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Customer story

How Sonic Automotive boosts profits and employee productivity with LearnUpon

Sonic Automotive hero graphic

8k+

employees trained across the US

80%

internal mobility at General Manager level

50%

reduction in new hire time to proficiency

93%

time savings for administrators

Sonic Automotive is one of the largest automotive retailers in the US. With total revenues of $10 billion per year, it’s a Fortune 500 company with 100+ stores representing 24 brands, including 16 EchoPark used-vehicle stores.

To support the organization’s mission to recruit, develop, and retain the best talent in the industry, Sonic’s Talent Management Team use LearnUpon to deliver powerful learning experiences across the employee lifecycle of their 8,400+ ‘Teammates’.

“We’re a lean team and LearnUpon makes our job easier so we can focus on improving our programs, achieving our KPIs, and ultimately making Sonic the best place to work and shop.”

Douglas Bryant

VP of Talent Management, Training and Recruiting at Sonic Automotive

And their approach is being rewarded; accelerating new hire time to proficiency, boosting employee satisfaction, and reducing turnover through internal mobility is helping feed the organization’s profitability and market share. SAH stock has skyrocketed by 3.4x since the company launched with LearnUpon in January 2019.

In 2021 the organization was inducted to the Training Top 100 Hall of Fame, joining just 17 other companies named to the hall since its inception in 2008.

Winners at the 2021 Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards

In partnership with LearnUpon, Sonic Automotive took home a Gold award for Best Advance in Leadership Development and a Silver award for Best New Hire Onboarding Program at the 2021 Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards.

The challenge: Big learning goals vs. cumbersome training technology

With big financial growth targets, the training team at Sonic Automotive sought to improve its people KPIs through learning.

To implement the vision, Sonic’s training team members needed to find the right technology. They used other platforms, but according to Shawn Dingle, Senior Training Director “we were fighting the tools the entire time” and they didn’t offer the functionality needed.

“Other tools were cumbersome. It took continuous input to keep a program going, employees wouldn’t use them so we couldn’t re-enforce our training, and we didn’t know if the reports were factual because we would find multiple answers to the same question.”

Shawn Dingle

Senior Training Director at Sonic Automotive

Sonic’s team members decided to invest in a solution that would “make life easier for employees”, says Douglas Bryant, VP of Talent Management, Training and Recruiting. This would lead to increased learner engagement, improved learning impact, and greater efficiency of Sonic’s lean training team, allowing them to focus on achieving their KPIs.

The solution: Friction-free learning experiences for every user

LearnUpon’s learning management system is the perfect solution for Sonic Automotive’s team.

“LearnUpon solved all of our pain points in one swift move; the platform is user-friendly and mobile, it’s easy to create content, and we know the reporting is accurate. It also helped our budget a great deal.”

Shawn Dingle

Senior Training Director at Sonic Automotive

With one cost-effective, centralized solution, the team replaced several different tools. This single platform makes it easy for learners to access training, and effortless to manage and find trustworthy learner metrics.

For the team, the first priority was to create learning environments for its different brands, Sonic Automotive and EchoPark. “Echo’s culture is a little different, the business base is a different model, so we have to keep it separate”, says Rachel Welch, Human Capital Technology Manager. Using the flexibility of LearnUpon’s Portals, they were easily able to create two distinct instances – Sonic University and EchoPark. Both branded and tailored for their audiences.

From new hire onboarding to leadership development academies, training initiatives throughout the employee lifecycle are efficiently managed and delivered by the Sonic team members through LearnUpon.

“We train Sonic-specific processes for sales and for service, and we deliver culture courses based on Sonic’s unique buying experience and company culture to keep our company cohesive and moving in the same direction.”

Shawn Dingle

Senior Training Director at Sonic Automotive

To drive engagement and harness the expertise of leaders in the company, the training team use LearnUpon to create blended learning experiences that combine live training led by business leaders and expert trainers, with course pre-work.

“We create our SCORM content in-house and host it in LearnUpon, or build in LearnUpon itself. Then we do live training and manage the rosters with LearnUpon’s ILT feature. And there are lots of other great tools in there. We’re constantly discovering and using more features that help us up our game.”

Rachel Welch

Human Capital Technology Manager at Sonic Automotive

It’s this mix of dynamic content and a learner-centric platform that’s led to “voluntary learning consumption going a lot higher”, says Shawn Dingle, Senior Training Director at Sonic Automotive. Learners can effortlessly log into LearnUpon through any device – mobile or desktop – with Single-Sign On via Microsoft. There are zero barriers to training.

“It’s just so easy to use, search and access content. Employees just flow through the training. It’s really easy to get them to take courses and complete the assignments and exams.”

Shawn Dingle

Senior Training Director at Sonic Automotive

A big role for big data

Reporting was once time-consuming and unreliable. Now it’s quick and accurate with LearnUpon, giving Sonic’s training team a 93% time saving.

“It used to take me up to two days to run a report because I had to do a lot of clean up. Now it’s 30 minutes tops.”

Rachel Welch

HCM Manager at Sonic Automotive

The insights the team gets are richer too. They can measure training consumption and performance, identify opportunities for improvement, and vitally, prove training ROI.

“One KPI we're really proud of is time to proficiency for new sales and service advisors - it started out at 60+ days and now we’re at 30. We can show correlations between training data in LearnUpon and the number of units and products sold to see from the point of training through training and after to see how their numbers increased.”

Douglas Bryant

VP of Talent Management, Training and Recruiting at Sonic Automotive

For employees, the data proves training has opened up new opportunities for them too. Inspired by the company vision “To Open Roads”, employees can move up in the company, making a good living, and career. As they progress through the company’s leadership levels, the team can track how the training in LearnUpon positively influences internal mobility and retention.

“We are at less than half of the industry average for turnover, which can be as high as 70%. That’s because we have a big emphasis on retaining employees and growing our own. Over 80% of general managers have come up through Sonic and we can track advancement percentages from our leadership academies through LearnUpon.”

Douglas Bryant

VP of Talent Management, Training and Recruiting at Sonic Automotive

Down the road

The team’s dedication to career development, training, and performance improvement has had a measurable impact on organizational performance. On the stock market, its impressive asset utilization ratio (how efficiently a firm is utilizing its assets to generate sales) shows greater operational efficiency is helping to broaden the company’s advantage – it’s at $2.57 compared to the industry average of $1.77.

As for the next step? Sonic’s team is going bigger with their online learning strategy.

“We moved to 100% virtual due to COVID. We’ve cut so many costs in terms of travel expenses and number of trainers that we probably won’t be going back to in-person any time soon. So we want to make our online programs even better; make sure people are retaining the information, and keep showing the correlations between learning and the KPIs.”

Douglas Bryant

VP of Talent Management, Training and Recruiting at Sonic Automotive