Customer satisfaction is a big deal at Rich Ford. It’s such a big deal, when one irate customer threatened to drive her Expedition through the window of the dealership, Dennis Snyder, Rich Ford’s president, convinced her to come work for the store.
Snyder tells Dealer magazine how a dealership that was so-so with its approach to its customers a few years ago was able to turn it around and to win the President’s Award in 2010. Snyder, who got his start selling motorcycles, is a leader in the industry, having served on the Ford Dealer Council for six years, last year as chairman. Now he’s on the committee designing the Ford Experience program.
Rich Ford recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
We did. In fact, March 3, 1961 was the date I saw on the paperwork. It was a great anniversary and a strong sales month for us.
In the last few years, Rich Ford has developed a reputation for strong customer service. In fact, the dealership won the President’s Award last year for Ford, right?
We thrive on customer satisfaction here. It’s our goal to win the President’s Award, which we did in 2010. The customer satisfaction numbers are the first things we look at in our manager meetings each morning.
Is it true your customer relations manager was an angry customer before she came to work for Rich Ford?
Yes, that’s Della Andersen. She worked for the county at the time. I think a piece of metal had torn through the wheel of her Expedition.
She wasn’t happy with how we handled it. During one conversation she reminded me of that Discount Tire commercial where the little old lady throws a tire through the store window. “Well, I’m going to drive my Expedition through your window,” she said.
I said, “Oh my. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, can we sit down and discuss this?”
Over a period of time we got to know each other, and I told her one day that she should sell cars. After hearing what she could make, it took her about two weeks to decide to leave her job at the county and come work for us.
Now she handles all of our incoming and outgoing calls, sold and unsold follow up and some of our social media.
What are some of the secrets for how Rich Ford is so strong in customer service? Despite all of the lip service our industry gives it, it’s difficult to accomplish, isn’t it?
Well, it is rare. In fact, we haven’t always been that strong with it. We got serious about it when Ford implemented the Blue Oval certification program several years ago.
We started a Blue Oval Committee that would meet each Monday to go over our processes and our survey results. Even after Ford did away with the Blue Oval program about four years ago, we continued it in our store.
Today, the cry from Ford is the “Ford Experience.” So we’ve renamed it the “Experience Committee.” There are 14 of us on the team. We read every customer survey and we consistently evaluate our processes. It’s been very positive for us.
We follow up with every customer – both sales and service – with the Reynolds and Reynolds Contact Management CRM. We have a three-year follow up process. We ask customers to complete the surveys for us and that gives us good intelligence on how we’re doing and if there are any issues. Also, we know who our customers are.
You mentioned social media earlier. Are you paying attention to it and how important is it for customer satisfaction?
We are paying attention. We have an employee who monitors Facebook and Twitter every day and posts there.
It is important. Recently, a woman who had been in our dealership posted on Facebook saying she had never been treated so poorly. The employee who monitors that immediately sent that to the sales director who contacted the woman. He apologized profusely for the dealership’s behavior and offered to help her. She came in the next day and bought a new vehicle from us. And that’s just one example.
You got your start in motorcycles.
Right. I worked for a Yamaha store owned by Robert “Bobby” Johnson who was my mentor. I say that because he taught me how to work. At the time, I was a snotty-nosed kid hanging around the motorcycle shop filling the pop machines, dusting the motorcycles and sweeping the floors.
By the time I left in 1976 for Rich Ford, I was the sales manager.
Motorcycles to cars?
I sometimes prospected over at the Ford dealership and had sold the owner, Rich Richardson and some of the managers snowmobiles and motorcycles. When things got slow at the Yamaha store, I would fill up a trailer with some ‘toys’ and head over to Rich Ford.
Those things are like magnets. The managers would come out, and then some of the employees would follow. We’d stand around talking for a bit, and before long, I had sold a few motorcycles. Then I’d head back to work.
They liked your salesmanship and offered you a job?
Actually, a fellow I knew there whom I had sold a couple of motorcycles to, called me one day and told to get up to the dealership because there were a couple of positions opened. So I immediately drove up on my motorcycle.
There was a new car sales position and a job in used car finance. I was handwriting contracts at the Yamaha store and didn’t have a clue what F&I was. When they explained it to me, and showed me the Wang machine that printed contracts, I said, “Wow! I can do that.” So that’s where I started – used car F&I.
I interviewed with Bob Turner who was the general manager.
He has his own store now, right?
Yes – Bob Turner Ford in Albuquerque. We were in the interview for about 10 minutes when he asked me, “Young man where do you see yourself in five years?” I asked him, “What’s your position, Mr. Turner?”
He told me, “general manager.”
“Well, that’s where I want to be in five years,” I said to him. He got mad at that and walked out of the office. He told the F&I department, they could hire me if they wanted to. “But keep him away from me.”
It took me 17 years, but I got the job.
Do you guys joke about that today?
Oh, yeah. We still laugh about it. But I think he takes a little more credit for it today than he did back then.
You’ve obviously risen through the ranks.
I became general manager in 1990.
Describe the ownership structure at the dealership.
It’s owned by an estate that was set up by Rich Richardson before he died, which was about six years ago. I’m the president of Rich Ford operating on behalf of the estate. He was a great guy.
