There’s a freedom that comes from opening a new dealership from scratch. It’s a clean slate, free of any baggage that comes from taking over an existing store. There are no dings on your reputation from past mistakes. Your facility will be new and state-of-the-art. It can be designed to take advantage of new technology. The potential is wide open, limited only by your desires.
Fenton Nissan of Rockwall, located in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, is one of the 19 dealerships that make up the Fenton Motor Group, spanning Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. While the group has Ford, GM, Honda and other brands, nearly half of its stores are Nissan franchises. When Nissan wanted to open a store in the Rockwall area, they came to Brad Fenton. Fenton, who’s been a dealer since 1982, knew his organization would be up for the challenge and gladly accepted the offer, opening the doors of Fenton Nissan for the first time in May 2016.
Despite the many benefits of opening a brand-new store, you face one lingering obstacle…no one knows who you are. You’re an unknown entity for one of the most emotional decisions a consumer will make in his or her lifetime. You have no customer base, and you’ll be facing off against competitors in your area with proven track records and loyal customers.
HIRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE FOR THE JOB
Being new poses a challenge; you are the unknown. To succeed, you must prove yourself to the community. You must be eager to do the work that will not only satisfy the customers who are willing to take a chance on you, but will inspire them to share their experience with others to get your customer base rolling. Finding an experienced team is one factor that will make all the difference in this effort.
With this in mind, Fenton put an experienced team in charge of the day-to-day operations of the new store. Mark Esposito, who comes from a long lineage of family-owned dealerships in the Kansas City area, was named the group’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), and Frank Figueredo was made the dealership’s Executive Manager.
Figueredo is no stranger to the challenges of getting a new dealership off the ground. His father, one of the first Cuban Americans to own a Chevrolet dealership in the United States, was awarded a point in 1979 in North Miami Beach. Figueredo worked at his father’s dealership after school every day, learning the ins and outs of how each department functioned. Figueredo went on to hold several positions in automotive sales — including consulting work for dealerships in Puerto Rico. With decades of retail experience under his belt, taking on the GM position at Fenton Nissan of Rockwall to help build the dealership was a no-brainer.
Even better, the dynamic between Figueredo and Esposito proved to be a perfect fit. “Mark’s given me the autonomy to do what we have to do to make this dealership a success,” Figueredo said. “You’ve got to have buy-in from the higher-ups. He’s been so supportive of me and my team. It’s a great environment to build from.”
GETTING THE PARTS IN PLACE
With a powerful and experienced team in place, the focus shifted to the dealership’s physical facility. Fenton, Figueredo and Esposito knew their facility needed to make a statement — one that let customers know the dealership was serious about earing their business for the long term. Fenton Nissan of Rockwall is now the largest Nissan dealership in the country, with 43 service bays. “We’re the most modern facility right now in the country for a Nissan store,” Figueredo said.
However, a fancy facility won’t get the job by itself, though. As the “new kid on the block,” the dealership needed to leverage every advantage and opportunity it had to compete with the several other dealerships in the area. “As an open point, you don’t have that loyal customer base, you don’t have those Units in Operation to feed your service department and you don’t have repeat purchases,” Figueredo said.
The dealership’s leaders knew they had to grow roots in the community and become familiar with both business leaders and the customers in the area. Figueredo said the dealership has become involved with the area’s Chamber of Commerce and has implemented community outreach programs to build familiarity with the local area. Recently, the dealership held a back-to-school backpack giveaway for local families as a way to build ties and grow brand recognition.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Marketing, of course, is key to letting area customers know the dealership was there to serve their needs. Fenton Nissan of Rockwall’s leadership team knew that partnering with a reputable agency was crucial to grow their brand awareness. After researching companies and deciding what they needed from a firm, Fenton Nissan chose Team Velocity Marketing to plan and execute their marketing strategy.
Team Velocity Marketing embraced the challenge, delivering an integrated marketing plan for the dealership centered around growing sales numbers and winning customers. Using the Apollo Technology Platform®, the results were immediate and impressive. Fenton Nissan of Rockwall is up 189 percent year-to-date. New Car Sales are up 289 percent, while Repair Orders are up 160 percent and customer pay is up 372 percent year-over-year.
