In the truest sense of the word, Dorsch Ford Lincoln Kia is a family operation. Don Dorsch bought a Ford dealership in 1970, their first, and later added both Lincoln and Kia franchises. In 1999, Don’s three sons—Pete, Mike, and Dan—bought the dealership from their father and have been working together since. Their dealership is in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a famous but modest-sized town of just over 100,000. In serving their customers, the dealership employs a staff of about 135 at two locations: the main franchises at the East Side and a used car dealership located on the West Side. They sell a little over two used cars for every new car sold. Consistent success has led them to an expansion project, which will double the size of their original building.
In the following interview, eldest son Pete discusses what it’s like co-owning a dealership with his siblings in a relatively small town, where the best part of their day is meeting the people who come into their shop. He also talks about how the use of texting has changed the way they communicate with their service customers, describes their Real Deal program and mentions the many charitable programs the dealership supports. Please continue reading to find out more.
First, Pete, I want to thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts with us today. Please fill us in on your experience and background as a dealer, how long you’ve been in the business, how you got started, that sort of thing.
It started with our father, Don Dorsch. He bought a Ford dealership back in 1970. I got in the business after I graduated from college in 1982 and I’ve been here ever since. My brothers, Mike and Dan, and I worked our way through all of the departments of the dealership, starting in high school. I’m the oldest. So, of course they started a year to three years after that. By 1985, all three of us were on board. We have a fourth brother, Chris, who just joined us three years ago.
Dorsch Ford Lincoln Kia is a successful family operation, with three family members sharing ownership. What has been the single greatest challenge? The single greatest success?
The biggest challenge was probably the initial transition from our father to us. It was certainly never irreconcilable or anything like that. It was one of those things where our father thinks he charged too little and we think we paid too much. If both sides think the other person got the better end of the deal, then it must be fair. Probably the single greatest success is my two brothers and I have never really had a serious disagreement. It’s unusual in a lot of family dealerships where there isn’t a whole lot of confrontation. Over all the years, I don’t think we’ve ever had a major disagreement or anything. I think we’ve all been pulling in the same direction to accomplish the greater good. I think we all realize what we’re here for and we’re all generally pulling the same way. I would say that certainly made it a lot better compared to some situations that you hear of through, like, our 20 Groups, state dealer associations and stuff like that. We’ve all heard stories and some of them are pretty nasty. They all wonder, how could three brothers get along? We do.
What is your marketing strategy and which online tools are you using to promote your dealership?
Obviously, we take advantage of the manufacturer programs that they have like factory websites. We’re pretty involved with cars.com. We do a lot of search engine optimization, the buying of keywords, and so on. I would stay that 60% to 70% of our budget is geared toward digital now. We haven’t been in the newspapers for years and years. We occasionally go on the radio, particularly during the summer when people are outdoors and not indoors. And we’ll use TV to an extent. But for the most part, the majority of our budget goes to online efforts.
In what ways does your dealership incorporate social media into your daily business?
It’s a big part of our business. We actually have a college graduate from one of the local universities that we put on full-time about two years ago. She handles Facebook, the online reviews, where we should spend our digital dollars, how to appeal to millennials. She’s sitting down monthly with our digital vendors to go over what seem to be the better words, ones that work best in our market. She’s continually updating our digital presence. Ford and Lincoln are very good about what they call Ride & Drive events. We probably do about six to eight of those events a year, where the manufacturer pays about $25 to schools per test drive for different charities around the local area. She and another woman spearhead that. Our social media tries to get the grass roots stuff going even before they’re interested in a car. We typically go to a lot of the different schools looking for a fundraiser type event. They can raise more in one morning of doing test drives than they can by selling candy bars for a month.
