Quirk Chevrolet, in Braintree, Massachusetts, is one of 15 dealerships under the Quirk Auto Group brand. Started by Dan Quirk more than forty years ago, Quirk Chevrolet was the #1 Silverado dealer in the country in 2016 and ranked 5th overall for Chevrolet stores. Plus, the store has earned the #1 Chevrolet dealer in New England designation for over 4 years in a row.
In addition to Chevrolet, the Quirk Auto Group, with stores in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, offers several popular brands including Buick, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Jeep, Kia, Mazda, Nissan, Ram, Subaru and Volkswagen. The stores sell new and used vehicles, as well as provide state-of-the-art service and repair.
General Manager James Thorp and Gregory Merchanthouse, Business Development Manager, took time out to discuss their experiences at Quirk Chevrolet, why they believe the dealership has been so successful, how technology contributes to their success, and where they see the auto retail industry headed. Thorp and Merchanthouse work closely together to help deliver a steady stream of new and repeat customers to their sales team. The dealership is fast on its way to becoming the highest volume domestic store in America.
Thank you for agreeing to talk with us today about Quirk Chevrolet and your respective roles at the dealership. I’d like to start by learning more about your professional background. First James, how did you get started in auto retail?
James: I started working here at Quirk Chevrolet in Sales when I was in college and I’m still here. That was 13 years ago. I worked with a lot of good people over the years. It’s a challenging and competitive industry. As General Manager, I enjoy dealing with people every day and I like new technology. What I like most, perhaps, is how every day is different. We have a great owner, Dan Quirk. He’s very supportive, dedicated and always open for new innovative ideas.
And Greg, could you briefly summarize your background for us?
Greg: I started in the car business in 2002 at Quirk Chevrolet as a salesperson. I left for a while and did business development at a couple of other stores. I returned in 2012 to become the BDC manager. I have a seven-person department at the moment. In 2012 we really started clicking, when James became the general manager. We came up together in the car business. With other dealerships, they put their BDCs as icing on the cake and don’t train them a lot. James has a different approach. Business development is a lot easier when you’ve been a salesman before.
Back to you, James. Could you talk about your experience as one of many franchises under the Quirk brand?
James: All the Quirk franchises are doing very well. Quirk Chevrolet is the first dealership Mr. Quirk purchased, and that was over forty years ago. Today, Mr. Quirk owns 15 dealerships, across both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Quirk Auto Dealership employs more than 1,500 people. His main office is at the Quirk Chevrolet dealership in Braintree, which was his first franchise, so he spends a more time here than the other dealerships. It’s a tribute to Mr. Quirk that the employees across all his dealerships are dedicated and hard-working and, like Mr. Quirk, they enjoy dealing with people. His motto is “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” We work hard and we don’t see much employee turnover.
Last year Quirk Chevrolet finished 5th in the USA overall and was the #1 Silverado dealer. Those are certainly impressive, if not unexpected, numbers for your region. If you don’t mind sharing, what’s the secret to your dealership’s success?
James: Our dedicated people. We have meetings every day and are consistent with our follow up system. I try to make sure everyone here maintains a positive attitude and is enthusiastic. When you deal with as many people as we deal with in a day, you need to stay positive. We also have great and simple pricing strategy. We’re very straightforward and offer a transparent, competitive pricing structure. When people inquire about a vehicle, our BDC department responds quickly and answers customers’ questions, which makes our entire sales process run smoothly.
Quirk Chevrolet has experienced dramatic growth, including 25% during the last four years in a row. Could you speak to the benefits and challenges of such growth?
James: Fortunately, we have a great owner in Dan Quirk. He’s very supportive and always up for trying new things. We’re a good team. We all work well together. The technology has made the industry more competitive, in my opinion. Think of buying a car—or just about buying anything—these days. Car shoppers can go to ten or more dealership websites without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Ten years ago, it wasn’t like that. Now we’re all on board with the power of technology. Not just Quirk, but every dealership in the country.
Let’s stay on technology as a topic for a moment. Greg, as the BDC manager, what digital tool (or tools) does your team use with the greatest success?
Greg: We’ve invested time into social media and realize it’s become a great asset for some dealers. We just haven’t found a worthwhile payoff as far as time invested translating into solid leads or sales. Maybe we’re missing out, but our biggest pipeline is generated through our website in the form of vehicle or price inquiries, Live Chat, Trade value requests, and Finance applications. With email and internet inquiries our focus is generating a phone or text message dialogue, which should lead to an appointment.
James: Our marketing team is great and they are always looking for new ways to give us an edge on the competition. They go to expos and conferences and pick up the latest and greatest ideas. Another important digital tool for us is Google Adwords. That said, I agree with Greg. Our website, which is maintained by our own marketing team, is our strongest digital tool. About eighty percent of our leads come in through our website.
Greg: Our BDC doesn’t manage the website but the pricing, payment and lease examples are determined by James. For each model, we’ll offer the same discount across the board.
Greg, could you walk us through a typical day at your BDC?
Greg: We arrive in the morning and answer inquiries from the night before. Because American consumers have become saturated with spam and fluffy pitches, people appreciate a straight answer. They want answers and are more educated than ever about shopping for cars. Dealerships don’t hold any cards anymore. I think people like it when you speak to them like normal humans and give them pricing. Our pricing is very aggressive. We don’t send them long emails and harass them. Of course, our goal is to set up appointments as best we can. Our BDC brings in about 130 car buyers a week. Our focus is just on bringing them in and we let our talented Sales team do the rest.
