Forget the notion that the larger the auto dealership, the slower the reaction time to adverse business conditions. The success of Hendrick Automotive Group, which represents 131 franchises, 21 collision centers and four accessory distributors throughout 13 states, proves that’s untrue.
The group just scored a victory as the top U.S. private dealership with the highest sentiment and visibility scores of all private and public groups reviewed in the annual Automotive Reputation Report. The report ranks dealerships’ online reputations and customer-service satisfaction. But the group’s real successes come from their quick-turn responses to customer needs.
“Many of our analogies are related to sports,” Brian Johnson, vice president-marketing for Hendrick Automotive, a sister company to Hendrick Motorsports, tells Wards. “(Dealer and founder Mr. Rick) Hendrick always tells us whatever is thrown at us, we may need to change the play. We may need to run a different play. And our teams do a tremendous job no matter what is thrown at them."
Like almost every other dealer in the U.S., the Hendrick dealerships had to run different plays when COVID impacted their business. Adding to the workload was complying with the federal, state and local regulations in the various states where they do business and employ more than 10,000.
The group opted to coordinate efforts from their Charlotte, NC, headquarters with point people at each location. They shifted operations as needed, such as selling cars under parking lot tents rather than in showrooms to comply with California mandates.
The group listened carefully to feedback from local customers and others throughout the communities as they shifted operations.
“We just refused to let all of the negativity and bad ideas out there prevent us from serving our customers,” Johnson says. “We stayed focused on serving our customers.”
They also stayed focused on their staff members, guaranteeing employees would be paid no less than 80% of their regular earnings no matter how long the disruption continued. That gave employees a true esprit de corps and prompted them to pitch in on whatever tasks were ahead to keep the businesses humming, ranging from traditional sales and service to complying with federal, state and local regulations. Requirements included everything from mask mandates to limiting the number of people in any given space.
“That’s why we got up to speed much quicker than anyone else – because we had our team in place,” Johnson says of resuming normalized business as the country began to open up. “We didn’t have to bring people back from furloughs or layoffs. Mr. Hendrick had the foresight to put a plan in place, and we executed it.”