Let’s turn to service for a moment. How does your dealership approach customer service? We’re in the process of adding 50,000 square feet to our building right now because we have such a shortage of space to work on our vehicles. We are severely space-constrained and haven’t been able to do the types of things we ought to be doing. We’re over a week out on appointments right now. It’s kind of a good thing but actually more of a bad thing because we’re unable to service our customers as they or we would want us to. We’re in a tight spot right now where we’re not able to do as good of a job as we should in helping our customers. Our expansion will take about a year and a half to complete. It will be approximately equal to the size of the original building. The Collision Center will remain on the main lot but it will be its own separate stand-alone building and then recasting the present center to reconditioning used cars. We’ll have a dedicated used car reconditioning center, having dedicated techs doing the repairs, and a full staff detailing all the used vehicles. Then we’ll be expanding outward for Parts, the Car Shop, and we also have a Diesel Shop.
Especially for millennials, it seems that voice mail and email are less convenient forms of communication than text messaging. I understand you’ve added text messaging to your vehicle service program. How’s that going?
To be honest, it’s not just a millennial thing, it’s all age groups. Everybody who participates in it really likes the program. We’re using Singlethread for our text messaging program. The solution that Singlethread afforded for us is that it takes them from the very beginning where the customer gives us permission to interact with them. It takes it all the way through to viewing the online inspections to viewing the repair order, so they can pay the bill over the internet as well. They can view the inspection, view the R.O. and pay the bill all through the Singlethread texting program, which is really good. Now when they come in the door to pick up their vehicle, all we have to do is hand them the keys to the vehicle and say thank you for your business. It’s really nice and saves a whole lot of time.
What are the benefits of texting?
We’re in the Upper Midwest, but it seems like people will respond to a text quickly. A lot of employers, at least in our area, don’t want them to be using phones or voicemail or calling on company time. Texting, it seems, they hear the ping and they can take a quick glance at it or if you’re in a meeting you’re able to view it quickly and give the approval for the extra one-hundred or two-hundred bucks, whatever it might be, and you’re done. It’s a more instantaneous form of communication with a customer, which they enjoy as much as we do because if you work in the Service department the biggest problem you have is contacting the customer once they’ve left the building. One of the more indirect things people really enjoy is the customers waiting for their vehicle in the customer lounge; we can communicate with them via texting, too. So, they’re sitting in the customer lounge, a hundred feet away from the service area, and you’re communicating back and forth via texting.
Do you have any texting success numbers to share?
The people that are using it do enjoy it. I would say that we have about 60% participation. Some of the rest of that might be commercial-type customers. You do have the older retired people whose whole day is to come and sit in the customer lounge and hopefully they can sit here for two or three hours waiting for their service work. So, you can complain about it but for some it might be the high point of their day. They don’t want to be texted. Or where somebody like my mom and dad who don’t know how to text. The participation rate is fairly high, at least for us.
Please tell us about your Parts business. How is it doing?
We’re not big into wholesale. We don’t do any real wholesaling at all. We’ve got some strong competitors around us, and we choose not to go down that road. Virtually all of our parts business is generated inside the building. They’re kind of at the mercy of what the collision center and service departments are doing. But we’ve enjoyed uninterrupted growth since ’09-010. We were already coming out of the recession, at least up here back in 2009. We didn’t have the severe downturn, like Florida and Arizona. We don’t get the highs and lows like they do down there. We’ve had a lot of good years, a lot of good runs. Hopefully that continues. Our operation is up. That’s why we’re putting on a 50,000 square-foot addition.
I’d like to shift away from products and service and talk about staff. How many employees do you have, what qualities do you look for when making a new hire and how do you keep them up-to-date on your products?
We have approximately 135 employees. I guess the biggest quality we’re looking for is their social skills. Their ability to get along with other people. And smile. They can always be taught the skills, so we don’t necessarily hire for a skill set. We can train that. We’re hiring more on having the right personality. Product training is a non-stop thing. Number one, the manufacturers require employees to be certified. They’re all up-to-speed on that stuff. Our insurance company comes in quarterly to walk us through the building, to make sure we’re up to speed on any changes. Walk through any changes, look for things that are out of order, hazards in the workplace, that sort of stuff. We use KPA, where they do walk-throughs and educate our people as far as best practices in each department. So, a collision center employee, for example, has different standards than what a technician has, which is different than what an office person or a sales person has. Everybody gets specific training based on their position.
