Greg Merchanthouse arrived at Quirk Chevrolet with a singular mission: Build a business development center that never misses a call, email, or text message and always delivers the information car buyers want and need, including the price. That was seven years ago. Today, the Braintree, Mass., store is the nation’s No. 1 Silverado dealer, the No. 1 seller of the electric Bolt and Volt, and ranked among the top five Chevrolet dealers nationwide.
Sales improved by 30% in Merchanthouse’s first full year, followed by several more years of double-digit growth. He is quick to credit owner Dan Quirk, General Manager James Thorp, and the dealership’s 46- and six-person sales and finance teams for Quirk Chevrolet’s success. But Merchanthouse’s department, for which he serves as business development manager with six direct reports, brings in about 600 customers per month — one-third of the dealership’s total — at a closing rate that ranges up to 44%. But Thorp says even that falls short of a full accounting.
“The majority of the customers have had some form of correspondence with Greg’s team through email or phone at some point,” he says. “We installed a straightforward, transparent, and competitive pricing structure. Once they receive a lead, they respond quickly with a price and answers to any questions, and this makes the sales process run more effectively and more professionally.”
Skip the Dog-and-Pony Show
Merchanthouse and Thorp both started at Quirk Chevrolet in the early 2000s. Thorp joined the dealership as an internet sales specialist in 2004. Merchanthouse worked in sales for four years before departing in 2006 and rejoining in his current position six years later.
By the time he returned, Merchanthouse had a wealth of BDC experience, much of it underwhelming. He says he recognized the futility of maintaining separate “incoming” and “outgoing” teams and withholding information in an attempt to convince customers to visit the dealership. That “dog-and-pony show” won’t fly with a well-researched and increasingly impatient car-buying public, Merchanthouse says.
“That just turns people off. We have no problem giving out pricing. Our bread and butter is pricing and inventory. Mr. Quirk taught us the biggest obstacle is the fact that people are afraid to make a major financial decision. That’s what we’re working against in the BDC. We’re not hammering them to make a deal then and there.”
Merchanthouse believes too many dealers see BDC traffic as “icing on the cake” when they should consider it their battleground. He advises those whose departments are underperforming to focus on the basics: Answer every call on two rings or less. Respond to every email, avoiding “fluff” to distinguish them from the deluge of promotional messages most car buyers can expect to receive. Log everything into the CRM, read emails and texts, and listen to calls to track progress and assure quality. Scripts can be helpful, but strict adherence could be counterproductive, particularly for experienced reps.
“They don’t want to be bogged down by a call guide. A lot of dealers do that. You can tell right away.”
Just Be Honest
Angela Angle was an experienced salesperson and a new mother when she answered an ad for a part-time position in Quirk Chevrolet’s BDC in April 2012. She appreciates the flexibility and convenience of her 35-hour workweek and says working with car buyers makes good use of her rapport-building skills. She describes her approach as “upfront and honest,” which she says customers appreciate, particularly if they have to drive a great distance to get there. They need the facts.
“If we’re talking about a $70,000 Tahoe or a Volt or Bolt, those customers ask a lot of questions,” Angle says. “I know what drives people to come in. But being honest really is the best policy.”
Aggressive pricing helps, Angle adds, but customers still want to connect with a human being. When they arrive at the dealership, they are greeted by their BDC rep and handed off to their salesperson, who already has their details, including any agreed-upon numbers. Angle takes care to assure her customers that she, their salesperson, and their F&I professional all work as a team. She says she has thought about moving into the showroom but is in no hurry.
“I would love to invest that time when my kids are older, but not now. But certainly there is potential to grow here.”
Merchanthouse says Angle exemplifies the BDC’s high-talent, low-turnover roster, for which industry experience is not a prerequisite. Other members previously worked at Target, a salon, and a gas station. Five, including Angle, have been there for at least four years. Several former BDC reps are now on the sales floor.
“The most important thing is having people without fear of people. You can’t teach that or really get around that,” he says. “I want people that are going to reach out, not just send a text or email and hope they come in. Ambitious people, not afraid of the world.”
Training Equals Confidence
Thorp says Quirk Chevrolet’s 2019 plans include further investments in fleet and electric-vehicle sales. The store is part of the GM Business Elite program. Benefits include additional commercial vehicles, rental units, and most importantly, advanced training, where salespeople learn the finer points of spec’ing and upfitting.
The GM has high expectations for the all-new Silverado 4500HD, 5500HD, and 6500HD chassis cabs, due at Quirk in March. Fulfilling them will require training throughout the front end.
“All 34 salespeople, five sales managers, and seven BDC sales reps have product training through GM — all are Sales Consultant Certified, Commercial Certified and Pre-Owned Certified. Our entire sales staff being fully trained is a competitive advantage,” Thorp says, noting that mantra was passed down from Dan Quirk, “a great leader, genuine, ability to motivate, inspires me to think big and achieve greater things.”
Quirk purchased the store in 1977, at the age of 26, laying the foundation for a group that now includes 14 new-car dealerships representing 13 brands in the greater Boston and Manchester, N.H., areas, a robust used-car operation, Quincy (Mass.) Auto Auction, and Quirk Parts.
Merchanthouse says he is fortunate to represent the Quirk organization and Chevrolet, whose lineup and in-vehicle technology he feels are competitive with any brand. He will continue to deliver whatever training, coaching, and resources are needed to equip his department for success, he adds, and he advises other dealers and managers to do the same.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot of investment. It’s basically having a system where my people are able to answer any question that comes at them confidently.”