A fiercely loyal customer base and team drove the dealership to industrywide recognition as Ford’s No. 1 dealer in the world.
If there was a word to describe why Bill Brown Ford has operated a successful dealership for over 100 years, it would be loyalty.
The Livonia, Mich., store has a fiercely loyal customer base, with some families shopping at the dealership for over 50 years. Its staff is equally loyal; some employees have served the business for over 40 years.
Bill Brown Ford has earned such loyalty because of its commitment to community. The dealership has built a community of employees committed to helping the customer community, then takes its success to help build the local community.
“Bill Brown’s unique approach places employees, family, community and customers first,” says Tom Brown, grandson of Bill Brown. “It’s one of the main reasons we’ve been so successful. It’s also why we see so many returning customers every year and sell more vehicles to Ford employees and their families than any other dealership.”
In January, the dealership’s loyal following led it to another industrywide recognition. The family-owned dealership captured the crown as No. 1 Ford dealership in the world for the second consecutive year.
For decades, Galpin Ford held the crown as the top-selling Ford dealership in the world by volume until a Tampa dealership won it three years ago. Last year, the race for top dealer came down to the wire in a close competition with Brandon Ford of Tampa, but Bill Brown Ford came out on top in the last month.
“There were under 50 vehicle sales that separated us [last year],” says Matt Garchow, new-vehicle sales manager. “This year we had a pretty sizable lead going into the last month because we continue to adapt to the needs of our customers. We sold over 7,200 cars last year.”
Business Built on Core Values
The dealership’s key to success lies in its core values, which Garchow says go beyond words to be put into practice.
The dealership is committed to growth, innovation and delivering a pleasant customer experience, through family, community and trust.
Those values, he says, help the sales team and support staff develop a clientele that “trusts them and comes to us for all of their vehicle needs. We have clientele that wouldn’t dream of buying a car anywhere else, and that speaks to a lot of the people here.”
He stresses that the trust factor helped the dealership maintain a high level of success through the pandemic, inventory challenges, and now high inflation and interest rates.
“It takes a pretty significant level of trust to order a car, put money down on it, and not see it for six months. But that’s what our customers did. At our dealership, a lot of deals start with a hug and a conversation about their kids. Our sellers know their customers by name.”
Staff sticks around, and that’s a key reason people trust them, according to Garchow. One seller has been with the company for 44 years, though he plans to retire next February. Others have been with the dealership for 20 to 30 years.
“That is because of the reputation of the Brown family and how they treat people. Employees and customers are treated like family,” he says. “We get a lot of top-end people who want to work here. We are careful to recruit good people who really care about their clientele and have a good book of business.”
As a vehicle sales manager for over two decades, Garchow says he’s learned that the most qualified person on paper isn’t always the best person for the job. He looks for those who genuinely care for others.
“I can train people to do all kinds of things, but I cannot train someone to care. I want someone who makes the customer their focus and does everything he or she can to make sure the customer is happy, comfortable, and has a seamless—and stress-free—experience.”
He adds that, “In the auto industry, your staff is the heartbeat of the dealership and your local community. You can have the best lease deals and offers, but it won’t mean anything if the right individuals aren’t part of the team. They’re the face of the dealership. At Bill Brown, we work hard to identify and hire the best employees and ensure at all levels that they’re happy in their day-to-day roles and passionate about our dealership and our community.”
Better Customer Experience
Bill Brown Ford’s 100-year history of understanding customers’ automotive needs and innovating its dealership and service experience helped it bring home Ford’s top honor. The dealership stands out with a one-person, one-customer sales approach.
The approach is different from other dealerships, where customers are shuffled from person to person, Garchow says. “At many dealerships, you need to talk to the sales manager, the F&I manager and others. And they are all trying to sell you something you don’t want or need. This injects pressure into the purchase process.”
Bill Brown gives its 30-member sales staff the autonomy to handle customers from the time they walk in until they complete their purchases and drive away. “Everyone handles their clients as if it were their own business,” Garchow says.
Other members of the team make sellers’ jobs easier and facilitate the deal, he says. Sales assistants, which are entry- level sales positions, ready the paperwork, pick up customers or deliver vehicles. The service department and vehicle-prep department get the vehicle gassed up, washed and prepped for the customer.
“Everyone works together to make it a very positive experience for the customer,” Garchow says. “We take the stress out of the process. We hear again and again how easy it was and how buying a car didn’t take them half the day.”
Vehicle salespeople handle both vehicle and F&I sales. However, the dealership also employs F&I specialists if customers want to talk about those products in greater depth. “Most deals are between the salesperson and the customer because they already have a relationship,” he says. “They have sold them cars in the past, and they know what the customer wants or doesn’t want.”
Garchow says its top-notch customer service continues even after the purchase is completed and that every customer can expect the same service when they return.
“We gain a lot of customers as people come into the service department from other dealerships. They are so impressed with our service department that they want to buy their next car from us.”
Bill Brown Ford also uses social media and engaging editorial content to add value for existing and prospective customers.
Social media posts offer vehicle- maintenance tips, recommendations for the best 4-by-4 road trips, and suggestions for families looking for their next adventure. The posts keep customers engaged and excited about their current and future Ford vehicle purchases, Garchow says.
“Rather than only interacting with consumers when their lease is up, Bill Brown provides insight and advice 365 days a year,” Tom Brown says.
Bill Brown General Manager Dave Tashman says. “Ed Brown [who died this past March] instilled in every employee the importance of supporting our customers and the larger Ford community we are part of, along with the organizations that are educating and improving the lives of individuals across metro Detroit.”
The focus on charity builds a strong and passionate community for the dealership, though dealership leaders say that’s not the reason it does it. Bill Brown aides charities and organizations that help Michigan residents, focusing on nonprofit organizations that feed, educate, clothe and improve health and welfare.
Family-owned dealerships like Bill Brown Ford face additional challenges in today’s rapidly changing auto industry, including increased consolidation led by large national companies.
Larger dealership groups, says Garchow, often prioritize profits over customers, community relationships and personalized incentives. Bill Brown says it instead focuses on creating the best environment for employees and prioritizing customer and community satisfaction through strong online and in-person processes and personalized service.
“Anyone can win on price, but at Bill Brown Ford, we’ve proven if you can deliver for your customers, you can win one of the auto industry’s biggest prizes,” Tashman says.
The year ahead, they say, will include more of the same. The dealership will continue its evolution and work to find new ways to improve the car-purchase journey, all while remaining true to a customer-first approach.