Sales Manager or Store Manager? Different Jobs, Different Responsibilities

Nov. 5, 2018

Often, as is the case, a tire and automotive shop will employ a store manager.  That is what we call the job, a store manager. But is your store manager really a store manager? Or is he or she a sales manager? Let’s look at the differences.

A store manager’s primary duty is to protect the assets (people, property and inventory) of the company.  Store managers should have operational control over the day-to-day activities of the store. This includes but is not limited to hiring and firing of employees who report to the store manager. They are either directly managing workflow (ticket assignments to technicians, estimating tickets, procuring parts/tires) or overseeing another employee who manages this job function. 

Store managers are responsible for setting and adjusting inventory levels of tires and possibly automotive parts, scheduling employees’ work weeks, managing or overseeing customer appointments, customer satisfaction and CRM systems. A store manager is also expected to develop, deploy and adjust sales, gross profit and payroll goals and benchmarks on a daily, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis.  They are expected to engage the local community as the face of an independent small business and develop meaningful relationships with other local businesses.

In our industry, a store manager is also expected to not only be the best in sales, but be able to express sales leadership which means coaching and mentoring other sales and service advisors in educating the customer. They are also expected to manage ongoing education for technicians.

Wow, that’s a mouthful.

A sales manager is someone in charge of managing the sales staff. They are responsible for overseeing that sales and gross margin targets and goals are met, educating and training the sales staff, and managing the amount of payroll distributed to the sales staff. They often are the primary key holders responsible for either opening and/or closing the store, as well. They will occasionally be responsible for workflow, usually as a fill-in role. That’s a big difference in responsibilities. Which position should a tire and automotive store owner choose? Well, it depends on the owner’s company size and ability to trust and delegate.

All too often, small business owners hire a store manager, but do not fully hand over the proper power, authority and responsibilities to that person in order for them to successfully do their job. You can’t make a store manager responsible for the financial success of the store if they aren’t seeing the P&L or equivalent reports on a regular basis. If the store manager isn’t seeing a full or modified P&L, they need to see at least sales, gross profit and payroll figures. If their bonus is based on net profit, then the owner is obligated to show and entire P&L. Additionally, they can’t be held accountable to manage all of the staff if they don’t have the authority to hire and fire (which is actually a federal wage and hour requirement).

Of course, firing an employee, which carries many legal hurdles and pitfalls, should always be “run by” the owner — but the owner should more often than not approve the decision, not override it constantly.  The reasons owners of small businesses often do not fully empower a store manager are often over the desire to have more hands-on control, fear of the store manager making mistakes, and a concern over how much of the financial position of the company to divulge to the top employee.  However, for a store manager to even be able to come close to doing their job properly, they must be allowed to have the ability to assess the business in the sales, gross profit and payroll areas, so they can properly manage head count, while leading, coaching and directing employees on the proper course of actions to take in selling and fixing cars. To ask a store manager to run a shop without this information is setting up the store manager for failure.

A sales manager does not nearly have the level of responsibility a store manager has. Nor do they have the level of authority. They are expected to manage the quality, quantity and process of the sales force, and occasionally fill in other roles. With a sales manager, the responsibility of all the other areas falls back on the owner. A store manager, or owner acting as a store manager, needs to be able and have the authority to make independent decisions on the activity the business is engaged in. As a business owner, if you do not or cannot allow a store manager to make those decisions, you are the source of most of the frustrations from your store manager, and it isn’t fair to them by any standard.

A sales manager is good at following orders. A store manager is one who comes up with orders to be followed. But they can only create duties and give direction if they are fully empowered to do so.

Small business owners who have learned to delegate and manage from either a short or long distance are usually more comfortable with giving a store manager a fighting chance at success. A store owner who keeps a lot of duties and information close to the vest, and likes to involve themselves in the day-to-day operations, is usually more suited to a sales manager being the number one employee.

The difficulty, of course, is developing trust. Many times an owner is terrified of handing over such big responsibilities to someone else. And this is understandable, it carries huge risk. What if they make a bad decision? What if they make a decision that puts your business in legal jeopardy?   

I understand the concern associated with those questions. I can also tell you that employing a store manager, and then rescinding their power and authority, will do even more damage. It will create high employee turnover, less than satisfied customers, and create more work for you. It is imperative that you spend time up-front educating them on how you make decisions, and asking them early on to simply run their ideas by you first. This will take time at first but save time for you in the end.

As you get more comfortable that their decision-making has comes in line with your thinking, you should allow them “more rope.” Just don’t forget to actually let them do things that don’t always line up perfectly. If you are always shooting down their ideas, you are falling back into a trap, and should hire a sales manager instead of a store manager.    ■

Dennis McCarron is executive director of Dealer Strategic Planning Inc., a company that manages multiple tire dealer 20 Groups in the U.S. ( To contact McCarron, email him at [email protected].

See also:

Reach 'Younger' to Find Technician Talent

To Grow Your Business, Learn to Trust Ypur Employees

Why It's Important to Hire What You Can't Teach

About the Author

Dennis McCarron

Dennis McCarron is a partner at Cardinal Brokers Inc., one of the leading brokers in the tire and automotive industry ( To contact McCarron, email him at [email protected].