Clay Huber started working for his stepdad’s Toyota dealership in 1990 and today has oversight over Rosner Automotive Group, a nine-store, seven-franchise group operating in and around the Fredericksburg, VA and Melbourne, FL areas. The business includes a stand-alone collision center and a used car supercenter. We spoke to Clay and Ron recently to learn about their success.
Let’s start with a little background, Clay.
Ron Rosner, my stepfather, opened our first store, Rosner Toyota in Fredericksburg, VA, in 1979. He brought me into the business in 1990. That first dealership was located in an old garage, typical of the time. The rent factor was $1,300 a month! It was a Toyota/Chrysler-Plymouth dual with 20 percent floor plan rates. He was successful from day one and it gives me great pleasure to see how we have grown.
I am a Virginia native, and I grew up in Fairfax County. I have always loved cars and enjoy working on them, racing them and collecting them. Early on I learned to fix most anything and was always looking to make my cars and motorcycles better and faster. I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. I had worked during college in the family business selling cars and really had a great experience, although I had not thought about a career in automotive retail until later. After graduation, I worked as an engineer for Johnson Controls in Richmond, VA, but my real passion had always been cars.
After joining the family business, I completed the NADA Dealer Academy. I held various positions in the dealership the last 20 or so years, and became president of the company in 2005. Ron and I together have made a great team. We have managed to grow our company with a shared enthusiasm for our people, our community and our cars. We plan on continuing our successful strategy and expanding our company! I have been married 20 years to my wife Gail and have three wonderful sons, who will, we hope, join our family business one day.
Ron is originally from New York City. He moved to the Washington DC area to finish his undergraduate and master’s degrees in International Economics from The American University. Prior to that, from 1967 to 1969, he spent time in Ecuador as a Peace Corps volunteer. During his studies, he began working in 1970 for Bill Page Toyota in Falls Church, VA. He became general manager there in 1977. Mr. Page was a wonderful mentor to Ron. Ron has always expressed his gratitude for that and said that due to Mr. Page’s teachings, he’s been able to pass on important values to our dealerships and to me. Ron, today, is chairman of the board.
How has your enterprise grown?
In 1986 Rosner Toyota moved into a new state-of–the-art facility on Route 1; its architecture reflected the historical nature of Fredericksburg. In 2000, we added our collision center. In 2004, we added Stafford Toyota and took on two Scion franchises to complement our Toyota stores. In 2007, we added a Chevrolet dealership in Melbourne, FL, followed the next year by Mercedes and Volvo stores in Fredericksburg, VA. Last spring Rosner Used Car Super-Center opened and last August a Nissan franchise in Stafford, VA was added.
We have grown from one location with 13 employees to seven locations, and a team of more than 500 employees. We are continuing to expand strategically, working to ensure that we can deliver the same customer experience in all of our locations.
What is your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has been to maintain the company’s culture, honoring our integrity and values, while facing new challenges in the industry and meeting our customer needs today. We work very hard on making sure our customers have the same great experience at every one of our locations.
More potential customers can now discover Rosner Automotive Group and seek us out based on our brand and reputation – as stated in our Mission Statement, “to reward our customers with an exceptional automotive purchase and ownership experience.”
Rosner’s early success was based on a personal relationship with customers. We have traditionally enjoyed great customer loyalty – as the same customers have purchased 30 or 40 cars from our dealerships over the years. This loyalty is realized because we truly place a premium on valuing customer relationships.
Furthermore, we have worked hard to build a workplace where employees feel a strong sense of engagement and connection. Our success also can be seen in that some of our employees are still with the company after 33 years.
The changing market and growth of the company have brought another challenge: How to sustain and expand the personal touch. At the core of our business is building a trusting relationship between management and employees, employees and customers, and between the company and larger communities around us.
What do you see for the future of your dealership and of the industry?
