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Inside Look At One Sonic – One Experience | DrivingSales News

Behind The Scenes At One Sonic – One Experience, Sonic Automotive Group’s Franchised Dealership Customer Experience Initiative

November 12, 2015 0 Comments


Sonic is prepared to rollout One Sonic – One Experience in a three-phase process to over 100 stores beginning next quarter. Here’s an inside look at the program’s development.

Last week, DrivingSales News shared the latest from EchoPark, Sonic Automotive Group’s first strictly pre-owned venture. EchoPark kicked off in Denver, Colorado in late 2014 and the nation’s fifth largest automotive retailer launched the franchised store model in tandem. One Sonic – One Experience was introduced to the public in a select group of stores near headquarters in Charlotte, North Carollina.

Jeff Dyke, Executive VP of Operations, told DrivingSales News the initiative originated on a tablecloth at an executive dinner eight years ago. The goal of both the EchoPark and One Sonic – One Experience initiatives is to eliminate the pain points typically felt by car buyers (and dealership employees) and make Sonic a preferred place to shop. Both efforts incorporate the same technology, training, pay plans, and business methodology.

“We knew we had to get 150 stores to operate the same way,” Dyke expressed the challenges that led to the seven-year development period.   They began by distributing company-wide communication in “Sonic Automotive Play Books” (specific process manuals for all departments and procedures) and an annual event called the “Carpe Diem Process.” In the process, Sonic executives visit each market, rent a theater, and deliver the annual business plan for all associates. They continue by sitting on stage and answering all questions from the team.


Dyke said the deliberate and consistent communication drew a line in the sand and there was turnover because of it. “We put ourselves in a position that when we got to the store the management team knew what was coming,” he said. “Repurposing the managers to get them to do what we needed just took more technology and more leadership training.”

Recruitment is vital in the new model. Dyke said one of the main factors (particularly in the EchoPark initiative) was avoiding individuals with automotive experience.

“Internally we created profile tests and developed an interview process that allowed us to screen out candidates that we didn’t think were worth while or shouldn’t be a part of our team and family,” he said. During the hiring process for the initiatives they analyzed attitude, energy, smile, body language, eye contact, and handshake in one-on-one interviews with hundreds of applicants.

For the customer facing team, Dyke said they aim to hire different “characters.” Specifically, for salespeople (their job title is experience guide) Sonic looks for candidates that match the array of personalities of the guests they serve.


Dyke said the training team is ten-times the size it was 7 years ago. “Our goal is to create a guest experience better than any other retailer on the planet,” Dyke said. “We want to create an experience people remember and make them wish we sold more than just cars.” With specific process training developed internally around that core, he said the employees at the EchoPark and One Sonic – One Experience stores are interchangeable between the franchised and used-only environments.

At Sonic, elements of the employee experience like data access, compensation plans, training, and support are geared around employee happiness. “If we could create an atmosphere where our associates were really happy and comfortable (which is unusual in our industry), then that would translate to the guest,” Dkye said.

OEM alignment was another hurdle, but Dyke said he was pleasantly surprised by the response. Convergence meetings with manufacturers were facilitated to explain the massive technology investment. Commitment from the manufactures was established by explaining that the technology was designed to enhance the OEM’s brand while consistency among Sonic stores was vital to the success of the initiative. One Sonic – One Experience stores have since opened their doors to manufacturer teams to showcase technology utilization.

“While the technology is a competitive advantage anybody can go buy it,” he said. “What you can’t get is the culture and that takes a long time to develop.” Overall at Sonic, the employee turnover rate will be under 25 percent this year with sales people, or experience guides, turnover will be under 40 percent.


Making the metrics match up by traditional measures hasn’t been an easy task for Sonic. “Our revenues, our volumes, are all going to be much higher; but our expense levels are going to be much higher too,” he said noting the current challenge of outrunning technology investment. Dyke shared some recent performance metrics from their One Sonic – One Experience Toyota store in Charlotte. Market share at the dealership was 13 percent and is tracking 25 percent this month. They have the fastest inventory turn in Southeast Toyota and they’ve realized unexpected traffic in service. The store has hired fifteen incremental technicians and six incremental service writers to keep up.

Dyke said the same transparency in the sales process extends to the board; sharing that in eight years they haven’t missed a projection. “You buy yourself the time you need in order to have your operational metrics line up with your profit performance metrics,” Dyke said. Consistency and transparency have been essential to gaining confidence with the board.

What’s next for Sonic? A three-phase rollout process of One Sonic – One Experience will begin in Q1 2016, beginning with implementation of their CRM and appraisal tools. The next two phases will follow over a 3 to 4 year period. Sonic anticipates EchoPark to move to the core of Sonic’s business over time. According to Dyke, the used-only model will allow Sonic to capture more of the U.S. market, control facility costs, and maximize margin in a fragmented industry. While launching a finance company is a further-term consideration, Dyke says they won’t need one to stay viable. All eyes will certainly continue to be on Sonic as the group explores the bleeding edge of innovation in the auto dealer community.

About the Author:

The DrivingSales News team is dedicated to breaking the relevant and the tough stories affecting car dealers. Have questions for DrivingSales News? Reach the team at news@drivingsales.com.

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