Monday, April 16, 2012

"Birth of a Car-Guy:" MINI COOPER S and a Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 Spyder

If you are reading this and we have never met I feel the need to preface this article. I am a nice person. I am a mama's boy. I believe in giving back to the community and I believe in genuine human kindness. If you are a car guy and don't know me what I am about to tell you may fill you with a jealous rage. You might instantly not like me. I need to say one more thing. I am humble and I do not take my life for granted. Oh, ONE last thing: I currently have a Lamborghini LP 560 Spyder and a brand new MINI Cooper S model sitting in my drive way right now. Don't get too upset, neither whip is mine as I drive a 2011 GMC Terrain.

As the Variable Operations Manager of the Morgan Auto Group I do live a kind of charmed life. When I first entered the business in 2005 I was not a car guy. I was more less a student of our business, of people and customer service. My focus was on providing a better transactional quality inside of our business not necessarily what was going on under the hood.

Over time I have become a car guy and it had me wondering this weekend --- What Changed? Was it hours upon hours of Top Gear viewing on BBC America? Was it countless deals worked with my friend and colleague Matt Duke who is a legitimate car nerd and enthusiast? Was it simply learning that business and sales were more fun when you have drank the proverbial "car-guy" kool-aid? Was it inheriting a '62 Chevy II from my Grandfather? No. It was simply getting behind the wheel of something exceptional and letting it provide me with what it was built to do.

I've always needed a push in life. While my interests are many I can be far from daring. My father has offered to let me drive his Lamborghini Gallardo a combination of 52 times over the past year. The culmination of my Lambo experience is a single ride on Christmas day while under the watchful eye of 4 Clearwater Beach Police squad cars. My top speed was 28 MPH. My Dad would not have a Lamborghini if it wasn't for our ownership of Lamborghini Sarasota and partnership with businessman Victor Young. In many ways our entry into the car business was a surprise and our entrance into the Supercar business a bigger one.

This was all until this weekend when my friend, car-guy and car enthusiast, Matt Duke joined me for the Tampa Bay Blues Festival. We borrowed the Lamborghini. We drove the Lamborghini. We experienced the full bliss of popping both paddle shifters into neutral and revving the V10 for a large downtown crowd. We felt the cars power out onto interstate on ramps and the raw speed burning from a dead stop. We hit the valet at the Vinoy near downtown St. Petersburg and watched families stop to take pictures with the car. Is it possible that one car could bring so much joy to so many people? The answer is yes. The answer is also that a vehicle a fraction of the cost can provide a very similar experience.

On Sunday after a night of a cool Florida breeze and crunchy blues riffs we loaded up and headed to our newest dealership addition MINI of Wesley Chapel. It is only Tampa's 2nd only MINI store and one of only two in the country that shares a unique new MINI dealership design and image. We were having a big conquest test drive event that including stocking a new VW Beetle and a Nissan Juke. Matt and I were there in case the store was overrun with guests. We were. It was a fantastic event. And just to top it all off I decided to drive home a new MINI Cooper S just to see what I thought.

In quick summation 181 horsepower has never felt more like 245 horsepower. The cock pit is surprisingly roomy and non-claustrophobic. Being an anglophile myself I am very much in tune with the premise of MINI as a brand and as a marketer. As a driver I am very much impressed with the MPG but also the drivability of MINI. MINI is flat out fun to drive. Today while conducting business with my father he asked me to drive in my MINI and yes that was him smiling as he exited his BMW X6. Tonight I had a choice of what to take for a quick evening the drive --- the Gallardo or the MINI. I took the MINI. Remember us car guys like to have fun too.

For more information:

MINI of Wesley Chapel

MINI of Wesley Chapel's Facebook Page

Lamborghini Sarasota

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nothing MINI about Opening

It was a soft opening. No formal publicity just word of mouth. General Manager Malcolm Cheek had many pre-orders and tons of service appointments lined up but Saturday March 24th was surely going to be a day to get settled in; especially with no real formal announcement of opening.