Starting with no existing customer base is a challenge when it comes to marketing, so special care needs to be taken to get things kicked off correctly. “Team Velocity has an application that helps us focus on customers who have not visited us at the store but who currently own a Nissan,” Figueredo said. “We can target them directly, versus going with a mass saturation approach. We hit those specific customers with a personalized, targeted campaign. Team Velocity also analyzes our database to pinpoint specific areas and ZIP codes to identify ‘lost customers’ who have been here before but not in the last six months and tailor a different message to bring them back in.”
Building momentum for a new business requires persistence, and Figueredo knew he needed a marketing partner that would match his drive to succeed. “When I look at a partner, the first thing I look at is service, the service they’re going to give Fenton Nissan of Rockwall,” Figueredo said. “One of the things we’ve been very fortunate with Team Velocity is that our regional rep is accessible any time I need him. I’m at the dealership seven days a week, and he’s accessible seven days a week. Whether it’s Saturday morning or Sunday at night, he’s nine digits away from answering my phone call, working with me to provide strategic guidance in what we’re doing for the week, what we’re doing for the month and outlining the long-term approach for continued growth. He advises us on the future of marketing and how to keep our customers coming back to Fenton Nissan of Rockwall.”
THINKING LIKE A CUSTOMER
Both the dealership and Team Velocity, Figueredo said, have found success because they keep the customer’s needs in mind. “Team Velocity Marketing knows how to target the customer and what marketing is needed to invite them into our store,” he said. “We make sure that our customers have a phenomenal experience every step of the way, from the marketing communication they receive to walking into this facility.”
One way Fenton Nissan brings customers in, and provides them with a stellar experience, is by keeping the service department open seven days a week to make it more convenient. “There might be a Mom on a Saturday with her kids at football, baseball or basketball, and it gives her the opportunity to come and service her car,” Figueredo said. “Or, on Sunday, they can bring their car in after church and have a brunch with their family. We cater to the community so they have a store where they can service their vehicles seven days a week.”
The focus on serving the customer, rather than selling to them, is showing results. Last month, in our district, our Service Department was No.1 in CSI — what we call KPI rankings — for Nissan,” Figueredo said. “We do what we have to do to let customer come and see what separates us from other organizations. That’s one thing that Brad Fenton and Mark Esposito really focus on — making sure that our guests are 1,000 percent satisfied with their visit.”
GETTING THE TEAM INVOLVED
Organizational culture is critical to the success of a new dealership and to overall customer satisfaction. When Figueredo took the position of Executive Manager, his main goal was to make sure all the employees of Fenton Nissan felt like an extended family.
“The most important thing I’ve known and done is something I’ve learned this from my dad; I strive to bring that sense of family here,” Figueredo said. “My dad involved us in the business, and I saw how the business impacted him and gave him the opportunity to succeed. I try to instill that in our team members here.”
The dealership, for instance, has an employee committee who identifies a team member who went above and beyond that month, not just in the dealership but also on a personal level. “We choose a candidate if they did something at their church, if they did something in the community, if they did something above and beyond just repairing or selling a car. We celebrate them at our monthly employee appreciation lunch.” Plaques are also awarded to the salespeople of the month for new and used vehicles, along with the service adviser of the month and others.
Figueredo wants more than the employees to feel that family spirit, but to involve their actual families in the business, as well. He recently helped a team member who brought her son in — and who didn’t want to do his homework so I came up with an incentive. “I said, ‘Let me take care of this situation for you’,” he said. I put an incentive in front of him and said ‘You finish that homework in 15 minutes and I will give you this. I’m gonna sit here next to you, and we’re gonna do it together.’ The young man, who was very polite, did it in 10 minutes, and he was correct. He did it, we had fun at it, and we succeeded.”
This one example — results from hard work and from knowing that people care about you — is indicative of what Figueredo is striving for, both for his dealership and his team. “That’s what we want to bring to the table here,” he said. “That’s what we want to bring to the employees. Honestly, without the support of our families, we can’t do what we do. I saw it with my mom, from the support she gave my father, and saw how that relationship made the success that he had.”