around that long.”

Warren Zinn, president, Warren Henry Automobiles

“You can’t have that customer experience if you don’t have the right people.”

Warren Zinn, president, Warren Henry Automobiles

“Some people may do a job very well, but they aren’t that great with people, and we try to smooth them out as much as we can.”

Warren Zinn, president, Warren Henry Automobiles

Warren Henry Zinn learned about the automobile business at his father’s feet — from the time he was 10 years old, he worked at his father’s Miami-based Toyota dealership at a time when Vietnam veterans were bringing home watches and cameras with foreign-sounding names.

“People didn’t know the difference between a Toyota, a Seiko and a Nikon,” says Zinn, president of Warren Henry Automobiles. “That was just one of those Japanese products coming in. Nobody knew what they were.”

Zinn’s father had to separate himself from the competition, and to get his name and that of his unknown product into the consciousness of consumers.

Zinn learned that lesson well. He didn’t have to introduce a new brand, but he did have to learn how to differentiate his dealerships from the competition by finding the right people, giving them proper guidance and making sure they stick around to deliver his style of customer service.

Now a 30-year veteran of the industry with seven dealerships that produced a combined $320 million in revenue last year, Zinn knows that the key to success lies with people.

“We work hard on trying to find the right people, Zinn says. “Certainly, that is very difficult. When we feel we’ve found them and they’ve found us, we stay together for a long period of time.”

Zinn has used formal hiring practices in the past but finds that the most effective way to bring new people into the fold is with another time-honored technique — it’s all in who you know.

“(We find people) in many walks of life,” Zinn says. “Mostly from referral — people may work in other dealerships, they may be in other business. They may be kids that we got right out of school.

“Most people get here on a reference basis. We’re much more successful with that than we are with ads that we may have run.”

A successful employee isn’t just someone who knows cars or fancy sales practices. Zinn wants people who can develop relationships with consumers. Even though he sells high-end automobiles — Jaguars, Land Rovers, Infinitis and Volvos — there are plenty of other dealerships his customers could go to.

“We have to evaluate realistically, are we willing to (put up with someone who knows) the job real well but doesn’t get the feeling — the warmth — across that we’re trying to achieve, the relationship,” Zinn says. “We’re about building relationships — with our people, our customers, with everybody. If the people can’t do that, then generally they don’t stay around that long.”

That approach is what Zinn says differentiates his dealerships, which sell between 700 and 800 cars a month, from others. More important than a potential employee’s knowledge is his or her communication skills.

“I like to see the way they talk to people,” Zinn says. “Is (a customer) going to get a good feeling about dealing with this person or not? Some people may do a job very well, but they aren’t that great with people, and we try to smooth them out as much as we can.”

One way Zinn does that is by having all new team members shadow a more experienced salesperson.

“There’s a lot of watching and mentoring,” says Zinn who is opening an eighth dealership in Weston. “We do have meetings with all the employees in the different stores to talk about our customer satisfaction pluses and minuses. We talk about how customers feel, how (employees) would feel if they were the customers.”

And Zinn knows that it is not just the salesperson who influences the sales process. Anyone interacting with the consumer, from the person answering the phone to the parts and service department, can enhance or diminish the customer experience.

“We reward all our people the same amount of money on our customer satisfaction,” he says. “An individual who is moving cars, answering the telephone or a sales manager — everyone gets the same amount. Any one of them can cause any of the others a problem. We build this together.

“If people are causing other people a problem, the peer pressure that is put on by the other employees makes it uncomfortable for those people. After a point in time, they’re not here anymore.”

Zinn uses one simple method to measure the effectiveness of his sales team: Do customers come back to buy their next car or sign a new lease?

“We have people that have dealt with people’s grandfathers, fathers and now their kids. We’ve been dealing with three generations of people here,” says Zinn.

To maintain that consistency, Zinn works to make sure the people who work for him choose to stay. The company turned 30 last month, and the average employee tenure is 12-plus years; several have been there for more than 25 years, Zinn says

“We have many success stories here,” he says. “I have a young — he’s not so young anymore — kid that was my lot boy working here that is now my service manager at the Volvo (dealership). He’s gone from minimum wage to making in excess of six figures. I have a woman here, she was answering phones out of high school. She’s my service manager at the Infiniti store. We have many success stories like that here.”

One way Zinn shows his appreciation for his employees is a company picnic around Christmastime every year for the families of his 315 employees. More than 1,400 people attended last year. But he knows breeding loyalty takes more than just a party.

“We have them involved in as much as we can get them involved in — improving our processes, customer handling and the way we go about doing things,” he says. “We try our very best to make people feel comfortable. We still have the ability to make this a big family.

“I know that sounds corny, but that is still the case. There’s still an owner working on the premises who has an open-door policy, and that seems to work pretty well.”

In addition to listening to the daily patter, Zinn meets with employees at least once every two months to get feedback. They eat dinner at the dealership while they discuss the issues that concern them, and when there is a need, changes are made.

“We changed the way people pick up their car when their cars are done for service,” Zinn says. “We’ve changed so many things that make things easier for everybody to get their jobs done.”

Zinn cares about more than just his employees’ work lives. His open-door policy gives him insight into their personal lives, which can affect their job performance.

“We know if somebody is having a problem … with one of their kids, somebody’s sick, somebody’s getting divorced, somebody passed away,” Zinn says. “If people’s personal issues are affecting them in the workplace, they know they have somebody to come and talk to about the problems. It’s not only me. It’s their department heads. We see what we can do about helping them for however long we can do it for.

Many things have changed since Zinn opened that first Volvo dealership at the age of 22. The stores are bigger and technology has improved, but it is still the relationship, the human touch that Zinn fosters and encourages.

“You can’t have that customer experience if you don’t have the right people,” he says. “If the people that work here aren’t happy, your customers are never going to be happy.” HOW TO REACH: Warren Henry Automobiles (305) 652-6511 or

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