Article

Focusing On Fixed Ops: Crest Cadillac Thrives On Southern Hospitality

January 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Jennifer Murphy Bloodworth - Also by this author

Typically, hospitable is not the first word that comes to mind when describing an automotive dealership, especially when describing fixed operations. Instead, it’s a word you expect to hear associated with hotels and restaurants. However, genuine hospitality oozes from the staff at Crest Cadillac Hummer in Birmingham, Ala.

To provide the best experience for customers, the service department is extremely generous. Michael Merz, service manager, goes to great lengths to make his customers feel welcome. One example is the reliable transportation he offers his customers while their vehicles are in his shop; he spends thousands of dollars per month doing so. While General Motors’ policy pays for customers to have a three-day rental, Merz decided his department would foot the remainder of rental costs when repairs take more than three days.

And that’s just the first of many amenities customers can take advantage of.

Hospitality Creates Happy Customers
Upon entering the service drive at Crest, customers are greeted with a warm, friendly smile. Then, the customer is taken to the private office of one of the four the service consultants/advisers who usually spend between seven and 10 minutes with each customer to understand the customer’s concerns.

Quizzing the customer especially comes in handy when the problem with the vehicle is intermittent. “When you get all the details down, it’s much easier for us to simulate an intermittent problem,” said Merz. That, in turn, makes the vehicle easier to fix.

While the primary goal of each adviser during this Q&A is to ascertain the work that needs to be completed, it also builds rapport, which provides a solid base for the type of relationship Dealer Principal Gary Ivey wants his dealership to have with all its customers. When Ivey, who also happens to be president of the Hoover City Council, was asked about the similarities of politics and running a dealership, he replied, “It’s all about relationships and communication.”

To further inspect vehicles, each car undergoes a 65-point check to look for issues that may be unknown to the vehicle owner. The techs then communicate with advisers if additional problems do arise, so the customer can be made aware.

Once the write up is complete, the wait for customers can sometimes be less than a pleasant experience in some dealerships, not so at Crest.  Instead of a service waiting area that resembles a holding cell, the spacious waiting room at Crest offers leather couches and large wide-screen televisions and opens up onto the showroom floor, which facilitates browsing of the new Hummers. 

Hospitality often conjures up images of going above and beyond what is reasonably expected.  Crest does just that with free shuttles, rentals and car washes, and occasionally gives full details and fill-ups on gas. Many dealerships will figuratively go “that extra mile” to satisfy customers, but the crew at Crest will literally go an extra 30 to 35 miles to shuttle customers.

For example, recently, a frantic customer called Kevin Moon (fixed ops director at Crest) from her country club. She’d forgotten her tennis racquet in her vehicle, which was in the service shop. Moon did what any good fixed ops manager would; he promptly had the shuttle van deliver her racquet to her. He said he and his department try to “build relationships with our customers. I’ve found that people like to do business with people they like.”

Perhaps the most hospitable service Merz can offer his customers is an extension on their expired warranties up to two years and/or 24,000 miles. General Motors requires service department training to surpass 100 percent to gain such authority; without it such an amenity would require approval from a GM representative.

In order to offer this service, the entire service department at Crest must exceed 100 percent of the GM Service Training Standards. While Merz values the authority to approve after-warranty repairs, his techs are trained well above the GM-mandated 100 percent. The service department, as estimated by Moon, is closer to 270 percent thanks to Merz’s belief in education. GM also ranks service departments by these percentages. Such a high percentage puts Crest in fourth place in training in their GM zone, which includes 38 other GM dealers.

Of course, getting work covered under an expired warranty is extremely valuable to customers; however, the rigorous training Crest service employees undergo sends another message.  Customers can find comfort in that fact that their vehicles will likely be fixed right the first visit because technicians are highly trained.

This is because Merz spares no expense when it comes to training employees. The service techs and advisers go through various types of training—both on- and off-site. An added bonus of training is employees feel valued knowing that the company they work for invests in their education and future.

Mertz practices what he preaches. He recently achieved GM World-Class Technician status for logging more than 450 hours of GM training throughout his career, and he’s no stranger to rolling up his sleeves and getting dirty with the technicians. To this day, although he’s been in management for quite some time, he still helps repair vehicles when needed.

Once the customer leaves the dealership, the relationship doesn’t end. The service department employs a full-time customer relations manager whose sole job is to follow up with service customers. With four service advisers writing repair orders for 50 to 70 vehicles per day, the service customer relations manager keeps busy.

Simple Philosophy, Hefty Rewards
Ivey’s simple philosophy of building relationships through continued communication is generating impressive results. Last year alone, his accessories department sold over $1 million worth of accessories and grossed $360,000; this year, the department is on track to sell more than $1.2 million worth.

