Recognized as one of Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers (2017)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Apr 24, 2017)
Here are some of the reasons why Auto West Ltd. was selected as one of Canada's Top Small & Medium Employers (2017):
- Auto West Ltd. encourages long-term employee education with full tuition subsidies for job-related courses and a variety of in-house training programs including apprenticeships
- Auto West Ltd.'s employee social committee organizes a variety of fun events every year, from a winter Christmas party to summer family barbecues to CFL football games to lunches delivered by visiting food trucks
- Auto West Ltd.'s head office building features a number of energy-saving components including a green roof with gardening plots for vegetables, herbs and fruit
Auto West staff know how to treat a luxury car
When Adam Klassen was 21, he went to work with Auto West Group's BMW dealership in Richmond, B.C. as a "wash boy." Two months later, he enrolled in the technician apprenticeship program. Now, at 29, he is a full-fledged technician, servicing five to 10 BMW cars a day. He celebrated the completion of his apprenticeship by leasing a brand-new BMW 4 Series Coupé for a year.
But he didn't apply the brakes to learning when he finished the apprenticeship. With Auto West's encouragement and support, Klassen did four years of online and classroom training in the BMW program.
This May, he will try for certification at the fourth -- and highest -- level of the program, Master Technician. "We believe in immersing ourselves in the product, not jumping around from brand to brand," he says.
"These cars are so advanced electronically that you need to spend a lot of time with them, gaining as much knowledge as you can," adds Klassen. "The electronics are mini-computers, and the software is constantly being updated, so you need to stay current." He says it's like doing diagnostics and repairs on a 747 jetliner -- if the plane "were getting the latest software conversions every two weeks to a month."
Auto West BMW, opened in 1986, is one of the Group's three luxury-car dealerships, the other two being MINI Richmond and Auto West Infiniti. Auto West also has a fourth location, Performance One, an independent repair, tuning and specialty shop.
Auto West Group employs 210 staff. The company hired 67 new employees in 2016, mostly salespeople and technicians.
"In certain technical areas, with specialized skill sets, we need to hire people who have automotive experience and can fit right in," says Joachim Neumann, Auto West's President. "To fill other positions, we can look outside the industry to get new ideas. We believe in growing our own technicians, so we hire people like Adam Klassen who want to go into the apprentice program."
A big factor in Klassen's enjoyment of his job is his passion for the BMW brand. He grew up around BMWs because his father was an automotive tradesperson. The son is such an enthusiast that he owns two older BMW models. But beyond his love of the brand, Klassen has great loyalty to Auto West. "They've always been there for me," he says. "They helped me grow myself as a professional in my trade."
Neumann says that the family-owned business aimed to make a comfortable, sustainable organization for the staff, with high values and integrity. "Rather than growth for growth's sake, our mission has been to build lifelong relationships between our customers and employees. The import car business was built upon service. That's the culture with which we grew up and it's the culture we set among our employees."
It's not unheard of for customers to ask for specific technicians to service their cars, says Klassen. "We are always willing to answer customers' questions and build relationships that way."
Auto West promotes esprit de corps in its workplace. An employee social committee organizes a variety of events every year, from the Christmas party to family summer barbecues, and from outings to CFL football games to lunches delivered by visiting food trucks.
The company is also doing its part for the environment. It has an array of solar panels at Auto West BMW and at MINI Richmond. Auto West BMW has installed a 53-foot vertical-axis wind turbine. These initiatives help offset the company's consumption of energy from the B.C. hydroelectric grid.
In addition, the BMW dealership has a green roof with rooftop gardening plots and a honeybee apiary whose honey is shared with staff and customers, as well as a green wall consisting of 1,590 potted plants. "We wanted to make a statement about sustainability at the retail level," says Neumann.