Over the past year, the Rosner Automotive Group has been actively engaged in solidifying our culture throughout our automotive group. We have engaged an executive management-consulting group that has been working with us to centralize, standardize, and document all of our internal and external processes. We are continuing to build attitude, character, conduct, competency, and excellence, resulting in peak performance starting at the top and working across the company.
This emphasis on our culture has several facets we believe are vital to our own business and to the changing nature of the industry, including:
- To live into our company vision: “To create an industry leader that inspires its customers to loyalty and its employees to excellence.”
- A priority focus on our customers and customer service, but also on our mission “to reward customers with an exceptional automotive purchase and ownership experience.” A guiding principle that our customers are lifetime relationships and that our employees are critical to developing those relationships.
- A parallel priority on creating a collaborative workplace where good ideas are welcomed and shared, and where employees know they are valued and important to the future of the company.
To support these aims, we’re committed to installing and operating a company-wide discipline of performance management — using key performance indicators from every store and every level. In addition, we take advantage of the best thinking and creativity of our employees to build cross-company teams that work together on continuous process improvements and problem solving.
We’re committed to sincerely listening to our employees and creating a workplace widely recognized as supportive — fostering the best in our people.
We see the changing nature of the industry as necessarily becoming more competitive as well as experiencing increasingly higher customer expectations. Our customers desire more and are hyper-knowledgeable. Because of that, we’re changing our business models to focus on enhancing the customer experience and building trust. We realize that yesterday’s models and solutions are not necessarily going to work in the marketplace of today and tomorrow.
To address these issues, a higher level of professionalism will be required of us; we need to look to other industries for the kinds of disciplined business processes and practices that will ensure an exceptional and repeatable customer experience.
We’re encouraged by the past few months of business. We see a noticeable difference in our customers’ moods and buying habits. It is going to be a welcome and exciting period ahead as we continue to expand our company and build for the future.
What is your management style?
Interestingly, with the growth of Rosner as a company, our management style has both stayed the same and evolved. Our styles are mixed depending on the situation. Ron is a bit old school in his style and that works well with my blended management style. The combination and chemistry has enabled us to grow where we are today and into the future.
We are still directly involved with every aspect of our business. With our increasing size, we are managing more through others and employing new technologies. This means learning to trust and delegate more, and to utilize additional performance metrics to gain insight into both the “big picture” as well as what is going on in each store. We are encouraging our people from the GM level and all across the company to take more responsibility. Their contributions to the company’s success are very real and very meaningful.
We are paying close attention to what we need to do in anticipating and responding to customer needs. We are also investigating closely improved approaches to specific aspects of the business, from used car sales, to increased service efficiencies, to streamlining operations.
We have invested heavily over the last year in our management group to support our individual operations. We have expanded our teams and created new positions in the areas of human resources, facilities management, training and information systems. These additions along with our existing staff will help to preserve our culture, and support our teams, systems and processes for an exceptional sales and ownership experience for our customers.
The Rosner group is always learning and seeking to improve our organization. Our world is changing rapidly and we want to be at the forefront of that curve. With all of the changes in the last decade, we still know that cars are sold one at a time by building relationships with our customers.
How have you weathered the recent economic storm?
Though we experienced somewhat of a downturn in the economy, we weathered the recent economic storm based in part by looking hard at our priorities. We did not have many layoffs, but we did cut back and micromanaged our costs. We did not, however, reduce our overall advertising expenditure. We made the decision during this period, while many dealerships were cutting marketing, to increase our market share. This strategy was very effective and all of our stores are among the top performers in the region.
We also took the opportunity to expand our operations by adding Mercedes, Volvo and Nissan dealerships in our Virginia market. In addition, we opened a used car super center in Fredericksburg, VA. This helped us retain many good people, as well as add some personnel with these new acquisitions.
Our group during this period completed renovations on our Chevrolet store in Melbourne, FL, and started the process for image upgrades in our two Toyota stores. We believe in reinvesting in our company for our people and customers.
