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Cross-Training To Customization: Clever Strategies Keep Anderson Of Lincoln In Tune With Customers

The ability to adjust and revise back-end business practices has kept Anderson of Lincoln, Neb. ahead of the curve for some time, both in profits and customer service. Roger Anderson began his first dealership in Newcastle, Wyo., in 1981, moving eastward to Nebraska in 1986. In 1999, Roger’s son Mike joined his father in joint-ownership of these dealerships. The Anderson Auto Group is now one of the largest Ford Dealer groups in the Kansas City region. This group has worked hard to develop solutions that are now increasing sales for the service department, accessories department and body shop.

Anderson’s service department has a total of 44 service bays—34 in the main service shop plus 10 in the Quick Lane. These days, said Service Manager Ron Scheinost, “It's not always about price.” The modus operandi is convenience and excellent parts. “There is a difference in quality of oil filters, air filters and brake pads,” he explained. “I think customers nowadays are willing to pay for that quality.”

Convenience is spelled out through the dealerships devotion to accommodate everyone. When a customer buys a used car, truck or SUV, “We guarantee the engine for as long as they own it and service that car with us,” said Mike Anderson, dealer principal. About 30 percent of the vehicles serviced in the Quick Lane are competitor brands or imports. Customers who own both a Ford and a GM car can easily get both vehicles serviced at the same location.

“Ford is a huge supporter of this,” said Scheinost. “They want us to be versatile and earn new customers by working on other makes and models.” In 2006, Ford Motor Co. presented Anderson of Lincoln with its prestigious President’s Award.

Quick Lane, which is housed in a building about 500 feet from the main service department, facilitates the in-and-out jobs that can fill up service bays and cause delays; simple tasks like oil changes, fluid top-offs and tire pressure checks keep the Quick Lane busy. Service or maintenance that can be finished in two hours or less is also sent there. If the work is more involved or under warranty, it is delegated to the main service bays. “A majority of dealerships, especially during the summer or right before the holidays, find it hard to get cars in and out for a quick oil change,” said Scheinost. “Our store policy is: no matter how busy we are, we never turn anybody away. I don’t care if we’re backed up on the hottest or coldest day of the year. We tell the customer, ‘We’ll work you in.’”

All technicians are as versatile as the 2-part service department because they’re cross-trained. If a driver pulls in needing a diesel technician, at least five people can do the job. While a franchise may normally require only one person to be versed in drivability, Anderson of Lincoln has six people cross-trained in it. “We invest a lot of money in training,” said Scheinost, who acknowledged that when a technician is away training, “You not only lose productivity; you are also paying for the technician’s room, board and transportation.” However, he believes their ability to accommodate everyone is worth the sacrifice.

With this extensive training, Scheinost’s team can also work on medium- to heavy-duty rigs. Their huge 20,000 lb. and 33,000 lb. lifts allow the shop to do a tremendous amount of commercial and fleet business. They can service every variety of truck—from the F-150s all the way up to F-750s. They also service ambulances and highway patrol cars.

Scheinost’s efforts for service and training have paid off with high CSI scores. The Anderson of Lincoln service department consistently ranks in the top 10 percent in the one-month, three-month and year-to-date ratings in the entire nation. “We’ve worked really hard to get into that top 10 percent,” Scheinost said.

“Access to records between dealerships in the Anderson Auto Group has done wonders for customer service,” Anderson said. All service data from all locations is scanned and stored in a digital, centralized file, making it very easy for advisors to pull up any customer’s service history. “The customer has the advantage, no matter which store they are at,” said Anderson, because they don’t have to explain any past visits. The rest of the dealership also benefits because employees can pull up signed purchase contracts or paid invoices.

Phone lines for every store are also integrated. Managers can quickly transfer calls between stores via the Internet. An employee in Nebraska can make a local call to a dealership in Missouri by simply dialing an extension—no long-distance costs or switchboards to pass through. “This improves the communication for us and makes our employees more accessible,” Anderson said.

In addition to the easy access to records and employees, the dealerships biggest asset is well-trained advisors and technicians—a result of low turnover rates. “Not having that turnover has really helped. You get to know the customers on a first-name basis and you build that trust with them. That is so, so important,” said Scheinost. He also added that the family-owned atmosphere attracts long-term employees as well. He said, “The stores next to us are corporate-owned; the employees never see who they are working for. At this dealership, the owners are involved. I think people like working for family-owned stores; it’s more personal. The key is also having the right players to start with.”

Above all, however, “One of the biggest reasons we have little turnover is that we try not to overstaff our service department. As a result, all our technicians are very productive. We’d rather be a little short-staffed and busy, rather than have too many people on staff not making enough money,” said Anderson. In an industry where turnover is a wide-spread battle, Anderson of Lincoln chooses its employees wisely with the help of individual personality surveys. An applicant must fit the dealerships desired profile to get a job.

Auto Customization Packages
Anderson of Lincoln blazed a new trail when they launched their auto customization business named Quantum Conversions in January of this year. The service began as an experiment after Dan Pearson, body shop manager, saw aftermarket accessory options at the 2006 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show. “I went [to SEMA] to look for ideas to set up a new accessories department in the dealership… I had the car customizations in mind, but it wasn’t until after I went to SEMA that the customization idea was put in motion,” said Pearson. Pearson sought out training to learn about new options, like glass roof installation, to provide more projects for the body shop, which added to their existing skill set.

They started slow, upgrading an orange Mustang, purposefully downplaying other features (like wheels) to focus on the color. It sold in two weeks. “We did another, waited ‘till it sold,” said Pearson, “then did another.” Encouraged by their immediate success, they started upgrading two cars at a time. The team added custom-made, flat black (non-reflective) racing stripes to one Mustang, careful not to detract from its’ red metallic color. It, too, was grabbed in a couple of weeks. “There was no advertising,” recalled Pearson, “They just sat on the showroom floor.”

Anderson was onboard with Pearson’s customization venture from the beginning. At first they ordered parts as needed, avoiding the costs associated with stocking inventory, but now that the demand for accessories has grown, he’s running the business a bit differently. Pearson explained, “We now stock accessories which have grown in demand due to our auto customization packages. For instance, we now stock shaker hood air intake systems because we sold six or seven in the last couple months.”

So far, Quantum Conversions has outfitted five Mustangs, two Ford pickups and a Fusion. Though no hard statistics are in, Pearson noted a steep rise in accessory sales when an upgraded car is on the floor. “I would guess we’ve sold approximately $15,000-to-$20,000 worth of accessories on the Mustangs alone, based on what people have seen on the floor,” said Pearson. So far, customers who’ve bought the cars are in their 40s and 50s; two have been women. Recently, Anderson of Lincoln opened a new accessories department on the showroom floor.

The Customization Process
Pearson chooses the car and then visually combs it for inspiration. He tries to visualize every detail and checks the Internet for new ideas. Next, the body shop maps out a strategy. While Pearson makes the primary decisions, his team executes the final plan.

“Stocking the car with details can be a detriment,” said Pearson. Separating himself from exaggerated trends, he sticks to his convictions: no body kits, no ‘fake’ accessories, nothing that wouldn’t pass for an upgrade from the factory. Pearson recalled once trying to work with a piece for the back window of car that didn’t line up perfectly. “We sent it back,” he said, “We aren’t going to try to force an option that doesn’t fit. It cheapens the look of the car.”

Pearson said he would like to get to the point where the body shop can offer 5-to-10 different customization packages. The customers may not understand the science of the process, but they’re certainly willing to pay for a one-of-a-kind ride.

Vol 5, Issue 7



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