Choosing the Right Dealership – Car Pro Commentary

A row of new 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles sit for sale in the car lot at the Toyota dealership in El CajonWhen I started my radio show a dozen years ago, I had two things in mind…calling attention to the good dealers out there, and warning people about the bad ones. After 35 years in the industry and owning multiple car dealerships through the years, I got really good at being able to tell the difference between good versus evil. I have met some of the best and the worst in the business.
So what makes a dealership great? It starts at the top with good leadership. Either a good Owner or General Manager who truly cares about his customers and repeat business. One thing to watch for is dealerships that do a ton of advertising. You know the ones, they are on TV every time you turn it on. So why is that important you might ask? It is simple: the dealers that have to heavily advertise year after year generally have very little repeat business, and that is a huge red flag for me.
How a dealership advertises tells a tale too. If you see prices and offers that are too good to be true, you can bet they are and it tells you a lot about the dealership. This goes for a dealer’s website too, I wrote not too long ago about the new-age bait and switch, which is the Internet.
Using the Internet to choose a dealer is wise, as long as you look in the right places. I pay no attention to discussion groups or blogs at dealerships, or cars for that matter. The info is not verifiable and you can’t tell who is writing it. However, checking with the Better Business Bureau is a good idea. Unresolved or unanswered complaints will tell you a lot about how serious a dealership takes complaints.
The atmosphere when you enter a dealership is telling. Is it clean? Are the grounds well kept? This shows attention to detail and that will wash over into customer satisfaction. I am not talking about a Taj Mahal dealership, just one that is uncluttered and neat. Smart dealers know that first impressions can make or break you. Are the salespeople out in front of the dealership, in a circle, smoking cigarettes, throwing the butts on the ground? Keep driving.
When inside a dealership, do the employees seem happy? You can’t have customers that are happy if your employees hate their jobs. When I had dealerships, I had a 10-foot rule. If any employees got within 10 feet of customer who was unattended, they were required to check with them to make sure they didn’t need anything. I never had a customer complain about being asked too many times.
I am often asked about the volume dealerships, the ones that sell the most cars. The assumption is that if they sell the most cars, they must be the best. While this is often true, it is not always. Sometimes it is just they have a great location, other times it is because they do a great job and get a ton of repeat business. There just isn’t anything that can be concluded just from the number of cars that dealers sell.
As part of the Car Pro Show radio process, we look for the best dealerships to send our listeners to. There is one common denominator among the best, and that is someone at the top of the chain who really cares, and is in it for the long haul. One of our dealers, Carl Sewell wrote the book Customers For Life, and it has sold over 600,000 copies. I think that says it all.


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