Best people drive Yark Automotive Group's achievements

Auto dealer employs 450 people, sells 11 brands of vehicles

  • BIZ-YARK12p-Doug-Kearns

    Doug Kearns began washing cars for Yark at age 17 and worked his way to vice president of the company.

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  • At Toledo’s Yark Automotive Group, which sells 11 brands of vehicles including Jeeps, the most valuable assets aren’t the shiny new four-wheeled products hot off the assembly line.

    No, the company’s most treasured possessions, in which it invests much time and money, are its 450 employees.

    “You can build buildings and order the inventory and do all the different things you do, but without good people none of this is possible,” Yark Vice President Doug Kearns said of the company’s many accomplishments, including being northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan’s new and used vehicle sales volume leader for 22 consecutive years, a streak that was extended in 2016.

    So, it is not surprising that Yark Automotive has been named the top company in the large business category for the Toledo area’s 2017 Top Workplaces competition. Yark also finished atop the field the previous year in the category, which is for employers with 300 or more workers.

    SPECIAL: Top Workplaces 2017

    When Yark Automotive owner John Yark and his late brother, Jim, started the company in 1981 with a single Oldsmobile dealership, they realized that the way they were ultimately going to be successful was by having the best people, Mr. Yark said.

    Yark’s philosophy “is a lot of different things, but I think the most important thing is the employees feel like they’re valued by the organization and we communicate to them what’s going on at the dealership,” Mr. Yark said. “And we also make them part of the operation, not so much managing it, but having input that we listen to.”

    Mr. Kearns said “the dealership group has always put an emphasis on recruiting and retaining the best people in all the different positions in the dealership.” The company cultivates it workforce through training, new technologies, and career paths leading to management opportunities, he added.

    But its efforts also have included other retention ideas, such as incentive programs on top of the standard compensation plan, perks, community involvement, individual recognition programs, company parties and luncheons, and team-building exercises.

    Yark, 6019 Central Ave. in Sylvania Township, has all outward signs of a big successful company. It had $400 million in revenues in 2016, has given more than $1 million to local charities over the last 11 years, sold nearly 13,000 vehicles last year, and recently had five of its seven stores named “Best Dealership To Work For” by Automotive News. Its Subaru dealership named No. 1 on the list of 100 “Best Dealerships to Work For.”

    But the company does not rest on its laurels.

    After receiving the “Best Dealership to Work For” accolades, the company purchased the survey data to learn what pushed its Subaru dealership to the pinnacle and how much was needed to get its other two stores in the Top 100 list.

    Even though it’s in the Top Workplaces large business category, Yark remains family owned and strives hard to instill a family-like atmosphere in its workplace.

    “At the end of the day, it’s about making it more than a job. We want it to be a career and we want you to feel like part of an extended family,” Mr. Kearns said.

    Yark employees surveyed by WorkplaceDynamics, which partnered with The Blade for the Top Workplaces awards, apparently feel the family love.

    “I am allowed to make decisions that are beneficial to [Yark Automotive Group]. No micro-management,” one employee wrote.

    “I am given the tools and training I need to accomplish my goals and grow our company. We work as a team and it’s fun showing up everyday,” another wrote. The program does not identify employee comments with names.

    Mr. Kearns can relate to those sentiments because 30 years ago he might have been one of those writing such things. He started at the bottom at age 17 and worked his way to vice president. “I hired Doug to wash cars for me in the body shop in the early ’80s. Then he went to college, got out, and came back to work for us,” Mr. Yark said.

    That is part of Yark’s formula for success, he added.

    “We take service advisers and they end up being service managers, and then we take salespeople and move them up into our finance department,” Mr. Kearns said. “Very early on, Jim and John got it — that our people were going to be a big key to our success.”

    Contact Jon Chavez at: or 419-724-6128.