DETROIT – After being awarded the Chevrolet franchise in 1915, brothers Harold A. Benson and Ray Benson and their cousin Roy Benson drove nearly 300 miles from New York City to a tiny New Hampshire town in their first Chevrolet. Nearly 100 years later, and as one of the oldest Chevrolet dealerships in the United States, Benson Auto in Franklin, N.H. is still selling Chevrolets to loyal customers from their original North Main Street location.
“My grandfather and father instilled in me that if you put the customer first, and are honest with them, they’ll come back to you,” said Corey Benson, fourth-generation president of Benson Auto. “We are proud to be a Chevy dealer and owe much of our success to the many generations of customers that continue to do business with us.”
Chevrolet’s retail sales force has evolved significantly from ordering a Chevrolet from the catalog at the local gas station to today’s network of approximately 3,000 dealerships in 50 states.
Shortly after the first Chevrolet was built in a rented garage near downtown Detroit in 1911, co-founder William C. Durant recognized the need to establish a distribution system to sell vehicles. Building off his plan to sell Buicks, Durant’s Chevy dealer network began as a collection of buggy and bicycle shops, one-stall garages, feed stores and various other turn-of- the-century entrepreneurs looking to take a chance on the emerging automobile culture spreading throughout the country.
One of these was Hare Chevrolet that started off building wagons in Noblesville, Ind. before the Civil War and qualified for a Chevy franchise in 1921. As the oldest transportation company in America, Hare Chevrolet is run by sixth-generation sisters, Courtney Cole and Monica Peck, and is a Noblesville institution.
“When my great, great, great grandfather started selling automobiles, he kept the horse-and-buggy business because he was unsure the automobile would be a sustainable form of transportation,” said Peck, co-owner of Hare Chevrolet. “We are now in our fourth dealership location, and are thrilled to be part of the Chevy history, though we know that it is the people and rich history that have helped our success.”
Over the years, local Chevy dealers have become social institutions and community leaders. They sponsor local youth sporting leagues, including the Chevy Youth Baseball and Chevy Youth Soccer initiatives; local charities, and conduct child safety clinics. Dealer principals and personnel lead Kiwanis Clubs and host car enthusiasts meetings. Such engagement has helped secure purchase loyalty of generations of families in their hometowns.
“Giving back to the community is just a core value of Hare’s business,” said Peck of Hare Chevrolet. She’s not alone.
To unify the dealer image, Chevrolet in the 1990s started uniform dealership image programs with the goal of making stores across the United States recognizable to customers with a modern appearance to draw in new customers. As part of Chevrolet’s most-recent Facility Image program, Chevy expects 80 percent of the dealer network to complete changes by the end of 2014.
In addition, Chevrolet is harnessing the power of the sun to install solar-powered electric charging stations for its Volt electric cars at dealerships in North America. The Green Zone initiative will generate electricity equivalent to 12 full vehicle charges per day with excess electricity created helping supplement the dealership’s power needs.
Serra Automotive in Grand Blanc, Mich. was one of the first dealerships to install a solar canopy. Serra Automotive President Joe Serra sees it as competitive advantage.
“The question isn’t whether to install a solar canopy, it’s where and how many,” he said. “It’s a win for us because the electricity generated will help reduce operating costs, and it’s a win for the environment since solar power helps reduce our carbon footprint.”
With the explosion of the Internet in the 1990s and 2000s, more and more customers arrive at dealerships armed with all the information needed to make an informed vehicle purchase with a click of a mouse. Chevy dealers realized early on the value of establishing an online presence. Today, Chevy dealers engage consumers through Twitter, Facebook and online chats.
Jim Ferman, a fifth-generation owner of Ferman Chevrolet in Tampa that qualified for a Chevy franchise in 1921, said customer service remains important regardless of the technology explosion.
“I was taught the golden rule, that if you take care of your customer, they’ll take care of you,” Ferman said. “We earn our customer’s loyalty everyday and have never forgotten that.”
Throughout history, Chevrolet dealers have survived economic downturns, the Great Depression and many recessions.
“While it is difficult to identify the oldest Chevrolet dealer in the United States, we think it is wonderful to have so many long term dealerships that have been part of our journey,” said Alan Batey, Chevrolet vice president of sales and service. “The key for our future is to pay attention to the details and do the basics brilliantly for every customer, every time.”
Founded in Detroit in 1911, Chevrolet celebrates its centennial as a global automotive brand with annual sales of about 4.25 million vehicles in more than 140 countries. Chevrolet provides consumers with fuel-efficient, safe and reliable vehicles that deliver high quality, expressive design, spirited performance and value. The Chevrolet portfolio includes iconic performance cars such as Corvette and Camaro; dependable, long-lasting pickups and SUVs such as Silverado and Suburban; and award-winning passenger cars and crossovers such as Sonic, Cruze, Malibu, Equinox and Traverse. Chevrolet also offers “gas-friendly” solutions including Cruze Eco and Volt. Cruze Eco offers 42 mpg highway while Volt offers 35 miles of electric, gasoline-free driving and an additional 344 miles of extended gasoline range, according to EPA estimates. Most new Chevrolet models offer OnStar safety, security and convenience technologies including OnStar Hands-Free Calling, Automatic Crash Response and Stolen Vehicle Slowdown. More information regarding Chevrolet models, fuel solutions and OnStar availability can be found at www.chevrolet.com.