The accessories department at Crest stocks a wide variety of wheels and rims, custom grilles, a multitude of chrome accessories, navigation systems, entertainment systems, leather interiors, back-up cameras, and much more—many of which are on display in Crest’s accessory boutique. 

Moon proudly said of his accessories department, “Two out of the last three months, we were the number-one accessory dealer in our zone, and that includes all of GM.” To stay abreast of the changing accessory trends, Moon attends the SEMA Convention every year in Las Vegas.

In the parts department, having what customers need and want is essential. It cuts down on turnaround time and shows customers that Crest is tuned into meeting their needs. According to Merz, the dealership keeps a “pretty big” parts department, but if the dealership doesn’t have a part for a customer repair, someone is immediately on the phone calling other local dealerships in search of the part. “If I have to order something, it’s because there are no parts available anywhere in the city of Birmingham,” stated Merz.

The Family that Plays Together Stays Together
While keeping your customers satisfied and your departments running smoothly are key elements to success, a business must not forget its employees. Ivey, Moon, Merz and the other back-end managers at Crest work hard to keep their fixed ops family happy.

“I really have got a very, very tight family here,” proclaimed Merz. The fixed ops management staff does various things to keep morale up among employees. Last year, Moon implemented his “Top Program.” It was a three-month contest where the different departments competed to win a prize package. Two service techs, one parts employee and one service advisor won the contest.

The winners, along with Moon, traveled to Atlanta, Ga., attended an Atlanta Braves game and experienced the ultimate in speed at the Atlanta Motor Speedway through the Richard Petty Driving Experience. “Everybody talked about it for weeks,” said Moon, who intends to start a new “Top Program” competition soon.

Management at Crest also shows employee appreciation by hosting tailgate parties, catfish fries and steak cookouts during work hours. “Periodically, we’ll just pull out the grill and cook lunch for everybody,” Moon added.

Every two weeks, Merz meets with his advisers, and he holds monthly meetings with his techs to stay on top of employee and customer concerns alike. In these meetings, they cover comebacks (repairs that weren’t properly fixed the first time). Merz believes you discover things that may otherwise go unnoticed by closely monitoring comebacks.

“A comeback log is extremely important in any dealership environment in the service department … You want to alleviate comebacks. The best way to do that is to track them and find out what the problem was. A comeback log is a very effective tool for critiquing your employees,” Merz added. Sometimes, he said, you can spot a tech’s weak area and get the tech the appropriate training to buff-up his or her skills.

The layout and design of the service department encourages efficiency and comfort, which allows technicians to maximize their time for billable hours. In total, there are 13 technicians and 26 bays. Each technician is assigned to two bays to work in, so if one bay is tied up, the tech can maximize work flow by working in the second bay. An electronic dispatching system automatically delivers and delegates repair orders to the technician’s computer, eliminating the need for advisors to physically deliver new repair orders to them.  Each tech shares a computer with one other tech, and they all have Internet access.

What Goes Around Comes Around
In any family, communication is vital, and from the top down at Crest, that’s understood. One aspect that is continually communicated through the entire dealership, although it’s not always said, is generosity. Ivey treats his employees generously, and they, in turn, cater to customers with that same warmth and generosity.

It’s apparent that the generosity, coupled with having open lines of communication, keeps his employees satisfied because Ivey’s worked with some of them for over 20 years. He’s been at Crest since 1984 and took over as dealer principal in 1989. According to him, the fixed ops department was successful before he took the reins. “I think [fixed operations] is the heartbeat of the dealership,” he said.

At Crest, the “heartbeat” makes up 75 percent of the total dealership profits (35 percent service, 35 percent parts and accessories, and10 percent body shop). Ivey believes fixed operations help sell new Cadillacs and Hummers; “Your fixed operations is not only a profit center, but it is what makes your sales operation successful.”

“I’m blessed; I’ve got a great team in sales and service,” said the dealer, recognizing the importance of his 75-person staff.

The “heart” of Ivey’s dealership continues to beat strong. He is fully aware of the effort it takes from everyone to keep his customers and employees as one big, happy family, and he shows his appreciation in numerous way—from barbeques to Braves games.

“We’re real fortunate that it is a team, and that’s what makes it work. No one person can make a dealership work,” said Ivey, “Over the years, I’ve seen so many people feel like [one person] could; it takes a buy-in from everybody … I’ve found out over the years, if everybody’s working together for the same goal, without anybody caring who gets the credit, it’s incredible what can be accomplished.”

Vol 4, Issue 12

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