Owning It

The publisher joins the ranks of the Jeep enthusiasts and rediscovers the auto industry’s entrepreneurial spirit.

December 2016, Auto Dealer Today - Feature

by David Gesualdo

A friend of mine recently bought a car for his college-age daughter. She wanted a Jeep, but it didn’t pass the Dad test, so he found something a little more practical. But it got me thinking. My son will be driving in about eight years. He’s a rough-and-tumble type. It’s never easy to predict what a future 16-year-old will think is “cool,” but unlike parents, the older Jeeps get, the cooler they are.

My brother, Eric, owns a 2014 Wrangler Rubicon, and he invited us to try it out on an off-road course. I took my wife and son along. The course was full of trail runs, hill climbs and rocky creekbeds, and the Jeep plowed over and through every obstacle in our path. My wife and I agreed on the spot to buy one the following week.

Eric accompanied me to the dealership and we settled on the 75th anniversary edition of the Wrangler Unlimited. By the time I had signed all the paperwork, it was evening. When we pulled off the lot and onto the road, it appeared that our fog lights were on but the headlights were not. “No, they’re on,” Eric said. “Jeeps still come with the old bulb headlights. Most people replace them.”

Feeling suddenly apprehensive about our journey, I switched the radio on, thinking some music would calm my nerves. But I could barely read the screen, and the sound from the factory speakers was weak and tinny. “Yeah, they don’t put good radios in these,” Eric said. “Most people replace them.”

That’s when I began to realize that you don’t buy a Wrangler; you build it. By the time I got home, I had decided to add trail lights and upgrade the factory headlights, stereo and stabilizer bar. I found everything online, including a switch panel for the lights.

I had a few questions about the panel, so I sent an email to the supplier’s customer support team. To my surprise, I quickly received a reply — from the CEO! I learned that he, like any number of Jeep accessory producers, started as an enthusiast and wound up capitalizing on an invention he built for his own vehicle. I relayed my surprise that he answered my email, and he said he is automatically cc’d on every customer service request and tries to handle as many as he can personally. And this isn’t a guy sitting in a garage with a laptop. He has 70 employees.

When our founder, Ed Bobit, was still with us, he would ask the publishers for accounts he could work on personally — advertisers, conference speakers, anything we had trouble closing. Imagine the surprise of an industry supplier or executive getting a personal phone call from the guy who owns the magazine. Needless to say, it was highly effective.

I don’t expect you to answer every email or phone call that comes into your dealership, but what if you or your GM took the next one? What would you learn about your customers and your processes? The entrepreneurial spirit courses through our industry. I wish you the best of success, and I hope you never lose the love and enthusiasm your business was founded upon.

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