Few are fortunate enough to get an inside tour of the Oval Office where the president works in the White House. So Bud Gordon, chairman of the Gordon Automotive Group, decided to bring the Oval Office to the rest of us.
Located at his dealership in Corona, Calif., is an exact, life-size replica of the famous office, as well as models of the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives and the Senate. A model of Capitol Hill shows the geographic relationship between these buildings, the Washington Monument and other landmarks in our nation’s capital.
Gordon founded the Quality West Wing Foundation to give students the next best thing to really being in Washington, D.C. More than 37,000 students, mostly fourth and fifth graders, have visited the exhibit in the last six years.
After helping his high school daughter with a government assignment and noting her confusion, Gordon visited the board of education and found out who wrote the textbooks that introduce students to government. These writers were then hired to create three levels of curriculum and handbooks to be sent to teachers so students could receive class credit for visiting the foundation.
The field trip includes a short animated film about the founding fathers drafting the Constitution and computer stations where each child gets the chance to become a virtual president. The simulation goes through a day in the life of the president and presents many decision-making opportunities. Worksheets with educational puzzles and a history-based scavenger hunt serve to get students excited about U.S. history and government.
The highlight of the trip is the Oval Office, built by set designers who worked on the presidential movie “Dave.” Decorations from many past presidents fill the walls and shelves and give it an authenticity that is difficult to match.
Visitors never leave empty handed: Everyone gets his or her picture taken behind the desk with the current president digitally added as a souvenir.
This year, attendance is expected to increase to 15,000 students per year. The foundation’s next effort is to help fund transportation for less affluent schools so no one is excluded based on financial means.
Gordon says he hopes the publicity will encourage other dealers to take a more active role in community service, and maybe even prompt someone to build another Oval Office in another area of the United States.
“I don’t try to gain personal attention for this because it’s actually a very selfish thing. I like sharing this because it makes me feel good,” Gordon admits. “But if it helps another dealer decide that it’s a good idea, then I’m happy to share my experiences.”
This approach to his good work leads Jeff Buchanan, CEO of Dealership for Life, to say, “Mr. Gordon represents the heart and soul of the automobile dealership owner. His commitment to the industry is overshadowed only by his commitment to family and community.”
Sales and Service Go Hand in Hand
The Quality West Wing Foundation may not have much in common with auto dealerships and even less with the F&I office specifically, but it’s the message of being a good corporate and community citizen that is applicable to any professional in any industry.
Gordon’s commitment to taking care of his customers contributes to the success of his business, and that’s something all dealers care about.
In the finance department, this translates into making customers happy by offering high-value products for reasonable prices.
“We want to make sure the customer receives value for everything that he purchases,” Gordon says. “And ‘value’ is not just the value of the dollar spent, but how useful it is for the customer while he owns the car.”
In fact, Gordon is so confident that customers will be satisfied with their deal that he will give them their money back if they’re not.
F&I professionals in Gordon’s three dealerships offer their products with a menu, which helps to improve consistency of pricing and presentation.
“You can’t just tell customers what it is and say, ‘Take it or leave it.’ You’ve got to give people options,” Gordon explains. “Let them make choices. If you present your products correctly and give people options, they’ll make a choice.”
Training Gives an Edge Over Competition
Putting the customer first in the sales process takes a different philosophy and attitude than just trying to sell a vehicle for as much as possible, Gordon says. His employees know what is expected of them from the way they are initially and continually trained.
The process begins with finding the right person for the position. Gordon looks for someone who is customer oriented and who knows he is there to serve customers and make the process simple for them.
The professionalism of the dealership’s staff comes across when customers are happy and excited about their purchase, rather than feeling beaten up and defensive by the time everything is complete.
“There’s just an attitude that you have and a climate you create with your employees first,” Gordon says. “Because the employees have been trained properly, that attitude just carries over to the customer.”
Gordon owns Quality Toyota, Quality Nissan and Quality Hyundai and sells about 1,000 vehicles a month.