This month, I’d like to focus on a few concepts that directly concern dealers, general managers and other top decision-makers in the dealership. If that’s not you, keep reading. But make sure the people that hold those positions at your dealership read what I have to say.

It’s an age-old question: Why are some dealerships incredibly successful while others, operating in the same market selling the same product, struggle to drive traffic and repeat business? Well, there are hundreds of variables contributing to the success and failure of an operation. You could argue that what makes the difference is a superior location, a better facility, more effective advertising and marketing, or superstar management.

I’m sure all of those things play a role, but, after 36 years of being a student of our industry, I’ve come to another conclusion.

See, having a franchise with great product inventory, service advisors, salespeople and a nice building will not make your dealership a juggernaut in your market area — and neither will great advertising. I’ve stood in countless showrooms, worked deals with real customers in every state but Alaska, and was a highly successful manager in highly successful dealerships before I started my company. And I think that makes me an expert on what really makes a difference.

So, what’s that difference? Well, it’s having a well-defined culture and process for managing reputation. You can’t just throw a bunch of dissimilar people together, put up a nice sign, stock your lot, advertise cheap prices and expect to be a super performer. That’s not the way you build loyalty with your customers. What will happen instead is they’ll ditch your store for another just to save $25 if the relationship is only about money. And that’s the part of the equation the “cheap sellers” will never understand. Remember, customer loyalty and relationships can only be forged between you and your people, not the business or the product.

That was never clearer to me than when Sean Wolfington of Tier 10 Marketing spoke at my Internet Battle Plan last summer. Yes, he talked about marketing and advertising, but his message centered on the need for dealerships to have a holistic culture that agrees with the message it’s pushing.

Paragon Honda of Woodside, N.Y., is the No. 1 certified Honda retailer in the world. Paragon is a great example of a dealership with a totally integrated culture. Brian Benstock, the dealership’s vice president and general manager, is one of my retail heroes because his operation is so disproportionately successful compared to his competition. Do you know why? Well, from the showroom image to the appearance and professionalism of every employee, every factor is carefully considered and orchestrated to give the consumer a “Wow” experience.

Illinois-based Motor Werks Auto Group is another example of an organization that delivers an experience consistent with its brand image. It’s one of the top high-line retailers in the world, offering brands like BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Saab, Land Rover, Honda, Infiniti, Porsche and Range Rover. Owners Paul Tamraz and Jim Hub pay attention to every detail, especially when it involves their company’s great reputation. As a result, very few customers “shop” them.

I could list hundreds of other dealers who have achieved similar market domination. And what they all have in common is a firmly defined culture. And that culture revolves around community service, and providing customers with an experience that is consistent with the message that brought them in.

There’s a lot of buzz in our industry today about ZMOT, the zero moment of truth. That refers to the moment when the consumer decides and selects what, where and who to buy from. The paradigm shift is that reputation management is now a major contributor to what drives that decision. 

So, from the initial advertising message to the appearance and conduct of your people, everything needs to contribute to the total message. And that message needs to say, “This is who we are and this is what we stand for.” And everyone, from the dealer to the office staff and lot attendant, needs to uphold that culture. And achieving that will require ongoing training and reinforcement. Keep those e-mails coming.

Jim Ziegler is the president of Ziegler SuperSystems Inc. E-mail him at [email protected].

About the author
Jim Ziegler

Jim Ziegler

President and CEO of Ziegler SuperSystems

Jim Ziegler ranks among the industry's most recognized and honored trainers, consultants, authors, speakers, and forecasters.

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