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in the news December 01, 2015

Traction: Why being a smoke-free dealership is good for business

On November 19, Virginia Tire and Auto went smoke free. It got a lot of media coverage, including a write-up in the Washington Business Journal. But this was no publicity stunt. There were several sound business reasons behind the decision to ask staff to stub out their cigarettes for good.

The company has 12 locations throughout northern Virginia, all of which are now smoke-free zones – meaning staff can no longer smoke on company property. Of its 405 staff, 22 smokers have now signed up to quit, including one man who took up the habit in 1970.

Virginia Tire and Auto’s Julie Holmes told Traction News the move – which coincided with the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout – was all about staff health, company culture, customer satisfaction and, ultimately, cost saving.

Financial reasons to go smoke free

“It’s something we’ve been considering for several years,” Holmes said.

“We started laying the groundwork a couple of years ago with credit on our health insurance for those who were smoke free, and over the last few years we’ve been ramping that up. So it started at $600 and then it went up and now it’s at $1,800. So we knew the timing was right to go smoke free.

“We think it’s a good business decision because there is obviously a lot of lost time and productivity when folks start smoking. It’s an issue for the non-smokers – to understand why those people aren’t working.

“But the huge business reason is we really want to attract a healthy workforce and we really want to keep a healthy workforce for our employees and customers.

“It helps with our health insurance costs but it’s also because we care about our employees – we treat them like family.”

Being smoke free is popular with customers

Holmes said it was important for staff to reflect the company’s values, which are “professional, attentive, genuine and forward-thinking.”

“(Going smoke free) is definitely forward-thinking because it’s not something a lot of people are doing in our industry right now,” she said.

“But also culturally, smoking is not as popular as it once was. It does not look professional if you see a group of folks standing in the corner of your property having a cigarette and customers are wondering why there is a wait.

“Our buildings have always been smoke free, but there’s always that issue of customers thinking they might have smelt some kind of smoke, which doesn’t come up very often at all, but it just eliminates those concerns because we now have a big sign at the front of our campus saying our business is smoke free.”

Lay the foundations for a smoke-free workplace

Holmes said staff had been given a year to adapt to the idea they could no longer smoke at work. Several staff members have since left the company but she did not see that as a problem.

“There have been a handful of people who have decided they did not want to work in a non-smoking environment, but we don’t see that as a bad thing because to have a successful relationship with an employee we really need to be aligned culturally and have the same goals and objectives,” she said.

“In all of our hiring this year we have put it up front that we are going smoke free in November so anyone who applied for a job in the past year was well aware of it and we’ve been communicating about this change (with staff) very regularly. People knew it was coming.”

Staff at Virginia Tires’ Centerville dealership who have been encouraged to quit smoking.

How to help staff quit smoking

Staff have not been left to fend for themselves. Holmes said for the first two months those quitting were given up to $100 a month to reimburse them for smoking cessation products.

“We had the American Cancer Society visit four of our stores with literature, and we have all sorts of resources through our health insurance company and otherwise that we’ve been putting out there,” she said.

“We went around to give them each a care package to make it fun. We gave sympathy badges they could wear like ‘bear with me, I’m quitting smoking’. We really tried to make it positive and upbeat so it seemed to be very well received.

“It’s amazing how many people’s lives we’re impacting – 22 people have decided to quit this habit because of it. No one wants to be a smoker when you talk to them and a lot of them – pardon the expression – have said this is the kick in the butt they’ve been needing to quit this habit.”

Virginia Tires’ ban is on all smoking, chewing, and use of e-cigarettes or pipes and other tobacco products on any property owned, operated or managed by the company. The move has been commended by the American Cancer Society.

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