“PEOPLE CAN BE RESISTANT TO CHANGE, SO YOU BREAK THAT RESISTANCE DOWN BY EMBRACING IT, UNDERSTANDING IT AND PUTTING FOCUS ON IT...”
When David Elattrache stepped in as the general manager of Huggins Honda in 2009, he knew that some changes would be inevitable to keep the dealership competitive for its future. After all, technology changes, facilities change and customers needs change. One thing he wouldn’t have to change, however, and something he would come to rely on was the dealership’s team.
“Everyone here has a great work ethic,” Elattrache said. “They’re loyal, with a desire to be the best they can be. We’re not corporately owned. We’re a family business and have a family atmosphere, and that includes all of our people.”
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Having the right team in place, he knew that he could help guide his dealership through the changing automotive sales landscape and put a plan in place that would lead to both present and future success. Huggins Honda has put a focus on staying current with marketing and service technology as a way of maintaining its competitive edge and serving its customer base to retain clients and grow for the future.
And, through hard work and getting the right help from the right vendors, he and his team have made that plan a reality, with overall year-over-year sales growing 16 percent in 2016, and new car sales growing 20 percent in that same period.
LONE STAR COMPETITION
The dealership, which was opened in 1983 by Gene Huggins who worked with his sons Craig and Ron, is located in North Richland Hills, Texas, and serves Fort Worth, Dallas and the northeastern section of the state — an area where dealerships have to work to gain and retain their customers. “We face a Toyota store that is ranked as one of the highest Toyota points in our area, so they’re great competition for us,” Elattrache said. “Texas is a very competitive market, especially in the metro areas. We’re all competing against each other for the same customers.”
Elattrache first entered the automotive business in 1989, starting in sales, and working his way up through management to become variable director and GM at three different companies until coming to Huggins in 2009.
“I had known the Huggins through my dealings with them from 1993 to 2003, when they were competitors of the dealership I was with at the time,” he said. “I’d always admired them as an organization, and I came on board because it seemed like the perfect fit for not only them, but me, as well.”
While there were some things he knew he needed to adjust, Elattrache liked what he saw when he came to Huggins. “What I brought was some processes to help them execute more consistently,” he said. “I moved existing personnel around to areas where I thought they’d better help the dealership and the customers. I think that helped a lot. I also added a BDC to the dealership to help their growth.”
Building and expanding that team — the dealership currently employs about 180 people — is something Elattrache takes seriously. “We’re very specific about who we hire,” he said. “We’re looking for people with strong character. We don’t just hire on talent; they have to be able to fit in our organization, not only for us, but also for the customer.”
He’s quick to point out that Huggins works as a group, and not as individual actors. “It’s never been about me,” he said, “it’s about our team. I try to surround myself with people who are better than I am, or who have the potential to become better. All I bring to the table, really, is experience and the ability to keep everyone on track. It’s the team that executes the plans we come up with together. I see myself as the catalyst. I’m the guy who lights the spark. The other guys take that spark and run with it. Everything we do, we do together. There isn’t a ‘John’ plan or a ‘George’ plan. This is a Huggins plan and strategy.”
NEW FACILITIES, NEW OPPORTUNITIES
One of the ways Huggins started preparing for the future was to open a new state-of-the-art facility in 2015. The facility greatly expanded the space available for both service and sales, and offers amenities such as a bistro to give customers the opportunity to have breakfast or lunch in comfort. “It’s about a 100,000 square-foot structure,” Elattrache said. “It’s been great for our customers. We built it for the future, to help us encompass change.
One of the things the new facility provided was the opportunity for his team to expand the service drive from a four-car capacity to a 25-car capacity, and provide a more holistic atmosphere for the dealership. “We have three different waiting areas within our facility, Elattrache said. “Before, there was a barrier in the service center that customers didn’t want to cross. Now, it’s free flowing. Service customers can come through the new car department without any apprehension at all. We’ve worked hard to make it as inviting as possible.”
With the people and facilities in place, Elattrache and his team wanted to adjust the dealership’s marketing messages and efforts to take full advantage of their opportunities, and started looking for a vendor to help them achieve that goal. After searching for a company that would provide the right fit, Huggins selected Team Velocity Marketing.
“It’s been a true partnership,” Elattrache said of the venture. “They’ve brought consistency to our branding and helped us with our growth. We were looking for help navigating the digital landscape and that’s what they’ve brought to the table. What’s great about it is that it allows me to focus on other things. I meet with them twice a month, but for the most part it allows me to focus on other things in the dealership that I can take care of on a day-to-day basis.”
THE DIGITAL MARKETING LANDSCAPE
The world of auto sales has changed more in the past few years than ever before. “Every GM is facing the same changes in the digital landscape as we have,” Elattrache said. “Marketing has changed, and the dollars have shifted to digital efforts and away from traditional media like TV, print and radio. One thing that’s really surprised me is how much customer loyalty to a manufacturer has slipped in general. That’s what makes it so important to build all the customer loyalty to the dealership that you can. Team Velocity helps us with that.”
By shifting and fine-tuning Huggin’s marketing methods and messages, the dealership has seen the fruits of that labor paying off. One example of this is the expanded focus the dealerships’ marketing efforts have put towards “lost and conquest” service business. Between June and December 2016, the dealership added 3,818 new active customers that can be directly attributed to that focus. These are customers who had never done business with Huggins, or hadn’t in the previous 12 months.
The dealership’s service department has benefited greatly from both the new facilities and from Team Velocity’s targeted marketing efforts, which goes on to benefit the entire dealership. “It’s the service department that drives future sales,” Elattrache said. “It’s huge, and we do everything we can to capitalize on that. One of the things that Team Velocity brought to the table, along with their other programs, was the Apollo® portal and other efforts that allow us to give service customers the opportunity to upgrade their vehicle and give them a choice between what they’re driving now and what they could be driving. It’s worked out very well for us.”
And Elattrache has the numbers to back him up. While the new facilities were helping the service department’s repair orders grow 13 percent YOY in the first half of 2016, the addition of Team Velocity’s marketing boosted it another 7 percent, for a 20 percent YOY growth in service business.
ADAPTING TO A CHANGING MARKET
“If you wanted to sum it up, the biggest challenge for dealerships is the continuing evolution of the car industry,” Elattrache said. “Traffic, the digital landscape and customer buying habits have changed as well.”
Change doesn’t always come easy, even for the best teams, but it’s necessary to keep up with consumer behavior and demands. “People can be resistant to change, so you break that resistance down by embracing it, understanding it and putting focus on it,” Elattrache said. “By embracing it, our team adapts to change pretty well.”
One of the ways Elattrache urges his team to embrace change is to focus on its positive aspects. “We look at the potential the change can bring to us, and what opportunities it can give us. That sets up a whole new mindset when it comes time for you to plan and execute.”
Elattrache has two words of advice for dealers or GMs who might wonder how they can prepare their team — and themselves — for an uncertain future: Stay engaged.
“A GM has to continually plan for the future,” Elattrache said, “and you have to be engaged to do that. We prepared for the future by building a new building that can take better care of our customers’ needs. We’re trying to realize our potential, and are continually coaching our team with opportunity and possibilities. You’ve got to come up with a plan and, more importantly, execute it, measure it and make changes where necessary. That’s how you plan for the future. You have to stay engaged.”
*For more information from David Elattrache, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Team Velocity Marketing and the strategies outlined in this article, email: email@example.com.*