Dealers enforce new safety measures

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Dealerships must remain vigilant about the health and safety of employees and customers amid the coronavirus pandemic, say three groups that each have had to deal with cases of employees who tested positive for the virus.

Dealers have adapted to new realities amid the pandemic, including instituting thorough safety protocols for employees such as requiring daily health questionnaires, temperature checks and wearing face masks, panelists said in the latest edition of the online Automotive News Retail Forum: Dealer Discussions series, which focused on employee issues and safety.

Billy Fuccillo Jr., president of Fuccillo Automotive Group with 23 stores in New York and three in Florida, said he had multiple staffers at one dealership test positive. That led to closing the store for a few days for heightened cleaning including inside the air ducts and air filtration systems, he said. That store also instituted a temperature check policy.

“We really took it seriously for both our clients and our team,” he said. “And I think that the temperature policy was important, especially after one person tested positive. It made our team feel comfortable, it made our employees feel comfortable [and] it made me feel comfortable.”

Amanda Grappone Osmer, director of corporate potential for the four-rooftop Grappone Automotive Group in Bow, N.H., said one staff member tested positive for the virus but was asymptomatic. Osmer said the employee was believed not to have contracted the virus at work, but while hosting an out-of-state guest at a Memorial Day cookout. The group did contact tracing and ultimately 37 people were tested — all negative, she said.

Michelle Primm, managing partner of the three-brand Cascade Auto Group in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, said one of her young Audi service technicians contracted the virus while he was on furlough.”It was a monthlong ordeal to get healthy,” she said of the employee, who has now recovered and is back to work. “And he’s very humble and he wants everybody to know, take this serious because it can happen to anybody.”

Each of the groups said they have implemented ample safety, cleaning and social distancing measures to keep staff and customers safe while in the dealership.

Fuccillo said face masks are mandatory. “You’re not allowed in any of our stores without a mask,” he said. “That goes for employees [and] clients. There’s zero tolerance.”

Cascade requires employees to wear masks unless medically impossible, Primm said. Ohio had required customers in Summit County where the stores are located to wear masks in public, and Primm said nearly everyone was complying. Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine made mask wearing mandatory inside businesses throughout the state.

Grappone’s employees must wear masks if they’re away from their work stations, or if they work within 6 feet of someone else, Osmer said. Customers aren’t required to wear masks, but Osmer said they are encouraged to and most do.

Gone from service waiting areas for now are the free pastries and coffee.

Primm said to serve food now, she would have to comply with state restaurant guidelines, and she asked for manufacturers to “take it easy on us” when it comes to such facility mandates. Vehicles also have had to be moved from showrooms to ensure social distancing.

“We’re here to service and sell cars. The extra stuff was really, really nice, but I really, truly don’t think customers care if we’re serving Danish or have the Keurig machine going right now,” she said. “They just want to be safe.”

The dealers each touted their strong teams as being pivotal to getting through the crisis and said their employees’ mental health also is important in the pandemic.
Grappone has increased communication, offered flexible schedules and even opposite schedules for married or dating couples to ease some child-care anxiety, Osmer said.

Cascade also is seeking to help employees relieve stress and has instituted a quick prayer huddle three times a week for those who want to participate, Primm said. And the company regularly distributes ice pops, she said.

“We try to do some light, fun things.”

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