John Garff, president of a 52-store Salt Lake City-based dealership chain that took in $4.3 billion last year, lists what Millennial car buyers want from a dealer: Convenience, transparency, technology, a positive experience and simplicity.
“These items come up in any research you see,” he says. He then adds: “But don’t we all want the same thing?”
No one disagrees during a panel discussion entitled, “Do We Hear the Customer?” at a recent American Financial Services Assn. vehicle conference.
Third-generation dealer Garff is head of an enterprise founded and named for his grandfather, Ken Garff Automotive Group. It operates in six western states and ranks No.10 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100, just behind another Utah-based auto-retailing powerhouse, Larry H. Miller Dealerships.
John Garff credits Millennials in their 20s and 30s for being “the first generation to articulate what we all want.”
He says each item in the 5-point list goes back to respecting car buyers’ time.
“Time is my most important personal asset, and I’d say that’s true for everyone in the room,” he tells the AFSA audience. “To connect with customers, value and respect their time. It’s what they want.”
Great customer relations “come down to being an expert listener,” he says. “Listening is the gateway to those five things. In reality, every customer is different. Listening lets you understand what each one wants.”
Garff was founder and CEO of Vehix.com, a market-driven, customer friendly way of using the Internet to assist in car buying. He did well when he sold the firm just before the Great Recession hit.
“John Garff was one of the first dealers to jump on the Internet,” says panel moderator Charlie Vogelheim, former executive editor of Kelley Blue Book and now host of Motor Trend Audio.
The AFSA audience consists largely of financial institution executives, many of whom believe the government overregulates their industry.
Garff elicits mild audience laughter when he says, “Regulations are friends, not enemies.” When the audience reacts to the notion of regulatory friendliness, Garff adds, “In many ways, anyway.”
He elaborates: “Regulations are there because they are the voice of the customer. They hold us accountable to do it the right way with the customer. So we need to deal with them.”
On another matter involving government involvement of a different kind, Garff speculates on electric vehicle maker Tesla’s future. “Look at the money they got from the government. When that goes away, we’ll see what happens”
Tesla, in running its own stores, bucks the traditional automotive distribution network of independently owned dealerships. Garff questions that solo strategy. “The auto industry is a big thing. You can’t do it all by yourself.”