When the owners of Alfa Romeo Fiat Fort Worth in Texas purchased the franchise in July 2017, just 12 vehicles were sold in the month prior to the close. That’s new and used sales, combined.
“Before we bought the dealership, we examined its overall business operations and sales processes through the customer’s eyes. In one instance, I stood out on the lot for an hour pretending to be a customer. Not one person came out to greet me,” said Chris Hamud, the store’s current partner and co-owner. “In almost every area of the mystery shopping process, one thing was evident — the staff really didn’t seem to care. So once we acquired the store, one of the first things we did was to re-staff, eliminating all but two team members.”
In the first month under new ownership, Alfa Romeo Fiat Fort Worth sold 110 vehicles and ranked No. 1 in Fiat sales in the nation, a title the dealership has held ever since. One year later, the store averages between 270 and 280 car sales per month — a whopping year-over-year sales increase of more than 2,000 percent.
Turning Things Around
After more than two decades of working in the car business, Hamud teamed up with his three brothers and his best friend to form Fort Worth Brothers LLC. It was their dream to buy a dealership, and when they found Alfa Romeo Fiat Fort Worth, they knew it was a diamond in the rough.
“We were familiar with the Chrysler and Fiat brands, so we knew we could push some cars due to good incentives,” said Hamud. “Additionally, the dealership is in a great location, close to freeways and the largest Ford dealership in the area.”
Still, the purchase was not without risk. The showroom is just 12,000 square feet, hardly suitable for high-volume sales.
“Originally, this was a Saturn dealership built for 60 to 70 cars per month, and before the purchase, there were only three salespeople to service customers. We had to restructure the showroom floor so there was enough room to bring in enough cubicles to handle expanding to 22 salespeople,” said Hamud.
In addition to ramping up the sales staff, Hamud and his brothers identified and tackled four major obstacles that were severely hampering sales.
“The website was not set up correctly, phone calls were going to another dealership, leads were not going into the CRM and they weren’t adjusting any of their pricing to market conditions,” said Hamud. “Several areas were neglected and we basically started from scratch.”
Addressing these immediate problems boosted total sales in their very first month of operation significantly: from 12 vehicles in June 2017 to 110 vehicles in July 2017.
Growing Managers from Within
Hamud credits much of the store’s instant success to its new employees. The majority of the staff hired at Alfa Romeo Fiat Fort Worth had long-time business relationships with Chris and the other owners. This gave them first-hand knowledge of skill sets, work ethic and dedication, especially when it came to finding talent in finance, accounting, sales and service positions. So far, the only outside hires have been salespeople.
As the dealership has grown, Hamud has maintained his strong belief in promoting from within.
“As a salesperson many years ago, I worked hard to be promoted, and I kept watching management bring in people from the outside. I know how demotivating that can be.”
His personal experiences helped shape his management philosophies today. When salespeople are hired, they are provided with a clear career path. All of the dealership’s assistant sales managers, finance managers and desk managers started on the floor.
“Every salesperson knows what position is next in line if they work hard,” said Hamud. “That helps us a lot in working together as a team. We all work the same way and share the same passion.”
Tools for Success
In addition to growing managers from within, Hamud and his brothers are committed to providing their employees with the tools they need for success.
One of the first technology changes Hamud made after the acquisition was to switch the CRM to ELEAD1ONE.
“I’m not a computer geek, so the biggest thing for me is that it’s user friendly. It has all the reports to manage every aspect leading to the sale and day-to-day business. If I can’t find a report, it’s easy to call and get one generated.”
The CRM switch did not cause any upheaval at Alfa Romeo Fiat Fort Worth. “It’s hard to believe this dealership has been here 10 years, and they had just 800 records in their CRM,” said Hamud.
The Fort Worth Brothers are also big believers in training, so they utilize ELEAD1ONE CRM trainers on a regular basis. “We call them in all the time. Having that extra training is helpful when you’re building a sales force. Knowing how to use the CRM is just as important as knowing the best practices involved in sales.”
At Alfa Romeo Fiat Fort Worth, those best practices include close management of the salespeople and their CRM activities. Two assistant managers are assigned to monitor the team of more than 20 salespeople all day, every day. The assistant managers diligently review and track tasks as well as outgoing and incoming emails, phone calls and texts. Whenever a salesperson struggles to close a deal, an assistant manager steps in or alerts a desk manager to assist with the deal.
