An Interview with Beth Beans Gilbert
Since she was 12 years old, Beth Beans Gilbert has worked in the family business, striving to learn all she could from her father, Fred Beans. His philosophy of putting people first influenced her career significantly. She has worked to grow the Fred Beans Automotive Group into one of Pennsylvania’s largest, privately owned automotive groups, employing nearly 1,800 people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
In addition to 20 dealerships, the Fred Beans Automotive Group has six franchised CARSTAR collision centers, two AutoExpress locations, four AutoRent locations, commercial truck sales and the largest dealer-owned parts operation in the country under its umbrella.
1. Tell us about your role at Fred Beans Automotive Group. We see you recently received the 2023 Barbara Cox Woman of the Year Award – that’s quite an honor!
Today, as vice president, I combine my industry experience with a commitment to both the long-term viability of Fred Beans Automotive Group and the experiences of everyone involved — from employees to customers to community partners.
My father grew this business by putting people first, and I work to apply that philosophy to all aspects of our business, starting with our own Fred Beans team. I spearheaded a healthy living program to boost morale and performance through improved mental and physical health.
I am currently working to enhance our employee benefits to foster a greater balance between our team members’ professional and personal lives. I am committed to attracting and retaining employees as dedicated to their families as I am and share the same core values as our Beans family.
I am especially passionate about recruiting more women into automotive to work with us at Beans.
Last year, we ran a Women of Beans series on social media in honor of Women’s History Month. We shined a spotlight on the many women who make meaningful contributions to our organization — in just about every department.
That series resulted in a few speaking engagements and many, many conversations about how to be more flexible as an industry and more welcoming and supportive of women in automotive.
“My father grew this business by putting people first, and I work to apply that philosophy to all aspects of our business.”
I was motivated by the response, and I anticipate my recent honor as Barbara Cox “Woman of the Year” will have similar, positive repercussions.
Another important role of mine is overseeing the Fred Beans Charitable Foundation. Through this foundation, we aim to support arts and culture, education, human services and/or health and wellness to help communities where we operate grow stronger and thrive.
2. Let’s talk about your culture, values and the company’s role in your community.
Our Fred Beans family aims to make an impact with intentional giving at the local level. We lead by example, and are guided by strong family values of compassion, citizenship and responsibility.
Automotive is a people-centered business, and our Fred Beans Charitable Foundation was established to care for the people closest to our automotive group. The foundation contributes to efforts and organizations that provide important human services and lift up individuals and whole communities through education, the arts, and health and fitness.
A focused mission guides our giving for large-scale projects that have a lasting impact on the community. For example, we’ve made $1 million in donations to both our area YMCA and Doylestown Hospital for its new Cardiovascular and Critical Care Pavilion.
The foundation also provides annual scholarships and purchases for municipalities, including new vehicles for fire and police and innovative surveillance technology.
And, we launched efforts to meet immediate needs, such as our Fred Beans 500,000 Meals Challenge, which we started in May 2020. A portion of sales and service bills from May until December was dedicated to helping fight hunger during the earliest days of the pandemic. We’ve since continued similar challenges during focused times of the year.
We know we will only do well as a business if our community is doing well. That continues to motivate us and our employees to care for one another, our customers and our neighbors. New this year, we even introduced paid time off for employees to volunteer.
3. What trends are you seeing now that inventory continues to recover?
Over the years, we’ve learned to stay atop the shifts in our industry — be at the forefront of the push to digital retailing, and prepare our people and infrastructure for the shift to EVs. We strive to stay ahead of the curve by offering financing solutions in a higher-interest environment, maintaining state-of-the-art facilities, adding a new VW and Genesis dealership, building a new Jeep showroom and planning for a commercial truck center.
4. What can car dealers do today to help build consumer confidence?
My first suggestion is to provide clear and transparent pricing. We know customers appreciate knowing the actual price, which includes all fees and taxes. They then feel confident in us and the deal they are getting. Next is to offer extended warranties and return policies. By doing this, we reassure customers that they are making a good investment because we stand behind our vehicles.
Also, making vehicle information available with as many touchpoints as possible helps eliminate questions and worry. This includes meeting customers where they spend a lot of time — online.
You want to give shoppers tools to help guide them through a complex buying process, and then last is to maintain excellent customer service. This includes being responsive to customer inquiries and responding to concerns in a prompt, friendly manner.
5. How have partners like ActivEngage helped you navigate this?
ActivEngage technology helps us connect with online consumers quickly and efficiently to answer questions and help guide them through the digital retailing and service process. These conversations generated over 11,000 leads last year, with nearly 30% of the sales leads containing scheduled appointments.
6. What is Fred Beans Automotive Group doing to position its future growth in 2023 and beyond?
In June 2020, we launched the Fred Beans Expressway, which is our own digital retailing platform, to provide a fast and easy four-step process to browse and buy vehicles online. We already knew customers enjoyed shopping online, but the pandemic gave us the green light to expedite plans.
So far, the results have been incredible. Web traffic to the site continues to increase, generating record-breaking sales figures. This platform has enabled us to continue selling cars even when they are not physically on our lots.
To help maintain inventory, salespeople now focus on both selling vehicles and buying pre-owned ones from customers. Fred Beans has supported this with a change in pay that rewards both buying and selling.
The next big move involves electric vehicles (EVs). We are training EV-certified technicians, and some dealerships have a special service lift for EVs and EV charging stations.
Instead of looking to the outside for answers, we trust our own team’s expertise and intuition. To continue hiring the best, we look beyond selling cars to also selling ourselves. In interviews, potential employees tell us they were drawn to Fred Beans because it seems like a great place to work.
This feedback is especially encouraging, as we know it’s our people who set us apart and drive our current and future successes.