Could you talk about your Real Deal Advantage program?
We picked up that idea from another dealer in our 20 Group. We modified it to what we call the Real Deal. It’s trying to be more transparent with the customer. We have a small booklet put together with all the information we have on the car they’re purchasing. Included in the booklet is AutoCheck/CarFax. That the car wasn’t in an accident, but if it was in an accident, at least they get prior knowledge of that. We show the repair orders and the work that was done in our shop. We give them a 90-day-3,000-mile powertrain warranty on the vehicle. We give them a full tank of gas.
In the state of Wisconsin, you have to do a 156-point inspection on all of our vehicles we put on the lot. It’s something we present to our customers as a step-up from just a normal used car, trying to build confidence in the vehicle. It’s not a certified car but it’s not just a plain old used car, either. We tried to do the extra steps on it, to make it more transparent, more believable. That they are getting a good value for what they’re spending their money on.
It makes it that much more transparent if they’re able to see the CarFax, if they’re able to see what you did to it before it was put on the lot. To be honest, we spend a lot of money fixing up our vehicles and it should be something we’re proud of. We’re spending roughly $800 on each car, a $1,000 on each truck. So, we’re spending a fair amount of money and we ought to be patting ourselves on the back by saying, well, this is everything we did to your car. It’s peace of mind for the customer. They know if you put new tires on or new brake pads on or whatever, so they know they’ve got 40,000 miles before tires and brakes have to be replaced again.
Your dealership is in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a modest-sized city but still iconic and home to the world-renowned NFL Packers. How does your business serve the local community?
This is a small town, comparatively speaking. It’s certainly the smallest in the NFL by a long shot. It has what I would like to call small-town charm, as opposed to the big city, which has its advantages, too. The dealers in our town are all heavily involved in the things that are important to them. You can’t donate to absolutely everything. We try to direct most of our donations to disadvantaged youth Like the Girls and Boys Clubs, we’re big sponsors in that. We’re also a big sponsor of a local organization called Rawhide, which is for young men, teenagers, typically from a fatherless family that haven’t had a whole lot of direction and they’re caught up in the court system. The young men fall between the cracks and Rawhide provides a place to try and get re-established without going to prison. We’ve been involved with these organizations for ten-fifteen years. We’re also involved with the fundraising through the different schools, with the programs through Ford and Lincoln. We’ve also been involved with our local Y.M.C.A. and Salvation Army in their building expansions. Another one is City Stadium Automotive. We help sponsor with our fellow competitors in Green Bay an automotive program at the public high schools. We pay to set up a garage in one of the schools and the students actually get automotive training, with the goal of leading them into a career in automotive servicing.
The greatest opportunity that exists and I think this is true of any industry is where will the next generation of employees come from? Where do we go to find the technical skills and the knowledge we need to work in a dealership? You can’t just hire Joe Schmo off the road anymore. You’re looking for a specific skill set and that has to be developed at a high school or a technical school level or even the university level and I think it’s very difficult to find people today. Our biggest opportunity is finding good people, no matter what position it’s for.
Final question, you’ve been selling cars for more than three decades. That’s a long time for a career. What do you like most about the business?
Our customers. You meet people from every walk of life. At some point, the vast majority of people have to buy a car, trade in a car so you eventually get to meet people from every sort of background imaginable. It’s fun to talk to them because everyone has an interesting story to tell. So, I would say the most interesting part of our day is just going down to the Sales department and talking to customers. One of the key things we do is Mike, Dan, and I shake hands with every customer when they’re picking up their vehicle. It gives them a chance to meet the actual owner of the car dealership and they know if they have a problem they can just pick up a phone and call one of us. In the process of telling them that, you get to hear their stories and how many cars they bought from us, what they do for a living, just all kinds of fun stuff. The customers make the business fun.
Author: Digital Dealer
Digital Dealer exists to help dealers and their managers sell more vehicles more profitably by creating the best live events and media in the industry.