It's been a long time since a privately owned dealership invested in boosting customer satisfaction by enlarging his body shop and constructing a stand-alone store that sells detailing products and vehicle-tweaking accessories.
Robert J. Feeny, 50, is an innovative expansionist, to say the least, at his namesake Chrysler-Dodge dealership in the mid-Michigan city of Midland, home of Dow Chemical's world headquarters, with a city population of 42,000 and a county population of 82,000.
“I learned long ago the body shop can mean a lot in terms of satisfying customers,” says Feeny. “I've never understood why so many foreign-brand dealers omit a body shop. For us, serving all brands, the body shop is a ticket to conquest sales in a very tough market.”
Feeny followed up the body-paint expansion project, which included two paint booths and a special station for fullsize trucks and vans (like the Dodge Sprinter), with construction nearby of the 10,000-sq.-ft. aftermarket store.
It's called “Quality Truck & Auto” so as to attract all brands of vehicles for special wheels, stereo systems, mufflers, striping, detailing and the like.
“The Quality store is our attraction for the youth market,” says Feeny. “The team over there can find items for the do-it-yourselfers or do the installing. We're drawing customer from all over central Michigan.”
The major investment, since opening a modern showroom seven year ago, has been the body shop.
Body shop manager Chris Hale is one of the few females in charge of such a dealership facility and “helps keep us a preferred body shop in Midland County for the insurance companies,” says Feeny.
He says the new facilities are drawing customer traffic from nearby Best Buy, Kohl's, Home Depot and Wal-Mart stores.
“They've kept us on top of my 20 group in customer satisfaction ratings,” Feeny says of the facilities. “Right now, we're in the process of asphalting more customer parking spaces behind our building.”
“The additions are so attractive that I'm thinking of adding a body shop and accessories store at my other dealership” — Feeny Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep, about 100 miles north, in Gaylord, MI.
It's not cheap, Feeny says. “Like $1.9 million for the body shop expansion in Midland, but it's paying off already.”
His new-vehicle sales are up 10%, to about 700 units for 2007, and used-vehicle sales are up 11%, to about 500 units at the Midland store.
Feeny is bullish on Chrysler's future under private-equity Cerberus Capital Management ownership. He was invited to meet with Cerberus chief Steve Feinberg in Detroit and came away convinced the auto maker is “in good hands.”
“We've managed to keep growing sales, thanks to our in-house investments,” says the dealer.
Feeny takes a visitor for a walk along his dealership's “minivan row,” containing about 100 new Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan models.
“I bet we've got more minivans in stock than any other dealer in Michigan, but that's our biggest seller,” he says.
Feeny's brother, Dan Feeny, 55, is an “Alpha” Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealer in the Chicago suburb of Elgin, IL. Dan Feeny bought a Dodge franchise several years ago to round out Chrysler's trio of brands.
Bob Feeny hasn't been so fortunate in seeking to acquire Jeep in Midland so he can sell all three Chrysler brands. The Buick-Jeep dealer in town, Dick Waltz, has been reluctant to sell his Jeep franchise.
“Dealers hate to give franchises up,” says Feeny. “That's why we chose to take a growth path in different directions.”