Jennifer Potter is a 37-year-old wife and mother who staffed and now runs a new dealership in the heart of the largest new-car market in the U.S.
Calling herself a “lucky dealer lady,” she's general manager of Miller Nissan in a new building on Ventura Blvd. in the northern Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills, CA.
The building, on a hilltop overlooking the 101 Freeway, is a Nissan “designer” structure with a spacious rooftop for new-vehicle inventory.
It is the latest outlet for publicly owned dealership chain Group 1, owner of about 80 dealerships.
“Jennifer is our first woman general manager, and we're looking forward to a great performance at Miller Nissan with her as leader,” says Ben Hollingsworth, chairman and CEO of Houston-based Group 1. “She has all the credentials one could ask for, and the new building is an ideal showcase for Nissan's exciting new products.”
She was finance director for Group 1's Miller group of import franchises in Van Nuys and Culver City, CA when she was tapped for the top spot at Miller Nissan.
Potter is the daughter of dealer Paul Wondries, owner of the Alhambra, CA-based Wondries Group that includes Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota stores.
“I was raised in the auto retail business,” she says. “But I never had to organize a team of managers for a brand-new store. The Miller brothers did all that at their Honda, Infiniti, Nissan and Toyota stores right from the beginning of import car sales in the San Fernando Valley 30 years ago.”
She has trained in every aspect of dealership management. But she says it's one thing to work in various departments of dealerships, even as a manager, and another to recruit top talent from scratch for a new store.
“You have to be able to impress guys and gals at other stores with your knowledge and dedication,” she says.
Pregnant when the general manager's assignment came her way, Potter interviewed 250 people for the 45 positions at Miller Nissan. She appealed to their competitive spirit.
She says, “One of my selling points in recruiting staff was the opportunity for winning customers away from other stores and, in doing so, enjoying the advantages in compensation that would bring.”
To lure customers, Potter has installed large Miller Nissan signs facing east and west on the 101 Freeway, one of L.A.'s busiest. The dealership has 22 service bays and seven technicians, and is looking for more to accommodate a growing maintenance and repair business.
Every month, Potter hosts a lunch for all her employees, many of whom are bilingual in Spanish and most of whom have worked at other stores in the sprawling L.A. market.
“Employee relations is key to our success, as well as sales marketing,” she explains. “Communicating with staff and customers, in their first language if need be, helps in the selling process.”
Potter has a bachelor's degree in fine arts photography from Pasadena's Art Center College and a bachelor's degree in sales and marketing from the University of Southern California.
When brothers Fred and Mike Miller sold their dealership group to Group 1 in 2002, along with the sale came the Ventura Blvd. land they had acquired in San Fernando Valley years before. There was no Nissan point in the West Valley, and Nissan North America Inc. was embarking on a designer building program that included financial aid for new or renovated dealerships.
The choice of the hilltop site on what Valley locals call the “Great Ventura” was an instant success. More than 100 new and used units were sold in July, Miller Nissan's first full month.
Potter says, “That's pretty good for a Greenfield dealership in a new area near such top sellers as Vista Lexus and Galpin Ford. But you know something? My goal is to be No.1 — outselling Nissan's forever No.1 store, Universal Nissan over near Universal City.
“One thing I learned at all the dealerships I've worked at is the value of being the sales leader. It's not easy in this market to capture customers, because of the terrible traffic problems, but motivation is everything to achieve maximum sales and profits.
“Longo Toyota is Ward's Dealer Business 500's No.1 dealer year after year, isn't it? If they can do it, being 30 miles east of here in El Monte, why can't we?”