How do you keep your salespeople motivated and engaged with your customers?
James: Chevrolet has some very effective product knowledge training programs. Our entire sales team are Chevrolet Certified, Certified Pre-owned and Commercial Sales Certified.
We have twenty-nine Sales people and seven BDC. We have a lot of administration support and we have four Tech Team members. They’re the younger staff members, usually high school kids who demonstrate how to use the vehicles, the On-Star and the navigation system, Bluetooth, all other technology stuff like that. They answer customer questions. It’s really an amazing thing they do. They’re young and technology doesn’t faze them at all.
James, roughly what percentage of your store’s business is from sales? From parts? From service?
James: We do about 55% of our business with lease agreements. The lease fulfillment is something we’re constantly going over. Our BDC team begins contacting them over the phone when they have about a year left on their contract. Our sales team, on the other hand, stays in touch with each customer throughout the life of the lease. We know the people who are coming off lease and how many miles are on the vehicle, how often it’s been serviced, what was done, and so on. We can start talking to them about getting into something a different or into another lease. That helps a lot, especially with the Silverado.
Talking about our sales in general is difficult, however, because they all work together. As an example, we have an active parts department. They work with eBay and do about 45,000 transactions a month. I know that’s not sales in a traditional sense but it contributes to the Quirk brand. Getting back to your question, when it comes to our sales breakdown, I don’t know the exact percentages.
It sounds as if lease agreements are an integral part of your operation. What else is Quirk Chevrolet doing to help separate itself from other dealerships?
James: Another thing we’ve been doing lately is concentrating more of our efforts on electric vehicles. That’s been a huge success for us. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it. On our floor, we have four dedicated electric vehicle sales people. We are allocated more electric vehicles in our inventory from GM than any other dealer because we keep selling them so fast. About twenty percent of our sales come from electric vehicles. In the US, federal fuel standards require manufacturers to achieve a fleet average of 34 MPG in 2016 and this will increase to 49 MPG by 2025. Ironically, the more electric cars we sell, like the Volt and Bolt, would significantly boost GM’s average fuel economy which would allow GM to be able to sell more trucks and SUV’s. Focusing on electric vehicles is working out great for us, and these cars raise the average. As a result of our commitment to electric vehicles, we’re partnering and joined with several consumer alliance companies, like the Sierra Club, Plug-in-America, Mass Energy Consumers Alliance and a few others. We just became recognized for meeting the requirements of the GM Green Dealer Recognition Program 2 months ago. We’re very excited about this. Speaking about YouTube, we just did a few commercials last week on the Volt and the Bolt, our electric cars, and the ads are hilarious.
Do you use any third-party vendors to assist in generating leads? If so, which vendors do you use?
Greg: Essentially just our own website and leads we receive from the GM/Chevy websites. That’s pretty much it.
James: We do a little of commercial advertising, like print ads, letters and television. But not too often, because it expensive and it’s not as effective like it used to be. We might do a couple of ads here and there during the year. Our marketing team pretty much handle everything. Instead of TV, we’re focusing more on creating online ads and posting them to YouTube. We do a lot of creative stuff in-house. When we make a YouTube video, we can reach a lot of eyeballs, we can get ten thousand views. They’re real professional commercials, only they’re on YouTube and not regular television. It’s part of our marketing strategy.
Greg: I totally agree. Behind Google, YouTube yields more searches than any other site on the internet. The investment cost is set up very fairly, where an advertiser gets a few seconds to pitch their ad, but they only have to pay if a viewer watches the entire commercial (in other words, doesn’t press the “skip” button). How can you ignore so many focused eyes without the huge traditional TV, radio, or billboard investment? The challenge becomes creating something people won’t skip in the first few seconds.
Customers find much to like about Quirk Chevrolet, based on the reviews posted on your website. What steps to you take or processes do you follow to help create a positive customer experience?
James: We stay focused on why customers are here. We don’t talk about ourselves and we are organized. We try to answer questions that are relevant. Our sales people have a good attitude, have a good appearance and they smile. I always tell our staff to be thankful we have people here. We don’t really have a customer loyalty program. We got into it a while ago but we just try to make people happy by giving them good prices and good service. It helps that our employees have an average of six or seven years at Quirk. Their experience in dealing with customers is invaluable. I think what makes buying a car at a Quirk dealership special is a combination of things. The service we provide. Our transparent pricing structure. The website design, which initially brings people here. The follow plan after customers purchase a vehicle here. A simple “Thank You” card goes a long way especially if it’s hand-written with a meaningful message. Those things add up to a positive customer experience. I should add, our customer retention is great. We have a lot of repeat customers and referrals for more customers.
In your opinion, James, what was the biggest game-changer in the retail auto industry over the last five years and what do you see as the next big game-changer?
James: The greatest game-changer for me over the last five years has been the way people purchase cars. Whatever it is, eighty or eighty-five percent of car buyers get their information online prior to visiting a dealership. Having a good search presence is important. Having a strong strategy and an efficient process for implementing it are, of course, important as well. The next big game-changer, in my opinion, will be electric vehicles which we are well-prepared for.
Author: Digital Dealer
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