When automobile industry veteran Dave Rogers started out some 35 years ago, the field inhabited a vastly different landscape.
Large engines, the V-8 and V-6 models ruled the road, four-cylinder models were relegated to econobox use, and SUVs were merely a twinkle in some engineer's eye.
Today, as he takes on a new role with Limerick, Pennsylvania-based Piazza Auto Group, he joins an organization that sells and services a dozen import brands, meeting the needs of customers who place a premium on high-tech, fuel-efficient and even hybrid-powered vehicles.
In other words, to paraphrase the well-known slogan of a now-defunct brand, it's not your father's Oldsmobile.
But Rogers was not caught unaware or unprepared by the changes science or the marketplace have wrought over the past decade.
"The industry is changing every day, and has been for the 35 years I've been in it," Rogers recently told Mega Dealer News. "I think the biggest problem is there aren't a lot of techs out there. The volume of work you can bring into a store is hampered by the amount of people you can hire and the space you have."
Rogers blames the tight labor pool for techs on automakers' commitment to better-engineered products.
"The cars now are lower maintenance," he explained. "We're doing a lot of work at lower margins and we're doing it quick because it's simpler work."
Besides keen industry insight, Rogers also brings to his new role at Piazza a track record established via 20 years with Penske Auto Group, where he observed first-hand the company's transition from a privately held business to a public company with shareholder accountability.
"There's a lot of stuff you do in the public world that is reactionary, based on the laws and compliance with regulations," Rogers said. "I think in the private business world you can react quicker to business changes and when there's an opportunity, you can take a little bit more risk."
Even if transitioning from a private to public company removes a bit of the entrepreneurial spirit, it nevertheless taught Rogers about best practices in human resources, accounting and standardizing procedures among different operations and locations, he said.
"I think one of the things I learned with Roger (Penske) and the big company was about employee turnover," he explained. "Roger was very big on trying to keep employees from leaving. It was a major lesson as far as that goes. And then growth, always looking for year-over-year increases, that’s one of the things they focused on constantly."
His Penske-honed pedigree made him an attractive hire for the family-owned Piazza, an organization Rogers said has doubled in size over the past year or so, rising from 12 stores to 24 now, selling primarily Acura, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Volkswagen and a few others, plus some luxury brands, like Porsche, Jaguar and Land Rover.
"One of the things I'm trying to do is get them to standardize different practices, the way we bill out things, handle discounts and coupons," Rogers said. "I'm looking to take some hurdles out of the way so (the managers) can focus on running their daily operations."
If Piazza desired Rogers' business acumen, what drew him to Piazza? One thing was the kind of company he would be walking into, one he says puts employees first, as evidenced by the high proportion of upper management who have been with the company for decades and are now ready to retire.
"You never hear of that in the car business," he said.