Car Dealer Sees Himself as ‘Life Improvement Specialist’

Eric Savage says Freedom Auto Group sales meetings focus on giving and gratitude more than selling.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

June 10, 2016

3 Min Read
Car Dealer Sees Himself as ‘Life Improvement Specialist’

Eric Savage says he’s in the “life-improvement business.” Oh, he also sells and services vehicles as a car dealer.

The part about enhancing people’s lives “is validating to me,” says the president and CEO of Freedom Auto Group, consisting of four dealerships and six franchises in and around Harrisburg, PA. “More than any other business, I believe I’m in the life-improvement business.”  

Auto dealerships typically aren’t perceived as places people go in search of serenity and uplifting self-actualization. Car shoppers don’t arrive with rolled yoga mats under their arms.  

Yet Savage sees his role as a giving more than a receiving. Sure, he runs a business, and, he notes, enterprises exist to make money.

But he adds: “I make car buying fun and easy. We have a people-first core value, and that leads to giving vs. getting.”

He tweaked the company mission statement to reflect that, replacing “to” with “for,” consequently going from “We sell cars to people” to “We sell cars for people.” Says Savage: “See the difference?”

He outlines his unconventional business philosophy at a session entitled “Dealership Brand as a Competitive Advantage” at the DrivingSales Presidents Club conference in Miami Beach. 

“We understand we have to price to the marketplace, but this is not about money,” he says. “We can love people. You can do that as a dealer. And love is about giving.”

Obviously, despite the principles of generosity, it is to a certain degree about the money, not only for Freedom, but also the for-profit brands it represents: Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Toyota and Hyundai.

On the other hand, Savage says, “A way to improve a person’s life is to create value for them. Money can be the thinnest definition of value.”

Some of his effort goes towards trying to readjust attitudes of customers who think going to a dealership is like entering a boxing ring. They’re typically pumped for the big match, largely because Savage’s benign business beliefs don’t reflect a long-standing car-dealer tradition.

“Rarely does someone come in and say, ‘That’s a reasonable price, I’ll take it,’” he says. “They are trained as getters. We move from sellers to givers by creating value.”

He recalls telling his wife that adopting such a business style won’t make a lot of money, “but I’ll sleep better.” Turns out, it’s made a lot of money. “We’ve made more in the last two years than we did in the six years before,” Savage says. “We’re not in it strictly for the money, but it’s nice.”   

Getting the staff to the desired mindset takes work.

“We talk about this on a daily basis,” Savage says. “How do you create the spirit of giving? At sales meetings, we don’t talk about selling cars. We talk about gratitude. We live our mission.”

He adds: “I aim to provide an environment where our associates’ lives are improved by having a job that focuses on improving the lives of others.”

Dealership visuals convey the message in various ways. At the service manager’s desk is a sign saying, “How can I improve your day today.” Savage’s nametag says “Life Improvement Specialist.”

It might not work at every dealership in every market, but people who are familiar with Savage don’t doubt his sincerity.

“I’ve known Eric for four years, and this is not a PR stunt,” says Ron Henson, director-dealership strategy and development for DrivingSales.

But it is a base to build story-telling brand marketing on, Erik Radle, CEO of Miller Ad Agency, says at the competitive-advantage conference session. “Do you have a culture worth advertising?”

Consumers particularly value business practices reflecting gratitude, optimism and “you deserve more,” he says. “That makes for better branding than, ‘We’ve got stuff.’”

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