In the latest of Automotive Management's (AM) 'Eight questions to…' Q&A series Sarah Ferrari, general manager at Drive Motor Retail Bury St Edmunds, discusses the importance of a close-knit team and flexible employment.
What are the main responsibilities of your role?
As a general manager (GM), you have to spread across all areas of the business to make sure they’re operating as they should be. That means I have a hand in setting targets, recruitment, training and development, but ultimately my role is to support my team – whatever it requires. I have great managers at Drive Bury St Edmunds with huge amounts of experience. We work well together, and all understand what is needed – some days that may be managing aftersales debtors or workshop diaries, or it may simply be making the team a coffee to keep morale high or understanding the challenges they’re facing when something’s not gone quite as planned. I don’t see myself as a manager who just oversees the work of other people – I am a member of the team, all pushing in the same direction.
What are the most significant challenges ahead?
As an industry, our main challenge is the well-documented supply issue for new cars and the subsequently longer lead times for vehicles. We are also seeing a strong used market which has made sourcing stock more competitive. In addition, we are experiencing a skills shortage in the industry, particularly for technicians. As the world embraces electric technology, this issue is likely to worsen as the industry looks to fill the skills gap. As an employer, we need to ensure we are considered an attractive place to work in an industry that has historically been associated with long hours, a lack of flexibility and high staff turnover. Personally, like many other people, I have the challenge of balancing my worklife alongside looking after my three children, two dogs and keeping the house in order.
How might these challenges be overcome?
When overcoming any challenge, I think it’s important to work closely with managers and colleagues to ensure that communication and support is available where needed. To meet the new and used car market challenges, we have adapted to a forward order model and have been transparent with customers on lead times. We are also offering enhanced part-exchange valuations and honouring these until new vehicles arrive, irrespective of how long that process takes. We have to trust that open communication with customers and colleagues, delivering on our promises and providing our already renowned high customer experience, shown by the site winning Dealership of the Year in the Drive awards 2021, will mean customers and team members continue to stay loyal to the brand. We have also invested in the apprenticeship programme for many years and more than 40% of my technicians have been with me since the beginning of their apprenticeship and have continued to engage with the latest technology. It’s always my goal to promote from within by supporting my team to achieve their goals and making Drive Bury St Edmunds a rewarding and happy place to work.
What attracted you to this area of expertise?
I started with Drive as a sales executive and didn’t set out on becoming a GM or even know what my next move was. Drive has invested in me over the past 25 years, offering me flexibility to allow me to work my way through the ranks. Being a mum and juggling work and personal life is a challenge for women in any industry, but particularly the motor trade where working hours are not the standard nine to five, five days a week. Drive was very accommodating of my needs when my children were young, allowing me to return part-time after maternity leave, and this is something I’m very grateful for. I have been GM for 13 years at Bury St Edmunds and I want to offer the same opportunities to the staff here. Having flexibility is key to all my colleagues whether they are mums, dads, nans or grandads. Ensuring valuable time away from work is key to a healthy relationship.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career, and how have you made use of it at Drive?
I have learned the importance of the team and rewarding and praising their hard work. I don’t believe there is a magic textbook you can read to be a great GM. The automotive industry is not renowned for offering a good work-life balance, but if they show the commitment expected of them, I will give 100% to my team and make sure that being part of the team at Drive works for all.
What drives you?
I am driven by results, and the feeling of pride I get from the team performance and watching them grow in their roles.
What’s your favourite app?
How do you relax?
I enjoy walking my dogs, Reggie and Woody, and spending time with my family and friends