Bert Boeckmann, president and owner of Galpin Motors in North Hills, CA, didn't start out wanting to be the largest Ford dealer in the country, let alone the world.
Yet, Galpin has been the world leader in Ford sales for 21 consecutive years.
Nor did his blueprint for success include Galpin Ford being No.11 on the Ward's Dealer 500 list or the 10-store Galpin Motors being No.54 on the Ward's MegaDealer 100 list either.
But focusing on superlative customer satisfaction in sales and service will get you there. It also will get you a kiss from Ford's CEO. More on that later.
Bert Boeckmann, nearly 80, started in sales at Galpin Ford in 1953 as a salesman. By 1960, he was appointed vice president and began buying out the Galpin franchise, founded in 1946 by Frank Galpin.
He moved the dealership to its current location in the San Fernando Valley, near Los Angeles, in 1966, and became sole owner in 1968. He kept the original name, figuring “Galpin,” would be easier for customers to spell than “Boeckmann.”
The family-owned Galpin Motors sells Fords, Lincolns and a number of luxury brands. It also runs the Galpin Premier Collection in North Hills, offering the high-end brands of Aston Martin, Jaguar, Volvo, Lotus and Spyker, as well as Mazda and Honda.
Galpin Motors, with more than 900 U.S. employees, posted $556 million in group revenues in 2010. Its Ford unit, alone, recorded $280 million in overall new- and used-vehicle sales.
“It's been really exciting for us, in light of all the issues in the economy over the last few years,” says Terry Miller, general manager of the Ford group and a 23-year veteran at Galpin. “We were up 70% in 2010 for Ford products.”
He's forecasting a 30% increase for Galpin's Ford sales this year.
Miller credits Boeckmann's leadership and philosophy for helping weather the economic storm that battered the auto industry in 2008 and 2009
“The key is in taking care of customers — and offering the deal,” Miller says. “He's very involved and has an unbelievable work ethic.”
Son Beau Boeckmann, who is involved in the family business, describes his father as “the most-honest person I've ever met in my life.”
The octogenarian doesn't particularly like change, “but he isn't afraid of it,” says Beau Boeckmann. “If it helps business, he's all for it.”
Miller says Bert Boeckmann's philosophy is alive and well throughout the dealer chain. The patriarch still holds weekly management meetings and is active throughout the dealer group.
Bert Boeckmann's innovative efforts keep Galpin ahead of the curve and earn customer loyalty, managers say.
“More than 85% of our business is repeat, referral and reputation, and that's been a constant for years,” says Brian Allan, general manager of the Premier Collection.
The repeat business is something Bert Boeckmann takes special pride in.
“When you talk about a dealership, we're just servants to our customers,” he says, adding that sales people should make sure to listen to customers, not just talk to them. “Every person is unique. If you do it right, you create a bond of trust with customers.”
Miller gives an approving nod to Ford CEO Alan Mulally and his leadership in turning around the auto maker.
“But another big reason for Ford dealers' success is the improvement in Ford products,” Miller says, contending many new customers are defectors from other brands.
It's no secret Galpin has contributed to Ford's success, particularly in southern California where domestic auto brands are hard sells to many residents.
Even though Ford shed its luxury Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo brands in the tailspin of 2009-2010, Galpin Motors managed not only to hang on, but improved its 2009 performance with those import brands.
Bert Boeckmann recalls a memorable Ford moment.
When Mulally took over the Ford reins in 2006, he made a special point of visiting with Galpin and his staff early on. He even tried his hand at selling cars at the dealership.
Mulally's goodbye after visiting the world's top Ford dealership also was memorable. “He's the only CEO in the industry who has ever kissed me,” Bert Boeckmann says.
A challenge for dealers is achieving proper profits, he says, referring to an industry trend of squeezed margins, especially on new-car sales.
It's even tougher in California, where the cost of delivering a vehicle to customers is an average of $500 more than in other states. “To offset it, you have to get higher sales volume,” he says.
His managers note their boss pioneered the concept of car leasing before it became an accepted industry practice. He also brought the sunroof, a European favorite, to California, ideal for its year-round outdoor weather.
He became a customizing pioneer by first creating “surfer vans” for the beach crowd, say Beau Boeckmann, head of Galpin Auto Sports, customizing arm of Galpin Motors.
“The conversion-van business came out of Galpin,” the younger Boeckmann says. “It started when a kid said, ‘If you put a carpet in that van, I'll buy it.’ Galpin had been selling 20 vans a month. That went to 120 when we started converting them.”
Galpin claims it was the first automotive dealership in the country to offer its customers and employees a full-service restaurant on the premises.
The Horseless Carriage opened in 1966 as America's first in-dealership restaurant and does a brisk business to this day.
It's an amenity, but it started out as a way to aid car sales. Bert Boeckmann noted that many couples, when considering a car deal, tell the salesperson they want to go to lunch to think about it. With a restaurant at the dealership, they needn't leave the premises.
Bert Boeckmann grew up in Glendale, CA, and studied business at the University of Southern California before gravitating to car sales 55 years ago. He never ventured from that.
His brother, Karl Boeckmann who started in the business with him, is a vice president of operations. Son Brad Boeckmann is a vice president, while Beau Boeckman oversees Galpin Auto Sports.
Bert Boeckmann and his dealerships have received more than 3,000 awards and honors for professional leadership as a result of extensive involvement within the community and the auto industry.
Top 500 Dealer Profile
|Galpin Motors, including Galpin Ford, Galpin Premier Collection and Galpin Auto Sports.
|Bert Boeckmann, president
|More than 900
|North Hills, CA, in the San Fernando Valley north of L.A.
|Total Group Sales Revenues
|$556 million (2010)