2012 Auto Dealer of the Year: Bill Perkins Automotive Group

Full Throttle

One of Perkins' Detroit GM dealerships

The team did the following:
– At one location, reduced headcount from 163 to 150 employees
– Invested $200,000 to increase the number of used vehicles from 30 to 45
– Instituted contests and other incentives to reward employees who achieved sales objectives
– Focused on customer service and competitive pricing. “If a customer is not able to get into the dealership for service, we will actually pick up the customer’s car at their home or work or wherever they are, and drop off a loaner car if needed, and we’ll take the car back to them–just to make it more convenient for the customer,” says Mark Montante, general manager of the company’s Taylor Chevrolet location.

These difficult but necessary moves helped keep expenses down while generating new revenues. And as surviving automakers re-emerged stronger, Perkins Automotive rebounded. “When you look at it from a business perspective, having fewer guys to compete against in a market, and then here’s a corporation that’s been able to shed a lot of its debt, allowing them to take their money and put it into new and improved products, it was tremendous,” he says. “I have to admit, I am in a much better position as a dealer now than I was before the GM bankruptcy.”

Though things were dismal, to put it mildly, Detroit slowly emerged from the worst of the crisis. In fact, 2012 sales are looking strong, according to George Magliano, senior economist at IHS Automotive, a provider of industry analysis, forecasts, and data on the auto industry worldwide. “The first quarter was excellent, well beyond expectations,” Magliano says, estimating that light vehicle sales for the year will reach $14.2 million. This is a far cry from the $11.6 million reported for 2010 and $12.7 million for 2011. “Outside factors like the U.S. economy or the global economy can threaten to derail this thing. But the strength of the industry that we’ve developed over the last year and into this year is excellent. We’re in terrific shape.”

In 2009, while reorganizing under bankruptcy protection, GM developed a rebranding plan. Called the Essential Brand Elements program, its goal was to enhance the customer experience. Under the program, dealerships would undergo facility improvements that included new entrances with updated signage; brighter, modern showrooms featuring a customer greeting station; and lounges with free Wi-Fi. GM, in turn, would pay dealerships a stipend to help offset the renovation costs. “They decided that, OK, we’re developing products that people actually want to buy. It’s not just about the deal and the price. But when you look at the marketplace and the facilities that those products are housed in, they need upgrading,” says Perkins.

Perkins Automotive invested $2.5 million to bring its two locations up to GM’s specified standards. A common entryway featuring the Chevrolet blue arches and gold bow tie was installed, glass windows running nearly floor-to-ceiling, and gray tiles of a specific dimension were among the renovations made. “They want the walls painted certain colors, so that when you walk into a Chevrolet establishment you know what you’re walking into,” says Perkins. Improvements were also made to lighting and furniture–all done while the dealerships remained open for business.

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