Nothing is too lavish, or beyond reach, for what is possibly the nation's largest BMW dealership — especially the often-neglected area of customer satisfaction.
“We're growing in volume on a steady basis,” advises Alan D. Graham, general manager of the 180,000-sq.-ft. Erhard BMW dealership in metro Detroit, “but the sales leadership is not as important as our No.1 rating in customer satisfaction.”
Graham, a former Honda salesman who has been with pioneer BMW dealer Erhard Dahm for 15 years, says the dealership has become a dominant force in the 340-store BMW U.S. network with a customer “privilege program” that rewards sales and service customers with points good for the next vehicle purchase and service orders.
“Our customers accumulate Erhard BMW points like they do on department-store accounts or credit-card purchases good for airline travel miles,” Graham explains. “There are gold and platinum points in tiers, and the customers really enjoy the redemption privileges. A referral brings 500 points, and purchase of a vehicle gets $5,000 off.”
Another facet of Erhard BMW's appeal is the size and aesthetic glitter of the Farmington Hills, MI, dealership on the bustling Grand River Ave.'s auto row. The showroom is 180 feet long and can hold 24 new and pre-owned vehicles. Graham believes that's a BMW record.
The big and plush showroom is also a great entertainment venue. For the holidays, Erhard BMW entertained customers and guests with a six-station offering of gourmet food and Napa Valley wine, an event catered by one of the Detroit area's top restaurants.
Near the entrance to the palatial glass and European tile showroom, a string quartet from the Michigan Opera Theatre's symphony orchestra played Christmas carols, Chanukah melodies and Mozart works.
“This is what motivates our customers to enter and savor the ‘world of Erhard”, says Win Dahm, son of the 74-year-old dealership president and founder. “Beautiful surroundings, state-of-the-art vehicles and motorcycles, and a dealership experience that celebrates achievements and excellence.”
In suburban Detroit, there also is a smaller Erhard BMW dealership in upscale Bloomfield Hills, a Land Rover store in Farmington Hills and a BMW motorcycle franchise in Canton.
The Dahm family includes as marketing vice-president Win's sister, Angie Dahm-Hovey, and is proud of owning a destination site for dealer visitors from around the country. “Even Roger Penske (head of the UAG dealership chain) comes by all the time,” Win Dahm reveals. “This is where he got a lot of ideas for his BMW store in the North Scottsdale, AZ Penske auto mall.”
Moreover, Penske hired away the Bloomfield Hills store's general sales manager Jack Guthrie, to be general manager of the Scottsdale BMW dealership. “With Jack, they got one of our best brainstormers, but we wish him well down in the Phoenix market,” says Graham.
Erhard Dahm, a German native, was a self-starter as the first exclusive BMW dealer in the U.S., dating back to 1958 in downtown Detroit where he worked as a mechanic. Many dealers, especially in the Motor City, were loath to sign a franchise with the builder of rather spartan Bavaria-made sedans and coupes. But Dahm took the plunge.
“It was a struggle for him to sell against the Big Three in their home town,” says Win Dahm. “But he hung in there and began cultivating customers for life with the undeniable appeal of these early Bimmers.”
Another unique feature about the Dahm stores is that they were designed in-house, by buildings manager Ken Wiederstadt. The white and metallic-grey color combination is especially singular for northern dealerships. But, despite the size, the Farmington Hills edifice was put up at a relatively low cost: about $5 million, says Graham.
On hand for the holiday festivities was Erhard's newest hire, salesman Chris Quinn, 28, a former Dodge and Toyota salesman in Farmington Hills. Quinn was brought in to oversee Internet selling for the Erhard stores, an area Quinn says has “great potential” in the market the Erhard stores serve.
“This is a great opportunity in a growing brand,” Quinn declared. “A lot of guys and gals applied for the job, and I'm lucky to be on the Gerhard team.”