After years of planning, months of building the facility, weeks of anticipation and one hectic Friday full of moving furniture & displays, completing PDI of vehicles and a few IT concerns – doors opened to customers at 26645 State Road 56 in Wesley Chapel. The MINI of Wesley Chapel story had begun.

I arrived at around 9:30 am to a crowded and bustling service drive. Porters and writers were giving full facility tours with big smiles on their faces.
Guests were smiling and General Manager Malcolm Cheek was flying around inspecting every part of the operation. Technicians continued to PDI and detail
new MINI’s; a process held up by MINI receiving a few last minute permits only
days before.

The facility is one of only two MINI franchised dealerships in the country
with the signature 2nd story “Jewel box,” essentially a
2nd story glass box with a full car elevator. The other store is in
Madison Wisconsin. Many joked all day that our new MINI store was sleek enough
to become a night club after sales hours had ended. Customers enjoyed a spread
of bagels and MINI employees enjoyed well…organized chaos. The store seamlessly
flows from the service drive into sales but after just a few hours I realized
this store was busy!

With a crowded showroom far outnumbering the number of sales associates I was
most impressed by MINI’s sense of teamwork. It was truly a family affair with
Malcolm’s wife and daughter managing key positions and finding sales associates
for customers wanting test drives. Service Director Jason Faiella was bringing
cars for demonstration one by one out of PDI all the while interacting with
guests. Teri Cifredo the store admin was flying around showing cars, bringing
customers’ refreshments and always smiling. Malcolm and sales manager Larry
Stephens worked with customers one at a time in their office. Larry Morgan stood
at the door and shook hands and made sure every guest was having their needs

When the dust settled ten new customers had committed or were driving home in
a new MINI. Countless RO’s had been written and one thing was for certain: MINI
of Wesley Chapel has something special about it from the unique facility right
down to the smile on every associates face.

BMW hits a homerun with the Miracle League of Manasota

The Miracle League of Manasota is an organization dedicated to providing an opportunity for all children to play baseball, regardless of their ability. For the 14,000 school-aged children with disabilities in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the Miracle League of Manasota is providing many children the thrills of baseball regardless of their ability to play. The Miracle League of Manasota played their first game this past March at the newly built Orioles-Pirates Field at Longwood Park. Instrumental in support for this venture was BMW of Sarasota, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Baltimore Orioles and Sarasota County.

BMW of Sarasota’s Victor Young, Ed Seymour, De’Vone Brownlee, Charles Wilson,
Brian Doonan and Matthew Mesquita have all been personally involved in the
effort. On March 3rd the Miracle League celebrated their first local
practice and assigned to BMW of Sarasota was a special young man named Joey Barr
(pictured). Joey is an awesome baseball player and one of only 2 children that
didn’t need a tee to hit a ball. Joey is 10 years old and has been battling
Leukemia since the age of 2; he just recently finished his treatments. Prior to
completion he wasn’t able to be in sunlight or enjoy outdoor activities, so his
father built a room in the house where he could play baseball. When asked
whether he would prefer to be a Pirate or an Oriole, Joey said “I want to be a
pirate because then I’ll have (the) strength to fight my cancer.”

Great job Victor Young and TEAM BMW for investing in such a worthy cause in
the communities of Manatee and Sarasota Counties!

Monday, April 2, 2012

How to Win "Friends" and Influence ... Your customers...

Honda of Ocala, BMW of Sarasota, Ford of Port Richey and Toyota of Tampa Bay Foster Relationships with Well Attended New Car Clinics/Customer Appreciation Events

In the retail car business we all want a high percentage of customer retention. We aim to wow customers at the time of purchase, administer free or included maintenance, make their first service appointment and then we sit back and track our figures. Is it enough? Never! A good job for most manufacturers is probably around 40% for the typical used and new car customer retained. A rock star job is somewhere over 60%. We can’t just count on “good” service to keep folks coming back. What our customers want is a relationship. They want a comfort level with our people. They need to believe our pricing is fair and that there is a benefit to driving past 32 franchised and independent service centers to climb back into our service drives. Are we giving them that message?

