EchoPark Automotive: Training for New Business Launch

How EchoPark Came to Be

Sonic Automotive is one of the largest automotive retailers in the United States, operating more than 100 dealerships in 14 states and 25 major metropolitan markets. A widely successful new car business, Sonic leadership had a vision to reinvent the used car business. With more than 45 million used cars sold annually (compared to 10-14 million new cars), it was recognized that there were billions of dollars exchanging hands and no dominant player in the pre-owned business.

After conducting extensive research, Sonic decided to launch a completely new pre-owned car lot business called EchoPark Automotive in 2014. They wanted to create a new business model and process that would offer a customer experience unlike anything the industry had ever seen. The associates would be salaried (not commission based) and have a genuine enthusiasm to match a customer with a vehicle that fits him or her. Because this was a new business, all roles were new hires, some from within the auto industry and some not. The new approach in the industry combined with new technology and applications meant that all employees needed thorough training to learn the competencies and skills to deliver on Sonic’s vision.

The Training Solution

Sonic leadership established specific objectives for the EchoPark initiative. It was critical that associates would understand the brand, live the culture, and deliver the guest (customer) experience (i.e., do their job). In addition, Sonic wanted to provide an outstanding associate training experience as a way to model how they expected associates to treat their guests.

Sonic partnered with Accelerated Business Results (ABR) to design and develop a comprehensive learning program against these objectives. With the exception of the online safety training, all training was implemented as an instructor-led training solution, and almost the entire curriculum was created in-house by Sonic or by ABR. Courses developed by ABR included:

  • Leadership Motivation
  • Feedback Model
  • Personal Accountability
  • Personal Buoyancy
  • Taking the High Road
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Social Media
  • General Product Knowledge

How ABR Helped EchoPark

In addition to helping create the training materials, ABR supplied expert content knowledge for several key topic areas. The courses developed by ABR contributed to achieving Sonic’s organizational objectives and were delivered on time and on budget.

Although a massive undertaking and a significant change to Sonic’s business, the EchoPark launch has been hugely successful. Sonic leadership believes that the objectives of the overall initiative have been accomplished based on the number of cars sold at each of the EchoPark stores, which has increased steadily since opening, and the positive feedback they have received from customers. Sonic regularly monitors several sites for customer feedback, and in all reviews gathered to date, EchoPark has been rated 4 stars or greater by customers.

Another objective of the EchoPark initiative was to deliver an outstanding training experience for associates, and several factors indicate success in this area:

  • Associate retention rate has been 80% since launching the business.
  • In a survey conducted by Sonic approximately six months after the training began, all associates felt that the training had prepared them to be at least 85-95% prepared for their job. Participants cited “Needed real-life experience” in order to achieve 100%.
  • The attrition rate is 20%, which is well below the automotive industry standard of 35%.
  • Leveraging a tool called TINYpulse, EchoPark is able to ask questions of associates and get their (anonymous) feedback on a regular basis. To date, they have consistently been above the benchmark in terms of “Happy to work here” and “Likely to refer someone else to work here.”

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