A five-year, $2 billion, 13.5-mile highway construction project is under way in North Texas. When it's completed, the North Tarrant Express will offer a 12-lane corridor between Fort Worth and Euless. Meanwhile, the view of Grubbs Infiniti is blocked by 40-foot mounds of dirt and giant pieces of excavator equipment.
George Grubbs III is the luxury dealership’s owner and the scion of four generations of Texas car dealers. He says the lack of accessibility and visibility led to changes in opera- tions rooted in lessons learned from his father and grandfather.
“When faced with things like that, it forces you to dig in, get back to basics and learn what it really takes to get the job done,” Grubbs says.
Grubbs Infiniti is located in the middle of the 12-county Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
With a population of 6.5 million, it’s the largest land-locked metropolitan area in the United States. There are four Infiniti dealerships in the market. In January, three of them finished in the Top 4 for Infiniti sales nationwide.
But in early 2012, the freeway project contributed to a 20 percent drop in Grubbs Infiniti’s service and parts departments. That led to a significant shift in the dealership’s business model: Grubbs began “Valet Plus,” a service in which a Grubbs staffer will pick up a customer’s vehicle for service, leave them a loaner car and bring the customer’s vehicle back after it’s been serviced.
The Valet Plus progam extends into the sales side, too, with the dealership delivering a vehicle to a potential customer’s home or office for an overnight test drive. If there’s a trade-in, the dealership will drive it back for an appraisal and come back the next day with figures on both cars, Grubbs says.
The Valet Plus pitch on the company’s website states it pretty simply: “We’re perfectly fine if you never step foot in the dealership. Don’t get us wrong, we would love to see you. But we would rather you experience these luxury cars without spending a single moment of your precious time waiting in traffic.”
“A lot of people take us up on that,” Grubbs says.
A NEW OUTLOOK
The Valet Plus service made a dramatic difference in the last six months of 2012. Service revenue rallied and was down only 5 percent at the end of the year, and Grubbs says he plans to continue the service after the road is finished.
The experience gave Grubbs a new perspective on the future of the highline segment. He believes luxury car buyers will have increasing demands. Some of them will never step foot in the dealership. Grubbs says he’ll respond by reflecting on the lessons he learned watching his dad and granddad work.
“The No. 1 thing about this business is that it’s all about relationships,” Grubbs says. “You need to meet people where their needs are.
“With the advent of the Internet, everyone thought shopping for a car would totally change and you would just pick one and it would show up at your front door like everything else that’s bought on the Internet,” he adds. “I think we’ve all found out that’s not how someone really wants to buy a car. They want to drive it, touch it and feel it, and it’s going to take someone to make them feel good about that purchase, that they’re making a good choice. That definitely has not changed.”
THE GRUBBS WAY
The Grubbs family has been selling cars in Texas since 1948, when George III’s great-grandfather, Hubert Grubbs, opened a Dodge dealership in Dallas. The senior Grubbs started out as a Volkswagen dealer in New Mexico and then moved into Texas; first to Waco, then Dallas/Fort Worth.
Grubbs II started out with Nissan predecessor Datsun in 1976. At one point, he and his father operated a total of 12 franchises at four locations. An uncle runs the original Nissan store located just three miles away on the Airport Freeway. The family together has sold more than 120,000 vehicles in the Dallas and Fort Worth area.
Over the past 30 years, Grubbs says he has seen marketing options come and go. All along, he has enjoyed the benefits of wise counsel from his family. When his father was running his own dealership, he chose between three television stations, five radio stations and one newspaper to reach customers.
“It wasn’t that difficult to figure out where to advertise,” Grubbs says. “He advertised on two television stations and cut his own commercials on the showroom floor.”
George Grubbs Jr. used to wear a tuxedo in his television spots. His co-stars were local celebrities and athletes, such as former Dallas Cowboys running back Herschel Walker.
“He and I talk about it now. He can’t wrap his head around all the different choices and what’s the best bang for the buck,” Grubbs says of his father. “I don’t have an answer, but the obvious choice is digital.”
Grubbs Infiniti abandoned newspaper and magazine advertising “quite a few years ago,” and its last TV spot ran two years ago.
Grubbs’ father and grandfather were heavily involved in the community and served on various business chambers to help grow relationships and cultivate business. Today, Grubbs Infiniti’s latest marketing efforts harken back to that idea. The dealership is known for event-style marketing in which people at- tending local festivals and art events are offered a test drive tied to a charity contribution.
“It’s a no-obligation test drive that’s about a mile long,” Grubbs says. “The total process takes about 10 minutes, so we pitch them to take 10 minutes to donate $10.”
Event marketing has been working. Twenty-five percent of test drivers have requested contact from the dealership within the next day, and another 15 percent got in touch with the dealership within two months. Grubbs likens the practice to giving away free samples at a mall food court. “When it’s all said and done, we’re closing 5 to 10 percent of those sales,” Grubbs notes. “It’s a relatively low investment, instills goodwill in the community, puts people in our product and we’re selling cars, too. It’s a win for everybody.”
The new campaign is a departure from prior practices when the dealership would merely sponsor an event.
“A sponsorship is great and all, but it’s not full involvement,” Grubbs says. “We decided to commit to being fully involved.”
Six months ago, Grubbs Infiniti hired an event marketer to help recruit potential customers. The dealership also has embraced all things Internet, including social media. That’s been the case since 2009 when the dealership began experimenting on YouTube and Twitter, and Grubbs remains committed to embracing digital tools as they emerge.
Grubbs said he understands that consistency is a key to a successful social media presence. He has outsourced the task to a thirdparty vendor who visits the dealership weekly to meet with Grubbs and the sales staff. The dealership has the basics covered with Face- book, Twitter and Google+, but it also recently joined photo-sharing site Pinterest.
The Pinterest effort includes photos of vehicles on the lot, some of the freeway construction and Grubbs giving away an Infiniti G37 to Miss Texas 2012 DaNae Couch. The major social media focus is on Facebook, where the dealership’s page has more than 3,800 “Likes.”
“I’m proud of that number,” Grubbs says, noting that his dealership hasn’t paid for any Facebook endorsement. “Those are actual fans.”
The number of followers has been growing, and the staff has been striving to find the right balance and not post too much. “We’re trying to make it not a sales approach, but a your-friend-in-the-car-business approach,” Grubbs says.
Every other year, the dealership rewards its customers with a customer appreciation event held at a local racetrack. The family-friendly affair features a lunch and access to a track, including the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. “The DNA of Infiniti is performance,” Grubbs explains. “Our cars are high-performance cars and our drivers are a little more aggressive. They like the performance.”
The dealership boasts a 4.7-star rating on DealerRater, including four 5-star rankings so far in 2013. Despite the construction project outside his front porch, Grubbs said he’s excited about 2013.
“We saw a good 20 percent lift in 2012, and we expect a substantial 15 to 20 percent this year,” he says. “Texas is a strong economy and Dallas/Fort Worth is extremely strong.”
The dealership averaged 90 new and 100 used vehicles sold each month in 2012, and the goal for 2013 is to sell 115 on each side. Grubbs says they’re on pace. “This is a big market, and it’s a very competive market,” he explains. “There are some very good operators in this market. You’ve got to know what you’re doing to compete. We stay on our toes.”