When Chad Baker and his business partners at Marc Heitz Chevrolet in Norman, OK erected their 81,000 sq. ft. Chevrolet showroom in 2008, it was just in time for the recession that came roaring through the nation. Fortunately, the entertaining ideas they’d built into the dealership attracted so many customers, they rode out the tough times with relative ease. Dealer magazine took a further look to see what makes this remarkable dealership unique.
Click here to read the rest of Chad’s story and more of the November 2011 Dealer magazine.
Chad, what is Marc Heitz Chevrolet and what is the ownership structure?
Marc Heitz Chevrolet started in 2000. The owners are Marc Heitz, dealer operator; Larry Houchins, VP; my wife Denni Baker, controller; and, me, Chad Baker, the general sales manager. We all are active in daily operations.
Most of us had worked formerly for another dealership in the area. Marc operated the Norman Olds Cadillac Nissan dealership. When he sold that dealership, he bought a motor home and toured the country for the summer with his wife and four kids. When they eventually returned to Norman, he and Larry Houchins bought the Chevy store and gave Denni and me the opportunity to become partners.
We had been leasing the property on Main Street in Norman. When it came time to sign our next five-year real estate lease we decided to buy some land on Interstate 35, and we eventually acquired roughly 16 acres to build a new 81,000 sq. ft. facility, including a new body shop.
You built this new dealership and the market crashes. Good timing, huh?
Yeah, we were thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” In hindsight, it was the best thing we could have done. When the market was down across the United States by 20 and 30 percent, we were up a hair in terms of volume and net profit. I think the difference was the new facility. It attracted people. We built it around our three favorite things: cars, dogs, and kids … and not necessarily in that order.
We built this building – many say it looks like a Bass Pro Shop – because we love kids and pets, and wanted to be environmentally conscientious. We designed it to be a place that people would like to visit, and maybe even get interested in a vehicle while they are here.
For instance, we offer two dog parks on the property – one for big dogs, another for small dogs. Both are free to the community. We have a birthday pavilion next to the playground for birthday parties, and it too is free. This area features an oversized playground with picnic tables, barbeque pits and other attractions. Adjacent to the dog park is a 150-seat amphitheater where we sponsor concerts for the community. Local bands come out to play and music shops from the area use the amphitheater for guitar and singing lessons, and for concerts. For Halloween, we host a doggy costume contest that benefits a shelter.
Who’s the music fan among you?
We all are. We like to have bands come out to play. We sponsor an annual “Anniversary Jam,” and invite five or six bands out on a Saturday and they play all day long. Then at the end of the evening, we close up and sit around and barbeque and listen to some other bands play.
Your website features 360-degree views of the property and lists your ecological activities. Until readers can click there, describe them.
Marc Heitz Chevrolet looks like a big log cabin from the outside. The motif features big rocks, and inside you can see the rafters and exposed HVAC ductwork. Inside the showroom is a 35-foot waterfall that flows into a 5,000- gallon fish tank, full of indigenous fish like bass and crappie, which our staff and our customers have caught. Some of the people from the Ranger boat franchise in town use the tank for demonstrating and selling their lures.
We’re also very green here. The building itself is constructed with recycled concrete and other materials, and it features a 100-ft. wind generator that plugs into the energy system to reduce our utility bill. We make extensive use of windows and other natural lighting and use 40 percent less outdoor lighting. We also use a cistern to capture rainwater and air conditioning condensation for watering the onsite landscaping. We do much more in the green area, which readers can learn about at www.marcheitzchevy.com/custom/green-features.
All this investment is to provide something different and beneficial to our community. Local civic clubs like Rotary use our conference rooms. Because our indoor playground is in view from any sales desk in the dealership, parents shopping here can drop off their kids to play while meeting with their sales associate in a relaxing way, and know their child is safe. We also have moms and dads stay while their vehicle is being serviced, because their kids are occupied and have fun.
So how does all this translate into good business for Marc Heitz Chevrolet?
The curiosity factor alone kept our showroom and service department busy during the worst parts of 2008 and 2009, and it continues to do so. It has steadily increased our business. We’re simply tapping into peoples’ interest in things that are bigger and newer – look at the traffic at Super Target or Super Wal-Mart. Sometimes people, especially in a rural area, drive 25 to 30 miles to go there, even though there’s a grocery store or department store close by.
Plus, we feel customers patronize us because of the green nature of the dealership. While some may want to support our environmental philosophy, others perceive us as being cutting-edge and very in tune with the rapid advances in high-mileage vehicles and new technologies.
How many people do you employ?
Just over 100. About a quarter of our total is in the sales department, with seven in our Business Development Center. The BDC staff turns over Internet-driven leads to a sales manager so when that individual comes into the store he or she is always greeted and served by a manager, never a sales associate.
Customers these days want information before they are willing to talk to you. By providing much information, we find that our customers are a lot more willing to talk to us about what we have, or what they want. We are engaging customers through our website and our CRM. VinSolutions helps us tie them together so we can continue to re-market to our existing customers. Whether it’s on our website or another third-party site, we want to lead the customers to our site and engage them there with information, coupons and live chat. From in-house photography to email marketing to follow up after the inquiry, the goal is always to provide information. With our daily website visitors at almost a 1,000, this becomes a challenging task. We are expanding this concept into niche markets, like our Corvette market, which has managed to grow tremendously this year.
Our marcheitzcorvette.com site provides answers for customers seeking Corvette historical information and custom applications such as Callaway performance modifications and other detailed information related to Corvettes and Camaros. We combine this with all our paid search, Craigslist and AutoTrader marketing strategies to tie the whole package together. Upon arrival, we escort the customer through a VIP process to help transition them from their digital experience to their showroom experience.
