November 2014, Auto Dealer Today - Feature
In the great state of New Hampshire, where the population is politically active and the presidential primaries take place early in the electoral cycle, there is an old joke: When asked what they think of a candidate, a resident replies, “I don’t know. I’ve only met him twice.”
Many Tampa Bay Lightning fans would say the same of the team’s vice president of corporate relations, Phil Esposito, a Hockey Hall of Fame center who made a successful transition to coach and general manager of the New York Rangers. He left that team in the late 1980s to join his brother, Tony, a Hall of Fame goalie, in leading an ownership group vying for an expansion franchise here in Tampa Bay. After raising the $50 million expansion fee and beating out a group from nearby St. Petersburg, the Lightning took the ice at the start of the 1992–’93 season.
In the two decades since, the team has become one of the finest and most fan-friendly operations in sports. I’m not talking about the Stanley Cup the Bolts won in 2004. I’m talking about a team that was ranked No. 6 among all professional sports franchises in ESPN.com’s Ultimate Team Rankings, which calculates factors including affordability, fan relations and stadium experience. I’m talking about Amalie Arena, ranked by Venues Today as third among all venues in the U.S. and No. 10 worldwide.
Moreover, I’m talking about a team and an administration that does more to engage, connect with and listen to fans than any other pro franchise of which I am aware. OK, as a season-ticket holder, I may be a bit biased. But I have seen Esposito and Dave Andreychuk, a key member of the Stanley Cup-winning squad who now serves as vice president of corporate and community affairs, in action. They are so approachable that, if you didn’t recognize them, you would never know they were executives.
Esposito always records a pre-game radio show at Firestick Grill, a restaurant in the arena — and I mean always. And he shows up early to chat with fans. Once, when my wife’s parents were visiting from Slovakia, we took my hockey-loving father-in-law to the game. He doesn’t speak much English, but that didn’t stop Esposito. He just started naming every Slovakian player he could recall. They made fast friends.
That fan-loving vibe courses through every enterprise in which the club engages. Every pro team cuts a check to charity once in a while. They get their photo with the giant check and go back to their offices. The Lightning donate money and time to causes throughout the city, and they connect with every fan, right down to the guy who buys one ticket to a single game.
The daily tasks and pressures that face dealership executives are as numerous as they are persistent. As if selling vehicles was not difficult enough, the CFPB, FTC and state attorneys general are vilifying you in the press and in Congress. Their target is the unseemly caricature of the shifty, plaid-jacketed use-car salesman, an image that, however inaccurate or outdated, still sends chills down the spine of the average American consumer.
You can erase that image. Be visible in your market and be visible at your dealership. Your best prospects are your sold customers. Shake hands and converse with as many as possible — or every customer, if you can. You know dealers are among the most active and charitable members of your communities. Don’t be afraid to show it. The next time a crusading regulator slanders dealers in the press, your customers should recall your meetings and know you are a good person.