Another technology that drastically improved the dealership’s sales efficiency is phone communications. Prior to the acquisition, all of the dealership’s phone lines were directed to an outside location that struggled with managing the calls properly. “It was like they were ringing into a black hole,” said Hamud.
After the sale, ELEAD1ONE helped to quickly revamp the phone processes. New phone numbers were set up and he retained ELEAD1ONE BDC agents to handle inbound calls for both sales and service.
“We have 22 salespeople selling 275 cars per month, so they’re busy. I’d rather have the BDC take the calls and schedule appointments, so our salespeople can spend more time in front of our customers,” Hamud said.
One year later, ELEAD1ONE BDC still handles all inbound calls and helps the sales staff with customer follow up and other activities.
When it comes to his phones, Hamud leaves nothing to chance. “A lot of hands are involved in making sure to test every single phone number we have, every week. We call the number on our website and every third-party site, just to make sure they’re working the way they should. If you don’t do this, you could be throwing ad money away.”
Creating Brand Fans
Another priority for the Fort Worth Brothers was marketing and advertising. The first step was to budget $20,000 per month for Google search to establish the Alfa Romeo and Fiat brand names in the local market.
The dealership spends an additional $80,000 per month on all other marketing activities, including email, website optimization, advertising, third-party leads and special finance leads. “We pretty much do it all,” said Hamud.
Their strategy includes community and events outreach. The brothers recently signed a deal with the Texas Christian University (TCU) Horned Frogs football team to promote dealership specials on stadium billboards.
So what is the real secret sauce to their success? A strong focus on creating new fans for both Alfa Romeo and Fiat brands.
“One challenge we have is that we don’t own a Chevy or Ford or Dodge dealership in the area that has the models that most car shoppers are looking for,” said Hamud. “So, our strategy is to carry a very good-looking used car department.”
Alfa Romeo Fiat Fort Worth aggressively advertises its used car inventory to attract car shoppers to their lot. Once there, the salespeople introduce them to the Alfa Romeo and Fiat brands and encourages them to take a test drive, just for fun.
“Hardly anyone is familiar with the Fiat brand. When many customers see one, they want to learn about it and drive one; they just fall in love,” said Hamud. “We have a roadster convertible and two SUV models that are really hot right now. Customers see great value in what is offered, leading them to purchase.”
This strategy has helped propel the store’s Fiat sales from seven new cars in June of 2017 to 175 new cars in June 2018.
Turning their customers into loyal brand supporters of Alfa Romeo and Fiat has delivered an unexpected side benefit: branded product sales.
“We sell a lot of logo-branded T-shirts, hats and coffee cups,” said Hamud. “It’s funny, when I worked with Honda and Acura, I never had consumers fall in love with those brands. But I can tell you, our customers love their Fiats. They love their Alfa Romeos. Almost everyone who comes in for service buys these products.”
Scaling for Future Growth
When the Hamud brothers purchased Alfa Romeo Fiat Fort Worth, they felt they were pushing the envelope when they set a sales goal of 200 vehicles per month. They surpassed that goal by nearly 40 percent within nine months of taking ownership.
Next on their agenda is to focus on growing service revenue.
“When we took over, the dealership was not equipped to take care of its customers. And, with limited customer records and information in the database, we didn’t have much to start with, so sales was the first priority,” said Hamud. “We have more than quadrupled our database and marketing opportunities in a year’s time.”
The service department has already benefitted from the growth in sales volume. In the last year, fixed ops revenue has increased from $40,000 per month to $100,000 per month. Hamud’s goal is to boost service profits another 50 to 60 percent per month.
To help him accomplish this goal, Hamud partnered with ELEAD1ONE. The dealership already leverages the AutoPilot service marketing platform for customer retention and to recapture previously declined services. In order to provide their new customers with a first-class service experience, Hamud knew he would need to implement the latest fixed operations technology.
Hamud recently opted to implement ELEAD1ONE’s service retention suite, Service1One online scheduler, lane and shop management tools that seamlessly integrate with the CRM and service marketing program. This added technology will fully close the gap between sales and service to get a better view of the customer and help surpass their service revenue goal. The service department at Alfa Romeo Fiat Fort Worth will soon be using mobile tablets for the check-ins, walk-around write-ups and multi-point inspection (MPI) processes.
The service department also provides its customers with a host of upscale amenities, including free loaner cars, WiFi and waiting lounges stocked with snacks and beverages.
What’s next on the horizon? Hamud hints that another dealership purchase is in the cards. “We have been blessed,” he said. “This entire experience has been more than we expected.”
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