The VIP branding makes the customer feel important. The manager then begins to explain the process to follow and only then introduces the customer to his or her sales associate who will work with them on demonstrating the product and pricing the product.
How did you come up with that idea?
Our BDC manager, Pat Hayes, brought it with him from his prior position, in which he managed the Internet departments for 20 locations.
Here, we are averaging approximately 750 Internet leads per month. We keep a 30% – 35% lead-to-appointment ratio and close approximately 70% when they show. We average 15% sold to total leads ratio.
What is the big challenge for you in today’s market?
The biggest challenge is getting good people. You read the newspaper and unemployment rates are 10 percent but finding the right people is an ongoing task. It has become increasingly difficult to find people who want to earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year selling cars. I’m known as the guy who pays a little too much.
You have people selling 33 units a month!
I have a person right now at 35 units and he has four days to go in this month. He walked into my office yesterday and said, ‘You’re going to have to rearrange some money in your bank account because I’m fixing to slap you with some big commissions!”
You would think at that you would have people clamoring to get into your shop.
Do you have that trouble in the service department too?
It can be a challenge all around. Partly this is due to how tight of a ship we run here. Anyone who wants to work here must first pass background and drug checks. We prefer to be short-handed rather than hiring the wrong people.
Character is very important to us. We want it to be important to the people who work here as well. They represent the guy’s name on the sign, and he doesn’t sleep well at night knowing we made somebody upset. Every single time you get a bad egg, some customers will come in and let you know about it; but some will just never come back.
Does this focus on character, community and fun equate to excellence?
We’ve earned the GM Mark of Excellence in eight out of our 10 years as Marc Heitz Chevrolet. We have been the number-one Chevrolet store in Oklahoma for the last four years running, based on sales volume. Our CSI numbers are consistently above our peer group.
How would you wrap all this up as a management philosophy?
Umm…we just have fun. I mean, we really do. We sell and service cars. That’s all we do and we have fun doing it, and we take good care of our customers. We set goals and we track results. We focus on opportunities.
Everybody that walks in here is an opportunity, which has to be recorded and tracked. After you figure out a sales person’s closing ratio, you calculate how many opportunities that sales person needs to accomplish his or her goal. We manage that number on a daily basis. Our people know, at all times, where they are and where the “Team” is! From there we simply focus on the sales process and attitude.
Your CRM helps you track this.
Yes. I think having a dealership without VinSolutions is like having a dealership without an F&I department. Traffic tracking can be tedious, but it’s a necessity. Having accurate information in our system is an important function and is not optional. Our CRM tool, with accurate input, allows us to provide the information we need to make informed decisions.
We can’t manage from our desks. You’ve got to get up, shake people’s hands and figure out why they’re here. We don’t leave that up to just the sales people, we leave that up to the management team as well. It is mandatory that our management team updates all activities during their closing duties so everyone knows whether we are ahead or behind in the game.
Our advertising agency is uniquely involved in our success. They have directed our long-term creative strategy across both traditional and digital platforms. They are a Google Certified partner and have played a huge role in delivering large traffic volume to our website through behavioral targeted online display campaigns and PPC. We spend $158,000 per month in advertising and sponsorships. As many people as we invite in, we make sure our process captures all of that data. Our CRM tool does just that.
Chad, sum up Marc Heitz Chevrolet…
We are a very interactive dealership, very much involved in our community. I’ve shared a little, but every weekend we do something to engage with the community and bring people into the dealership. We have our “Battle of the Burgers,” a cook-off which has two winners. That event alone can draw 500 people.
We have an annual Corvette show that draws 175 cars and 700 people. We’ve had Halloween costume contests for dogs that draw 150 people. We have a drawing for a “Jr. Captain of the Game” for all of the Oklahoma Sooner home football games. The winner, between ages 6-12, receives an autographed Bob Stoops football, four tickets to the game, a parking pass, four tailgate passes, a Marc Heitz/Sooner jersey and a trip to mid-field for the coin-toss with the OU football captains.
You can translate this activity into vehicle sales?
Yes, we can. The community shows up for a fun event. They might not be in the market now, but we get them to know us. For instance, for the car guys in the area, they come to see the unique vehicles we have on display – a $100,000 ZR1 Corvette, a mint condition ’62 T-Bird, a restored ’65 El Camino and other hot classics – customers sometimes get caught up in a feeding frenzy and they sometimes take a bite. Sometimes they’ll go home and tell their friends and neighbors, “Man, have you guys been to Marc Heitz?”
Moreover, if you can keep your employees motivated and give everybody that walks into the dealership a tour of the facility, they’ll spread the word. For instance, we have “Let’s Make a Deal” nights where we’ll suddenly get on the microphone and ask if anyone has an unpaid ‘late notice’ bill in their pocket or something else silly on them. If they do, they’ll win title to a $2,000 to $3,000 vehicle we’ve taken in trade. Believe me, this kind of effort gets people talking.
You mean a structured customer engagement process, don’t you? Not just a casual “hello” philosophy.
Everyone at Marc Heitz has a very good understanding of how to engage customers. Customers show up here for a reason. We immediately engage them, then simply go to work and have fun.
On a Saturday, if a customer buys a car, we’ll give cash to the salesman if he can get the customer, after the customer buys, to get on the speaker phone and page over the intercom to say, “ I love Marc Heitz” and scream, “Yee Haw.” If they can do that, we’ll pay him 20 bucks. Customers have fun here – and they never forget it.
It sounds like a great place to work, Chad.
The biggest difference that you can make in a store, in my opinion, instantly, is the atmosphere.
I can start hollering at somebody on the showroom floor and make our atmosphere negative or we can turn up the music, fly balloons, and pop popcorn. Our sales associates interact with customers in the lounge, joking with them, serving them popcorn and a refreshment. It is a GREAT place to work – and GREAT place to buy and service a car.