Goes Forth in the North

Innovative marketing has kept Scott McNamara's three small-town northern Michigan dealerships on course during the trials that have beset Ford Motor Company this year.

ROSCOMMON, MI — Innovative marketing has kept Scott McNamara's three small-town northern Michigan dealerships on course during the trials that have beset Ford Motor Company this year.

“What we have done in Roscommon, Grayling and Gladwin is unusual for country markets,” says McNamara, 38, who took over a struggling Roscommon Ford-Mercury store in 1992. “We've developed website and leasing practices that foster customer loyalty, repeat sales and higher grosses.”

He forecasts sales of about 1,100 new and used cars this year for the flagship Roscommon store, on par with 2005.

Boosting the Roscommon store's outreach is a Lincoln franchise, awarded to the point several years ago when McNamara purchased the nearby Grayling dealership and transferred Lincoln over. A showroom update at Roscommon was the ticket for the Lincoln switch.

McNamara, who was a salesman previously for two Detroit-area GM dealers, attracts customers with an active website, www.macford.com. Its theme messages are changed weekly by De Johnston, the Roscommon store's Internet coordinator. The themes are often seasonally inspired and feature new-model introductions or invitations to check out the three vehicles in the showroom. Recently, they were a Ford Mustang convertible, Thunderbird and Escape SUV hybrid.

“We reach all over the Lower Peninsula, as far away as metro Detroit, and have even received inquiries and orders from Florida,” says Johnston, a mother of three teenagers. “Folks tell us they anticipate our next week's theme, and the idea is quite a drawing card to the website.”

Strong leasing is another practice McNamara has brought to Roscommon, a county seat town with about 1,000 residents. Business manager Todd Johnston (no relation to De) says Red Carpet leasing penetration has reached 80% of new-vehicle sales for all three brands, supporting customer loyalty and helping McNamara's stores retail even the highest-priced models on an affordable payment basis.

A wall board outside the showroom lists leases expiring soon in McNamara's customer base. Calls are made (often with the lure of “pull-ahead” payments picked up by lessor Ford Credit) by Nickie Hartman, who joined McNamara as business development manager after a stint at Roscommon's Chevrolet dealer.

“There are 25 employees here in Roscommon, 20 in Grayling and 15 in Gladwin,” says Hartman, “and many have been with Scott since he first started in these three towns.

“Scott built this place back from sales of only 25 or 30 vehicles a month and he's a real inspiring boss.”

Two newer employees are general manager Scott McCarthy, who joined the team in 2003, after a manager's stint at a Ford store in the college town of Alma, MI, and salesman Mark DeBusschere, first cousin of the late All-American basketball star of the 1960s and 1970s New York Knicks, Dave DeBusschere, a University of Detroit graduate.

Mark also has worked at a Detroit-area dealership, and says, “I'm happy to be at a successful dealership in a small town without all the big-city pressure.”

McCarthy says McNamara's marketing innovations in leasing, the Internet and in-house promotions like an annual antique-car show “have made it possible for us to outsell the Alma store, in a town ten times the size of Roscommon, year after year.”

“With a dealership as successful as this one,” says McCarthy, “we do run short of hot cars. We need more Lincoln Zephyrs and Ford Fusions because they're sold before they arrive.”

McNamara says he's looking for a big demand for the new Ford Edge crossover coming this fall and can't wait for the Lincoln Town Car replacement in 2008 — the aerodynamic MKS 4-door sedan.

“As you can see on our three showroom cars, what's hot is hot even in the north country, where there are more deer than people,” he says.

“The Internet makes a big difference, bringing in customers who are well-informed, so we've got to be on our toes all the time — just like back in Detroit.”

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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