Revising Your People Plan


IF YOU WERE STARTING YOUR DEALERSHIP OVER, FROM SCRATCH, WOULD YOUR TABLE OF ORGANIZATION LOOK THE WAY IT DOES TODAY? Maybe you are starting your dealership from scratch right now and are wondering what your "T.O." should look like.

I've worked with literally thousands of dealers in the automobile, recreational vehicle, marine and motorcycle industries for more than 30 years, I founded one of the largest powersports dealer groups, and now I am an owner and manager of a Harley- Davidson dealership in St. Augustine, Fla., so I believe my perspective is somewhat unique. But that doesn't make it right for your situation — nor do the others' words of wisdom. And that is precisely my first key point: Do what's right for YOU.


Think strategically. Carefully study your surrounding competition. Consider your depth of experience in the powersports industry and your dealership's financial strength. Factor in whether you are starting a new point for the manufacturer, acquiring an existing dealership, or continuing on with a store you've owned for years. Each of these factors will have an impact on what your organization should look like. Think about these givens and your budget. Then decide how many employees you need, and what levels of experience you can afford.

Don't cheat your dealership out of your special talents. Just because you're The Boss doesn't mean you should not be an active, contributing member of the leadership team. Are you the financial type? Do you have sales and marketing skills? Are you your shop's best technician? If you are not personally managing one of these areas, then you should be overseeing one so that it has the benefit of your experience.

Here are two of my favorite dictums: Don't reinvent the wheel, and steal shamelessly. If you are a "student of the business" you will appreciate the strength of these ideas. Someone you know or something you've read has the answer to what Table of Organization will work best with your dealership and your goals.

Timing matters. In other words, the Table of Organization that worked for your

situation as a start-up may have to be entirely revised now that your dealership is a few years old. The players have changed, the market is different, competition has evolved, and your financial situation may have changed (for better or worse). All of these factors will help you formulate the right T.O. for you today.


What Table of Organization does your OEM recommend? Not all manufacturers have a suggested dealership personnel operating plan, but some do. So ask. Your OEM's recommendation may not be perfect for you, of course, but it's usually a well-thought-out, strategic plan that takes advantage of the manufacturer's experience with its dealer body. Your OEM also may have suggested job responsibilities for each position on your Table of Organization. That's important for getting the right people in your dealership doing the right things the right way, and working well together. Some 20 group moderator companies have such descriptions available as well. Again, ask.

What do other successful dealers who carry your brand have to say? You're not looking for the "idea du jour" here. Only after strategically thinking through all the above scenarios that affect your unique situation should you ask an informed fellow dealer whom you respect what he or she would do.

Finally, hire stingily. You should never have to lay off staff due to too many people on payroll, particularly in today's business climate. If you hire methodically in the first place, and have compensation plans that are as variable as possible (meaning that they rise and fall with the level of business, and not many positions are salaried), you should be safe from this pitfall.

Clark Vitulli co-owns and operates a Harley-Davidson dealership in St. Augustine, Fla. In 1998 he founded America's PowerSports, where he served until 2006. Send questions and comments to Vitulli at