Leo Durocher is often quoted as saying “Nice guys don’t win ball games” [He later denied ever saying this]. But this expression is quoted often too justify aggressive, rude, exploitive and unethical business practices. A surprisingly large number of otherwise intelligent business leaders actually believe this saying. This is especially prevalent in the retail car business. I’m a member of an organization called a “20 Group”. This group of car dealers (about 20, hence the name) meets for 3 days 3 times a year to compare business practices and financial results. Our members are from all over the USA. The majority of the members of this group think my way of doing business is not smart. Most Florida dealers I know don’t understand or agree with my business practices.
This column is not a forum to celebrate my accomplishments or for trying to sell you a Toyota, but to share my knowledge with you about how to buy your next car or have your car serviced without being taken advantage of. With that said, I tell you that my Toyota dealership sold more new Toyotas last year than the other Toyota dealerships in Palm Beach County, one in West Palm Beach and one in Delray. Of course I’m proud of that accomplishment, 33 years in the making. After all, my dealership is in Lake Park, which many of you may not have even heard of. I always mention North Palm Beach in mentioning my dealership’s location because we are on the city limit of Lake Park and North Palm Beach. Our population in Lake Park in northern county is much less than that of West Palm Beach and Delray. We just aren’t “supposed to” sell more cars than the dealers from the “big city”.
Was it Will Rogers who said, “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s so”? I’m not sure if I agree with that and I always feel a little funny about tooting my own horn. The reason I’m writing about my dealership’s accomplishment is not because of what we did but how we did it. We were able to accomplish this truly amazing feat by being “nice guys” and we did win spite of what Leo Durocher may have said. What most other car dealers can’t understand is how we can be so successful without advertising the way they do. By that I mean we virtually never advertise cars, prices, special sale events [Once last year we did advertise a sale on new Priuses because we temporarily had an oversupply]. If you have seen my ads, you know how I advertise. It’s all about my direct personal access via my red phone, my decrying the dealer fee and calling for it being made illegal, and telling you that you will always be treated with integrity, respect, and courtesy in my dealership.
Our sales practices and our service practices are like our advertising. We truly walk the talk. I have four red telephones located in the service drive, customer waiting lounge, show room, and the body shop. Beside the red phone is a sign with my picture saying, “The buck stops here. If we have not exceeded your expectations, pick up this red phone and be directly connected to me, the owner”. These red phones immediately ring my cell phone which I have with me 24/7 [I turn it off when I go to sleep at night]. I invite all of my new customers to a reception every two months, speak to them, and give each one my business card with my home telephone number. We don’t have secretaries in my company and we don’t have voice mails. Nobody, including me, has their calls screened. In fact, if the person you are calling is out of the dealership, the call is directly connected to her cell phone. My instruction to all of my employees is “If the customer thinks she is right, take care of the problem”. The important thing about this philosophy is not debating who is right. The important thing is what our customer believes. Our motto is “It’s what you do for your customer when you don’t have to that is the true measure of character…like sticking up for somebody that can’t defend himself”.
There is another reason that I’m “bragging” in this column. Other businesses and especially other car dealers are sitting up and taking notice. Hopefully we will see some of them change their business practices like dropping the dealer fee and changing their bait and switch advertising tactics. If you’re a car dealer reading this column, give me a call and let’s talk. I want to tell you how much better you will do by treating your customers the way your mother probably told you you should. Not only will your business do better but you will sleep a lot better at night.