By creating a fun atmosphere for his employees to work in and involving them in a variety of community activities Fred Grote, owner of Grote Automotive, and a group of his employees found themselves May 2 at the Indianapolis Convention Center where they received a Best Places to Work in Indiana award. Grote was a winner in the small company category. Ninety-nine other companies from across the state received similar plaques that evening.
It all started last October when an addition to the company’s building at 1630 N. Coliseum Blvd. was completed. It doubled the size of the previous structure and included a number of offices and a large training room. In addition, it has some nice employee perks as well. Grote Automotive is probably the only car dealership in the state with a full commercial kitchen. A covered outdoor patio with a grill and picnic tables is used for get-togethers and relaxing lunches. As Grote puts it, “whether they bring their own or we’re having a special event, food brings everybody together in a family setting and is great for camaraderie.”
Grote’s business was always a good place to work, but the addition enabled him to do even more with the employees. Each morning the 51 Grote employees gather for a fun “pump-up” meeting to talk about what happened the day before and find out about what’s on the docket for the new day. It’s all done to loud music and involves drumming on the tables, hugging, punching and even some dancing to get creative juices flowing and put focus on the goal of selling 200 cars a month. “By keeping the meetings fun,” Grote said, “attendance is always great.”
Grote employees get a lot of training that includes sales education online from Grant Cardone Sales Training University, sessions conducted by members of the executive team and outside programs such as OnStar. He goes the extra mile to treat employees special because he wants them to treat customers special in return. “In my 37 years in the car business I learned it’s a whole lot better to pump someone up than to beat them down.
“Our dealership is different from most of the others in the area because we specialize in serving the underserved … individuals who have poor credit or no credit and don’t know what to do or who to go to. They desperately need a vehicle to get to and from work so they can put food on the table for their family and pay rent and utilities. That’s why we bill ourselves as the dealership ‘For the People.’ We work with 25 area banks and are able to arrange financing when others can’t or simply won’t.”
The huge, can’t-miss, red- and-blue semi-tractor-trailer rig parked in front of the dealership on Coliseum is not only a fantastic billboard, but is the heart and soul of the Grote community outreach. It appears in just about all area festival parades, and when the side is opened it becomes a performance stage with a generator and sound system. The rig, which was once the property of NBC in California, gets loaned out for fundraisers and charity events throughout the area.
“In addition to being a wonderful goodwill tool for the dealership,” says marketing and customer retention manager Christine Watson, “it’s a point of pride for all of us. The employees are the ones who keep it clean, make sure it’s running smoothly and see that it gets to the parade and festival locations and is set up. They also walk in the parades and hand out goodies along the route. It’s a big commitment, because they have to be on site hours before the start of an event. The rig has been at the Three Rivers Festival, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, Van Wert County Fair, Kavalcade of Kool in Auburn and will be part of several local Harley-Davidson fundraising events during the coming months.”
Grote employees are heavily involved in the firm’s annual car donations to needy families. Watson explained they’re active in the Komet hockey program that features eight pedal car races during the second intermission of home games. Winners at each game compete in a final race for the car. During the race, employees help with the cars and toss T-shirts into the audience. Grote also does a giveaway promotion with the Mad Ants basketball team and is a major Baer Field raceway sponsor. Grote makes tickets available to employees for the professional sports teams as well as the raceway.
Grote got into the auto business at age 15. He was working at Lucky Steer in his hometown of Decatur and not enjoying it very much. His mother suggested he check out job possibilities at Shifferly Dodge. “I was hired on the spot to clean cars and do other odd jobs around the shop. It was the ultimate, cool job. I bought and sold my first car, a 1968 Malibu, before I had a license. In fact, I never kept a car more than three months.”
After eight years he became a salesman for Courtesy Motors in Decatur and at 28 he became a manager for Tom Kelly in Fort Wayne. In January 2008, he, his wife and nephew opened a used-car lot at the corner of Lake Avenue and State Boulevard. They sold 20 cars the first month, and things looked rosy, they thought, until the economy took an enormous hit and everything went south. In 2012 he moved a couple of doors north to the present location and now employs 17 salespeople, several customer service representatives, accountants, call center operators and managers.
In addition to receiving the Best Places to Work in Indiana Award, Grote earned the Dealer-Rater Consumer Satisfaction Award the last two years and has applied for the Inc. 5000 List of America’s Fastest-Growing Companies.