ROSEVILLE, MI - Dealer Jeffrey L. Tamaroff likes new ideas as well as old ones that work. That's how he and his general manager of 16 years, Rodger D. Lau, run the six-franchise Jeffrey complex in suburban Detroit.
As an innovator dedicated to employee training, Mr. Tamaroff, 45, is applying experience gleaned from the"family business."
His father, Marvin Tamaroff, 72, is a pioneer Buick-import dealer across town in Southfield, and it was there young Jeffrey got the expertise to go off on his own and take over a struggling Buick store at age 29.
"One of the main things I brought here is how important it was to keep employees satisfied, because they in turn keep customers coming back," he says of his namesake dealership.
"We were among the first dealers to drop 100% commission compensation for salespersons and give them a base salary of an average of $14,500, plus bonuses based on volume, total gross profit and customer satisfaction."
Once he turned around the Buick dealership, where new-car sales had plummeted to 25-50 a month, Jeffrey began a franchise expansion process that continues to this day.
It's led to con-struction of four modern showroom structures on a nine-acre corner. Nissan came ab-oard in 1985 and the 1990s have brought in Acura, Honda, Kia and now Daewoo.
"The added franchises, which have more than offset Buick's downturn, also present opportunities for sales and service employee growth," says Mr. Tamaroff. "We have five brand managers and 155 employees, compared to when I began with 50 employees, and all of the brand managers have been with us through many years."
The Jeffrey complex finished 321st on the latest Ward's Dealer Business 500, rolling up $79.9 million in sales and, Mr. Tamaroff adds, "all-time high profits, which we're surpassing in 1999. That's quite an achievement in a market with 23 other Buick dealers."
Mr. Lau, 49, oversees the "innovation" department. He ticks off a list of new and old concepts in place at the dealership:
* An e-commerce department, whose trained specialists will take customers off www.jeffreyauto.com and handle their transactions through sales, F&I and used-unit appraisal. Seattle's Cobalt Group is developing the Jeffrey Web site.
* Dealer Voice, a computer-driven reminder service making up to 1,800 phone calls a day to Jeffrey customers and former customers.
* Old-fashioned "greeters" at each of the four showrooms. They are middle-age women who welcome shoppers and answer questions before taking them to a salesperson. They keep a count on customer traffic for future follow-up.
* Installation last July of an Auto Credit Express office on-site, a new 20-dealership service expediting subprime loans so that customers can trade up their vehicles if they qualify for financing.
* Monthly owner service seminars, 24-hour towing, an on-site car rental facility, a "state-of-the-art" 20,000-sq.-ft. body shop and "reliance for customer follow-up on service managers themselves and not some customer relations person who steps on managers' toes," says Mr. Lau.
"These days, with sharper customers, a dealer has to be willing to try new things and reach out," he says.
Adds Mr. Tamaroff, "We have faced the problem of declining new-unit margins by investing money in the dealership so that employees can broaden out in their jobs, with a regular trainer (Al Deareallono).
"The 35 salespersons get a fine-tuned training process and it's a real pleasure to see how they improve, and how we have grown with them."