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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 14, 2017 1 year ago

Honda Fit

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A Tampa-area auto dealership laid down a get-in-shape gauntlet for employees. Results revved up the whole company.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Selling and fixing cars took a back seat at Brandon Honda one weekend in late March.

That's when 28 employees from the dealership, including Managing Partner John Marazzi and General Manager Sam Raabe, participated in the Savage Race. Held over two days, the Dade City race covers 7.5 miles of swamp terrain filled with 25 obstacles and a maximum slope of 198 feet.

“It's like being a kid again and doing PE,” says Raabe, a multiple time Savage Race contestant. “You get thrown around mud, and it's really cold. But it's a lot of fun.”

The idea to enter something like the Savage Race with a big work group came to Raabe last year. He made an offer to Brandon Honda's 190 employees: If they stuck with it, the dealership would pay for a three-month training program and entry fees for the race.

A longtime fitness buff, Raabe hired Tampa-area personal trainer John Forbes to set up a program. Forbes set workout-of-the-day classes, which employees could hit before work at CrossFit Sabal Park in Tampa, either at 5 a.m. or 7 a.m.

The program exceeded Raabe's expectations. Some 30 employees participated in dealership-only workout classes from November through February. Several employees, including service manager Erik Vogel, lost a significant amount of weight.

Vogel did so well he hired Forbes as a personal trainer. Raabe says he also plans to extend the program in some way, with the Savage Race over. “As we got closer to the end, I realized that a lot of guys were really getting something out of it,” Raabe says. “I'm working on making this an every month thing, not just a 90-day challenge.”

Vogel and Raabe recently spoke with the Business Observer about the dealership transformation.

• Big need: A 2014 Business Observer 40 under 40 winner, Raabe has been in auto sales for more than a decade, first at Ocala Honda and with Brandon Honda since December 2011. A common theme at both dealerships: The industry isn't known for its svelte employees. “In any company there are some people who really take care of themselves,” Raabe says, “and others don't as much.”

• Get going: Forbes' program for the dealership is a mix of CrossFit and boot camp-style calisthenics. “They did all kinds of exercises,” Raabe says. “Burpees, jump ropes, some of the CrossFit, like clean jerks.”

• In house: Marazzi is also devoted to fitness. He's done everything from mixed martial arts to CrossFit to Orangetheory. In a 2012 Business Observer story, Marazzi says he prefers to hire former athletes. “I like competitive people,” Marazzi said. “I gravitate to athletes, because they tend to fit into our goals — grabbing market share and dominating the market.”

• Rare find: The dealership, part of Morgan Auto Group, spent about $22,000 on training classes and Savage Race tickets, estimates Raabe. But it has been a great investment. He says another benefit, in addition to fitness and teamwork, is recruiting and employee retention. “This is something you don't really see happening in this industry,” says Raabe. “It's easy to talk about these kinds of things and not do it. It's much harder to follow through.”

• Drop point: Vogel was one of the biggest (weight) losers among colleagues. He dropped 58 pounds, from 298 to 240; went from XXXL shirts to large; and a pant size 48 to 40. His fast-food jaunts, where he sometimes hit 5,000 calories a day, are gone. “I had a history of gaining weight, losing weight, gaining weight,” Vogel says. “In the last 10 years I've gained quite a bit.”

• Mission man: Vogel says his fitness routine has changed him beyond weight loss. He has more energy. He's more alert. And he accomplished a major life goal. Says Vogel: “It basically shows that if you work hard enough, and don't use any excuses, you can do anything.”

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