Fiat of Austin not only delivers cars. It also delivers happiness.
So says managing partner Lisa Copeland who considers herself more in the people business than the car business and goes so far as to employ a “chief happiness officer,” whose job centers on customer satisfaction.
Copeland is an auto-retailing veteran (“I’ve done this for 27 years”), but she disdains the way cars were sold when she first got in the business.
“In the old days, we played the back and forth game,” she says. “It can’t be ‘I gotcha’ today.”
She got in the business by accident – literally. She was in a traffic accident, but had let her car insurance lapse. Studying fashion at the time, she spent more money on clothes than the likes of collision coverage.
She had to come up with the money to buy a new car. So she started selling them at a Texas Chevrolet store. It was a male-dominated culture and tough for a young woman. But she persevered.
She says she learned from “the old-way guys” what not to do as a dealership manager. She’s keen on employee satisfaction as well as customer satisfaction.
She employs a lot of women and Millennials, a mix that reflects the demographics of the store's customer base.
Many of the Gen Yers are not interested in becoming money-driven workaholics. “They’re happy earning $40,000 to $50,000 a year, which is a good living in Austin,” she says.
If a staffer wants a schedule adjustment to attend to family matters or go to yoga classes, Copeland will accommodate that “for the right person, and we do a good job of hiring the right person,” she says, adding she’s more apt to hire someone who expresses an interest in people more than in just cars.
The Texas dealership’s employee turnover rate is low and its car sales are high. It’s one of the top selling Fiat dealerships in the U.S., and also one of the first, opening in 2011. It is part of the 7-franchise Nyle Maxwell Family of Dealerships.
In 2012, Sergio Marchionne, the head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, visited the Fiat dealership because it was the first U.S. Fiat store to sell more than 100 cars a month.
Congratulating Copeland, he described her as “an incredible salesperson, an excellent manager and a dynamic leader, and what she and her team have achieved here is unprecedented.”
Copeland has created a website, Buying CarsHerWay.com. It offers tips to women on topics such as car buying, negotiating and vehicle ownership. It includes blogs and videos. Its point is to empower women consumers.
“I keep up with technology, but I’m still a believer in the human touch," says the married mother of two grown children, daughter Allix, a special-education teacher, and son JT, a fireman.