What did you do with your last two-week vacation? Glenn Polk turned his into a career that his two sons followed.
Polk, the owner of Glenn Polk Automotive Group of Gainesville and Sanger, Texas, was so interested in auto sales that he took a break from his job as an electrician to sell Chryslers and Plymouths for the Chaparral Group in Fort Worth. He enjoyed and excelled at it so much so that he decided to change careers.
Within four months, Polk was promoted to assistant manager; three months later, he was new car manager. As rewarding as Polk found the work, he had higher ambitions.
“I had a goal to own a dealership and had to make a path forward,” says Polk. “By then, enough experience had kicked in that I knew I was going in the right direction.”
Big Dealerships, Small Town Feel
On April 5, 1995, Polk opened Glenn Polk Ford Mercury on I-35 in Gainesville. The dealership started with 21 employees and 116 vehicles. Some might think that was a somewhat modest start, but Polk and his team soon shattered Ford’s sales goals.
And those victories just keep multiplying. Today, Polk Automotive Group has more than 1,000 vehicles in inventory, five locations across two counties, and more than 150 employees. Last year, they sold more than 4,000 vehicles.
It’s easy to see the secret to the group’s success: For all his achievements, Glenn Polk has always sought new challenges. And customers find Polk and his sons, Trent and Shawn, as customer service-oriented as the founder was when he was first building his client base.
“Dad makes the rounds every day. He visits all the locations every single day.”
“We have big city dealerships with small town attitudes in a family atmosphere,” says Shawn Polk. “We’re here every day. A Polk family member is at each store every day. If there’s a problem in service, sales, with an employee, with customers, we are on it. It doesn’t have to wait until the next day. No one has to call us to tell us about it. We’re here. We address it. The employees see that, and it trickles down from the top.”
Trent and Shawn work in lockstep and are effectively general managers of all four stores.
“We physically place ourselves in two stores,” says Trent. “We’ve done that for the past 10 years, driving back and forth. And Dad makes the rounds every day. He visits all the locations every single day.”
Customers Reward Great Service
Arden Hetland, president of American Financial & Automotive Services, nominated Glenn Polk Automotive for an F&I Pacesetter award, for which five honorees were selected; each was a nominee for Dealer of the Year honors. Hetland says Polk’s customer service is head-and-shoulders above that offered by their competitors.
“For 24 years, the Glenn Polk Automotive Group has become synonymous with the words ‘customer service,’” wrote Hetland in his nomination. “This family owned and operated dealership started with only two locations and six manufacturers. … Today, the Glenn Polk Automotive Group now has four locations, nine manufacturers, and has been able to assist over 35,000 satisfied customers.”
As Hetland pointed out, Polk Automotive’s personal touch and family atmosphere have generated an enviably high Google Reviews score of 4.8 out of five stars based on input from more than 800 customers.
“With reviews like that, it is no wonder this dealership has an expansive and loyal customer base,” Hetland concluded.
Playing the Long Game
The family owned and operated group will soon celebrate 25 years. In addition to the Glenn Polk Supercenter, a standalone used car operation, the group now has nine franchises under four rooftops and shows no signs of slowing down.
While some might chalk up Polk’s success to a natural gift for business and a lot of luck, he says it all comes down to hard work.
“You have to work at it on a daily basis, a weekly basis, a monthly basis,” Polk says. “Those stores stay open until 7 o’clock. A lot of hard work went into where I got to now.”
And Polk continually sacrifices many extras to keep his stores moving ahead. Ever since he bought his first dealership, he has continually reinvested his bonuses and other money into the business. And he is not afraid to offer new services or embrace new ideas.
“When I started in the car business, there wasn’t such a thing as an F&I department,” says Polk. “Each salesman had to sell his own. I would say it was about 1973 when we had our first F&I department. I saw the need for it a long time ago, need somebody dedicated to selling the products. Let the salesman hand it off to someone.”
Today, the group has an “F&I floater” who fills in when the regular F&I managers are gone for vacation, sick leave, or industry or community events.
“We are not just offering reliable products but ones that offer value.”
Polk gives kudos to and credits Hetland and American Financial for supporting his auto group as it has grown.
“They helped us to excel. They allowed us to offer customers products and services that would maintain or protect their financial investments,” he says. “They also made sure we have never strayed from compliance. That’s huge these days. We are not just offering reliable products but ones that offer value.”
Polk also credits his sons’ entrance into the business by moving the group even further ahead.
“I did not originally intend to get in the car business, but I had no money, and I wanted to get married, says Trent, who joined the auto group in 1995. “What helped, I think, is that I had no previous knowledge of the car business. I only had some knowledge of how to support and market the business.
“That, combined with Dad’s expertise from years in car business, gave us a little mix of old school/new school view. That allowed us to prepare for the internet, which we began to use about a year and a half later,” Trent adds, noting that Polk dealerships “weren’t exactly cutting-edge” in the early going, but the group seized the online opportunity faster than many of its competitors.
New Frontiers Explored
When Shawn joined the auto group in 2002, that changed. He became one of the first internet managers for the auto group and helped take Polk’s online campaigns to the next level.
“Our online presence helped us excel,” says Glenn Polk. “Online reviews came very quick. People rely on them, and that’s helped us stay ahead of the game. We already had the processes in place where people are satisfied.”
Another area that the Polks support is the community. For the Polk family, that doesn’t just mean financially supporting different activities but turning out for the events.
“Whatever benefits our customers ultimately benefits us,” says Shawn. “When you sell in a smaller town like this, out of what would be called medium store, you have to see these people at church, at Walmart, wherever, you don’t even have the luxury of one mistake.”
“We consistently have customers change bad reviews to good reviews because Shawn and I address issues.”
And the Polks make sure that any complaints aren’t allowed to fester. Trent and Shawn Polk answer every review that comes through their site or other media.
“Our name is attached to every review. It’s not as daunting because we can usually look each morning, maybe six or seven to answer,” says Trent Polk. “If it’s a problem, our employees know they need to immediately send it to a manager so we can resolve it. We consistently have customers change bad reviews to good reviews because Shawn and I address issues with the customers and employees.”
That type of hands-on management pays off in many ways and brings the group plenty of sales, even during lean times, Shawn Polk says. “Back in 2008 and 2009, times were tough in the auto business. I remember getting calls from other dealers asking, ‘How are you still selling so many cars?’ The reason was that we had so many repeat and referral customers. We didn’t have to rely on new customers. Our employees make sure that our customers love their sales experience.”
And the community responds to the dealership group’s dedication to the community. Key charities include the Boys & Girls Club and St. Mary’s Catholic School.
“If you can make an impact on kids growing up in your town, you’re only going to improve the quality of the town later on,” says Trent. “That’s how we’ve looked at it. But anything that’s child or education related, we’ve done a lot with from the very beginning. We’re also quite involved in the Make a Wish Foundation.”
Some may question how such dedication to the community is vital to success.
“It’s not selling a car today,” says Shawn Polk. “It’s taking care of the customer tomorrow, and whenever needs arise.”
Adds Glenn, “When things get tough, go back to simple, basic rules, and you’ll be fine.”
Nancy Dunham is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance journalist. Contact her at [email protected]