Did he start the dealership?
He bought in 1961 from Jones Motor Co. He had been a pilot in World War II and was on his way to California with his family to get into the airplane business, but he broke down in Albuquerque and was stuck here for awhile.
He decided he liked it here, so he stayed and bought a motel. He got rid of it after about three months when one of the maids discovered a dead body in one of the rooms.
After getting out of the motel business he started selling used cars and grew that into one of the largest used car dealerships in town. He wanted to be a Ford dealer so when this opportunity opened up, he hocked everything to buy the store. With backing from Ford Motor Credit and a company named SIC, he was able to build a nice profitable business.
You’ve been pretty active on the Ford Dealer Council.
I served on the Council in 2003 and 2004, then, sat out for a couple of years. I came back in 2007 and have been on it since and was chairman last year. Right now, I’m on the committee developing the program for the Ford Experience.
Ford’s relationship with its dealers appears to be pretty strong right now, as opposed to a few years ago before Alan Mulally came on as CEO.
I’d like to think it was because of my leadership as chairman on the council – Alan might have had a little bit to do with it.
Joking aside, you’re right. Dealer relations were strained for a number of years, but when Alan came to Ford, he started talking with dealers, becoming familiar with what we do and has been an absolute blessing for Ford. He’s just a great leader and I’d say dealer relations are as good as they’ve been in years. Ford keeps us informed and has allowed us to be part of the decision process.
I have to say, being on the council the first four years of Mulally’s tenure at Ford and being able to witness the transformation at Ford has probably been the most exciting thing in my career.
How tough were the last couple of years as sales plunged?
We had to make cuts like everyone. We went from 200 employees to 160. We went through all the expenses and cut where we could. Basically, shutting off the thermostat at night and turning out the lights.
We did not, however, compromise at all on advertising. We continued to promote the product and the dealership. There were a couple of lean years, though, but we didn’t lose money.
Now that it’s turned around, we’re benefitting from all those efforts.
Is it difficult to maintain the same level of discipline on spending now that the industry is coming back?
Yes, it is difficult. When you have some additional money, everybody starts to get back into the spend mode again. We try to stay as tight as we can, until it starts squeaking. Then we’ll evaluate whether we need to add a new employee or new tool to get us to the next level.
The challenge is, when you loosen up on the receivables and aren’t signing the checks any more, next thing you know, you purchased a new ad plan or a new tool that wasn’t asked for.
We’ve put in an initiative that anything over $100 needs to be signed off on by the GM. Also, we stay on top of it weekly, and evaluate the financial statements each month.
I constantly hear from dealers how tight inventory is today. How do you manage that?
You do your best with the inventory you have. All of the manufacturers have reduced production and that’s the world today.
We’ll send up many requests to Ford saying, “We want more.” Management will look at it and if it meets the business case, we’ll get it. If not, then no.
Used car inventory also is pretty tight.
It is. Before, when we went to the auction, we would come back with three truckloads. Now we’re lucky to come back with one.
But we’re a high volume new car store, so we get a lot of our used inventory on trades. We’re also constantly asking people to sell us their used vehicles. I actually added a used car satellite location recently.
You’re in truck country. But the manufacturers are focusing a lot on smaller vehicles. Has that changed the buying dynamic in your area?
In the last 60 days it has. We used to sell 1.8 trucks for every car we sold. That ratio now is one to one.
Doesn’t that affect profitability for the store – especially ones so heavily reliant on trucks? Smaller cars don’t bring in nearly the profit trucks do. Do you have to work harder to make the same amount of money?
Well, we’ve always worked hard. But to maximize our profit, we have to make sure every department is lean and mean today. We’ve shifted our attention to other profit centers, such as service, F&I, and maintenance.
We’re very focused on our fixed operations and want to make sure customers return to us for service and maintenance. Ford’s Quick Lanes have become a branded name now. In fact, maintenance has become one of our fastest growing parts of the business. And along with that comes more customer pay work.
There are about 600 Quick Lanes throughout the country right now.
What advice would you give to someone entering the business today?
The only advice I can give is the advice my father gave me years ago and that is to do the best you can for the employer who hired you. And if you’re the best at what you do, you’ll be the one promoted. You just can’t have a lackadaisical work ethic. Come in early and stay late and let people know that you’re there to help the operation. Embrace all training that you’re offered for the position you were hired for. And seek out any additional training that will enhance your performance.
I’ve heard the employee retention at Rich Ford is extraordinary.
We have very little turnover here. We’ve been here 50 years. I’ve been here since 1976 and have several employees that have more tenure than I do. We also have grandchildren of former employees working for us now.
We pay fairly and do a lot of things for our employees. Mr. Richardson would tell us to put your money into your best tools, and his philosophy was that people are the best tools.
One of the most rewarding things we do for our employees – and it’s a small thing – is that we pay the children of our employees $10 for every A and $5 for every B on their report cards. And we do that for first grade through college. We even have someone we’re grooming to be our controller who has gone back to school and we’re writing her a check every report card.
Every time report cards come out, I’m signing checks for kids with a little note. The children now force their parents to bring their report cards to the dealership. When I was a kid, I was trying to hide my report cards.