One of our most important commitments during this period was the investment in an executive management-consulting group. We spent over a year building our mission, vision and value propositions for our companies, as well as making important infrastructure changes to support our future growth strategy.
We proudly have been able to provide a stable place of employment and to continue our emphasis on charitable contributions and making a difference in our communities.
What is unique about Rosner dealerships?
Rosner’s hallmark is customer service and the customer experience. We are family owned and operated and we believe in taking care of our customers every time. In the advent of publicly held companies, no one epitomizes more than us the value of a family owned dealership, a dealer totally integrated into the community.
Our company has a great combination of what makes the individually-owned and the public dealership groups successful. We are heavily invested in our people and communities where we work and live, while at the same time, offering the economies of scale and standardization of the public groups.
We have worked diligently on our company as its own brand. We offer lots of selection in terms of our franchise offerings and used cars. We are continuing to work on an experience that is the same, regardless of which of our operations our customers shop in. All of our associates are in a standardized uniform and our advertising, brand and communications all look and feel the same. We care about our image and the way we conduct ourselves.
How do you communicate all this to your employees?
Rosner is working on a centralized training department that will not only conduct industry specific training but will also perform management and leadership training. We have implemented cross-functional teams for communication and improvement in our dealerships. These groups of employees are working on improving our processes and experiences for our customers.
We recently launched an internal SharePoint communications intranet for our employees that is a centralized all-Rosner information site. We have our processes and training uploaded here, plus employee blogs and calendars, as well as postings of our advertising and communications for our people. This helps communication and helps share our mission, vision and values with our people. Employee retention is a top priority at our company and we believe effective communication and training are critical. We hope to continue to improve here, as we know it directly translates into a better more repeatable experience for our customers.
Our plan is to achieve performance excellence and to apply for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in the future.
What specifically are you doing to promote customer retention?
One of our most successful customer retention programs is “Rosner Rewards”, which includes free oil and filter changes for life, state inspections for life, installed parts guaranteed for life, engine guarantees for life, car washes after service for life, a tank of gas with delivery of your vehicle, and 24-hour roadside assistance and towing.
We are open seven days a week and have extended evening service hours. Our Rosner Rewards program has in fact been so successful that our company is rated as one of the top dealerships for customer retention in the region. We also provide a regular manicurist (an appreciated amenity) for our customers on Wednesdays and other services that are our way of saying thank you to our customers.
What performance details can you share?
We are one of the top 100 dealer groups in the country. We also are consistently recognized with manufacturers’ honors such as Toyota’s Presidents Awards and Mercedes-Benz Best of the Best. Every one of our stores is among the top dealers in the areas of customer retention, market share and overall performance.
In 2011, retail sales were $255 million, with $300 million-plus projected for 2012. Last year we retailed 4,115 new and 3,524 used and we wholesaled 2,401 used units. We have a proactive wholesale operation with all dealerships working through a wholesale director to enhance our total used car efforts.
What vendors do you most value for helping you improve results?
We have many partners important to our business success, including Reynolds and Reynolds for our DMS and CRM tools, Dealer.com for websites, and vAuto for used vehicle inventory management. We are a CARFAX dealer and we use AutoTrader.com for lead generation. Other valuable vendors are DealerKnows for Internet consulting and DealerNet management for F&I products.
Clearly, your strong corporate culture drives your dealership’s success. Is there any other aspect of your culture we haven’t touched on yet?
Being good corporate citizens in our community is a top value of Rosner Automotive Group. We are heavily involved and contribute to many worthwhile causes and charities. We are privileged and blessed to be able to give back to the community and enjoy our business, family and friends. In addition – as we have realized in a recent Employee Focus Group – this commitment to community is shared by our employees as well. There is considerable commitment among the Rosner team to reach out and give back to our communities, while building employee community as well. We look to the future in growing our companies strategically by adding dealerships in our markets that will provide more selection, value and service for the people in our communities.