A recent study in March’s “Digital Dealer,” found that only “10% of the annual service spend of a dealer’s customers migrates to independents but dealers are bleeding nearly three times more business to aftermarket chains.” What does that mean? It means that the Jiffy Lubes and Tires Plus’s of the world are eating our lunch. There is a reason when the independents and franchised service centers send a car our way when they can’t complete a repair. We have the best trained employees around! Do we remind our guests? The same study also found that Dealers’ “loyal customers actually spend less on service annually then the loyal customer of the aftermarket segment.” We need to break that mindset that the aftermarket customer is simply a series of inexpensive oil changes and nothing more! It’s just not the case.

A great way to bring customers back into the fold or keep them as our guests is Customer Appreciation Events and New Car Clinics. When I was the GM of Wade Raulerson Buick GMC our customer appreciation nights were more than just snacks and handshakes they were Community Events. They were sales, exhibitions, floor morale boosters, new product launches and the ideal opportunity to return to the RELATIONSHIP BUSINESS. Recently BMW of Sarasota, Ford of Port Richey and Toyota of Tampa Bay all held well attended New Car Clinics/Customer Appreciation Events.

Here are some pointers I have gathered from our GM’s and my general experience:
1) How to get the word out:
a. Direct Mail – Not free but a great avenue to reach guests
b. Direct E-mail Campaigns – Free and a Great Way to Reach Recent Sales Customers
c. Social Media – If you have invested in building a database --- Facebook and Twitter are free and easy ways to remind your guests what you are doing.
d. Showroom and Waiting Room Point of Sale / Post notices in the restroom! That’s right folks! Your bathrooms! The logical progression of indoor advertising is quality and flexible point of sale advertising for your restrooms. Hooters posts today’s sports page – why aren’t we posting valuable messages for our guests!
e. Display Reminders in F&I – especially new car clinic dates

2) Have them make a VIP appointment. Use e-vite or your CRM tool to track who is attending and manage reminders.

3) Give them an incentive to come in!
a. Food – cater the spread to your locality and customer; don’t skimp – everyone loves to eat and they will remember a quality meal.
b. Remember it doesn’t have to be a free gift or a “bribe” to get them in --- people are looking for information too. Empower your customers with information about basic maintenance or the latest technology that exists in their vehicles. They took in a lot of information during delivery. Truth is the average customer probably knows less than 60% of their vehicles full potential.
c. Tell them of your store’s business plan and relay factory progress as well
d. Have a raffle for employees and guests. Make it fun. Get some sports tickets from the folks you advertise with. One year at Raulerson a guest one some prized SEC Championship tickets. We called the ticket number out three times and they were nowhere to be found. Larry found them in F&I finalizing their final paperwork.

4) Have your entire staff attend and accessible to customers

5) Now Show Your Customers What Sets You A Part – Reinforce That Added Value
a. When guests arrive please make them feel welcome. Have a VIP check in and have someone show them around your facility. Explain the perks of your facility. We think they know --- but we only do so because we are in that facility everyday!
b. CFNA Table and Sign Up
i. Have one of your advisors man a CFNA table. Give them a coupon or bonus for sign up.
Go over the program and its benefits. Spiff your writer.
c. Do you have a customer loyalty card, program, or free oil change program? Let people know about it. Have a sign up table.
d. Do you have a dare to compare board display to reinforce your competitiveness on the customer pay side? If so…display it!
e. Build Your Social Media Audience: Take pictures of guests with new product and their family and ask if you can “Tag” them into their Facebook profiles. Setup a staging area like a Hollywood red carpet. When you are e-mailing them their picture or tagging them on facebook ask them if they would login and like your page. A five minute investment and now you have the ability to market to your customers’ everyday --- for free! Kudos to our stores who are putting on these clinics and appreciation events with some consistency! Remember each month to spend time investing in the Relationship Business. It’s at the core of what we do.