A Foundation of Trust

A Foundation of Trust

Throughout her career, Lisa Hambelton has learned the importance of trusting the people with whom she surrounds herself. Now the owner and dealer principal of Mel Hambelton Ford, she credits much of the store’s success to her trusted staff and vendor partners.

Mel Hambelton Ford is Driven to Succeed Through Teamwork & Online Results

Starting in the automotive industry from the age of 14 at her father’s Volkswagen dealership, Lisa Hambelton has worked with hundreds of people and worn many hats over the years. As it was a small store, she was responsible for “a little bit of everything.” On Saturdays and evenings after school, she was trusted to be the service cashier, answered the phone, filled out titles, added up timecards for technicians and much more, working alongside her four brothers. 

Since then and throughout her career, she has learned the importance of trusting the people with whom she surrounds herself. Now the owner and dealer principal of the No. 1 Ford dealership in the region and the largest in the state, Mel Hambelton Ford in Wichita, Kansas, Lisa has built a sizable dealership in the largest city in the state. She credits much of the store’s success to her trusted staff — a team of professionals she truly cares about and stands up for. 

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“First and foremost, I think it has to do with the team that you put in place,” Lisa says. “And in a large store like this, the people are everything. The first manager that I hired when I took over was Phil Nightingale. He’s (still) my general manager today.”

The Golden Rule

Lisa says her philosophy is that if she takes care of her employees and they know she has their backs, they will feel empowered to take care of each other and of their customers.

“We built the store on the old golden rule of treating people the way you want to be treated. Our slogan is very simple: ‘Experience the Difference’ and there is a difference; we hear that from vendors and from customers when they walk into the store. There is a different vibe that comes from all of us working together.”

She’s heavily involved in her community as well. Advocating for Harbor House and supporting other women’s causes, Lisa also sits on beautification and botanical leadership boards, and champions local schools and children’s charities. “As responsible business owners, I feel like we have a duty to give back to our surrounding area.”

This culture has kept the team together, too. “The average tenure of our sales team is six and a half years. We have techs that have been here for almost 15 years and a few that have been with us for 20 years. That’s almost unheard of in this industry.” She understands the importance of making others feel important and valued, celebrating wins, and taking a hands-off approach, especially in an age of fierce competition for staffing personnel. “You’re going to be a lot more effective if you do not micromanage and allow the great people that you’ve hired to do their job.”

Kicking & Screaming

Vendor partnerships also fall into Lisa’s trusting, hands-off approach at Mel Hambelton Ford. She looks for partners that take the time to educate but who also have technology that does the work it’s supposed to do so that she can focus on the business of running her dealership. 

Lisa is thankful for a relationship she’s had with a vendor partner that has lasted throughout the years. She acknowledges Sean Stapleton, co-founder and CEO of Dealer Teamwork, for his patience with her hesitation to dive into the digital marketing world. “I came in kicking and screaming,” she recalls.

Lisa Hambelton, owner & dealer principal of Mel Hambelton Ford with GM Phil Nightingale

Eventually, the dealership stepped up its digital advertising presence, and the results were impressive. 

Even so, making the decision to reduce traditional media made Lisa uneasy at first, but she had confidence in her partnership with Dealer Teamwork, its patented technology and its certified Google experts to put her trust — and her entire marketing program — in their hands. 

“They just keep innovating. Automation saves us time, and optimization of ads-to-spend makes the best use of our money to drive the best returns. And they integrate with everyone. If you’d told me I was going to invest my whole budget online, I would’ve said you were crazy. Yet here we are coming off our most successful years. They were right. You might want to put that in all caps. I don’t say that very often,” she says with a laugh. 

“The biggest thing about that is I don’t have to know how it works, know my GVA from my ABCs, or have my team spend precious time managing a platform. Dealer Teamwork’s patented MPOP platform has made it all easy to understand and easy to use. Most importantly, I know it works because buyers who have never heard of us call or walk onto our floor from miles away all the time simply because they saw us on page 1 of whatever make, model, financing or information they were looking for right there on page 1. I don’t know how DT knows, but they do. So I don’t have to.” 

Social media has played a huge part in Mel Hambelton Ford’s success. “We do a lot of contests; Black Friday and concert ticket giveaways, for example, and we pivot our digital media accordingly. In doing so, we’ve pulled in some of our biggest crowds and pulled off our most accomplished events. It plays a huge role in customers seeing not only the products that we have to sell but also our personality and who we are.” 

Thinking Differently

Lisa notes that she and Nightingale see other dealerships that didn’t make the changes Mel Hambelton Ford did years ago — and continues to make — and she admits that may have been how she’d have done as well if she hadn’t sought out people who think differently. “We see how far behind those dealerships really are, and we see how they haven’t been able to evolve. They really are still missing out. The shift we made years ago and the consulting that we got from Dealer Teamwork has put us, literally on page 1, and figuratively we’re still on top of the heap and growing today.” 

From taking over her store in 2008 during a then-tough market in what she calls a “triage situation,” to taking a chance and expanding its service department into becoming the No. 1 Quicklane in the nation, to staying open and keeping their marketing strategy alive throughout the COVID market, to diversifying into a top street and race tire distribution owner, to recently adding a 13,500-square-foot auto spa and detail shop amidst yet another rocky economy, Lisa and her team at Mel Hambelton Ford are destined to continue racing in the lead with no finish line in sight. 

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