Seated at his desk at his Hyundai dealership in Pensacola, Fla., in mid-February, Allen Turner was distracted. He was waiting for an email from DealerRater. The stakes were high. For the past two years, the third-party review site had named Allen Turner Hyundai as Florida’s Dealer of the Year for the Hyundai brand.
The rankings are based solely on the quality of reviews posted to the site by customers. Turner had made the solicitation of reviews — good or bad — a storewide priority, and he was hoping for a three-peat. When the message finally appeared in his inbox, the content exceeded all expectations.
“When I read the email, it took me a minute to decipher,” Turner says. “Once it sunk in — I’m an even-keeled guy, but I felt this sense of excitement in my gut I haven’t felt in a long time.”
The store did earn Florida Dealer of the Year honors for the third straight year, but the good news didn’t end there. DealerRater named Allen Turner Hyundai its 2016 Dealer of the Year for the entire United States, beating out more than 800 other Hyundai dealerships nationwide.
The award represents the culmination of a customer-service campaign that extends to every department and has been evolving since 1998, when Turner acquired the point, and has continued with the 2014 acquisition of the former Award Chevrolet (now Allen Turner Chevrolet) in Crestview, Fla., about an hour west of Pensacola. The two stores employ 169 people and sold a total of 2,787 new and used vehicles last year.
“It’s about the culture. There is no magic pill,” Turner says. “It’s 100 different things you do every day. Putting the customer’s needs ahead of your own is key.”
Checking the Scores
Turner says his first thought upon receiving the email from DealerRater was what the news would mean to his employees. He considered calling a companywide meeting but decided that he just couldn’t wait. One of the first to hear the news was Mark Rask, the store’s digital marketing manager.
“He called me up and said, ‘We got Florida, and how about the United States?’” Rask recalls. He sent a text to Chris Jones, Allen Turner Hyundai’s longtime general manager, who was off that day.
“I was excited,” Jones says, noting that he was surprised but not shocked by the news. Describing Turner as “competitive but down-to-earth,” he adds, “When he pushes for numbers, he’s pushing for customer-service scores.”
Turner’s philosophy is to sell volume, beat any competitor’s price and keep car buyers coming back by offering outstanding customer service and aggressively pursuing their service business. Extended factory warranties, vehicle service contracts and GAP coverage are part of the conversation on the show floor, in the F&I office and in the service lanes.
Whatever stage they happen to be at in the buying process or ownership cycle, Jones says, transparency breeds trust — and profits.
“We treat customers like they’re our relatives. We still negotiate, but we do it in a way that’s not browbeating,” says Jones, who has worked with Turner for 15 years. “Let’s not go back and forth. If there’s a problem, fix it.”
The Hyundai store’s DealerRater page currently boasts a score of 4.9 (out of five) stars. Incredibly, out of more than 1,100 reviews, only 10 are negative. In a recent negative review, a customer claims he was charged for an extended warranty he declined. In the follow-up section, he acknowledges the cost was removed.
Though rare, every negative review gets a response from a manager and an offer to resolve the situation. Rask says he and his team take time every Friday to go through all the reviews posted during the week.
“Our new-car salespeople are trained to stay in touch with the customer. That gets you more DealerRater reviews and better reviews,” Rask says. “They ask for feedback, good or bad, and provide a link to get the review. They know how to do it.”
Turner, 62, credits much of his success to the love and support of his wife and daughters, an early start in the car business and the strength of the Hyundai brand. When he was 12 years old, his father invested in a used-car lot in their hometown of Greenville, Ala. His father eventually sold the dealership, but he was “bit by the car bug,” Turner says, and there was no going back. He moved to Pensacola at age 22 and started a wholesaling operation.
The business was a success, but Turner says he found his true calling in retail. When he bought the Hyundai dealership in 1998, the South Korean brand’s North American operation was 12 model-years old and gaining market share, but it was still considered a riskier investment than its Japanese counterparts.
“Then, in 1999, we came out with the first 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty,” Turner says. “In 2001, we got our first SUV, the Santa Fe. In ’03, we got the Tiburon sports car. And throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, the quality, design, styling and fuel economy all improved.”
Allen Turner Hyundai enjoyed steady gains for more than a decade before the global financial crisis hit. But not even the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression could derail the brand’s growth. In January 2009, the OEM’s captive finance company offered “Hyundai Assurance,” a job-loss protection program, on every new vehicle. That summer, Cash for Clunkers brought a wave of new customers, and near-luxury buyers flocked to the first-generation Genesis. And when Hondas and Toyotas were in short supply following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, Allen Turner’s lot was full.
“They’ve been fortunate as a brand,” Turner says. “But you still have to build a better product with better equipment, and that’s the value proposition Hyundai brings to the table.”
The Year of the Employee
Turner states emphatically that every employee in the operation deserves credit for the DealerRater award. In return, he says, he and his managers have pledged to make 2016 the “Year of the Employee” at both stores. He wants Allen Turner to be known as the type of operation any sales, F&I or service professional would want to call home.
“When I put the word out that I need a guy, I want to take my pick of the guys in our area,” he says. “Just like customers have pain points, employees have pain points. We want to find new ways to recognize, compensate and involve employees on a deeper level.”
The stores are closed on Sundays, and every employee gets an additional day off each week as well as an early evening out or a late morning in. Jones says he won’t stand in the way of any salesperson who wants to come in six days a week, but the schedule is built to accommodate a 41- or 42-hour workweek.
“When I got into business in ’93, it was 60 or 70 hours a week going bell-to-bell,” he says. “This is a friendlier schedule and I think it may be more effective. … I worked at stores that were open on Sunday. You only sold four or five cars, and they typically had to come back on Monday anyway.”
“It’s a great place to work,” Rask adds. “And it’s good to have an owner who focuses on reviews. Somebody once told me, ‘There are a lot of review sites out there. Pick one and try to be the best on that platform.’ We did, and we’re really proud of that.”
Visitors to the Hyundai store’s DealerRater page are now greeted with two “2016 Dealer of the Year” badges (one each for the state and national awards) and a long list of five-star reviews. Turner says the badges are a signal to car buyers that they will be appreciated and respected for as long as they own their Hyundai, but that’s not the only recognition the honors have brought.
“I’ve had congratulations from friends, family, even church members,” Turner says. “Everyone says, ‘That’s a pretty big deal, isn’t it?’ You bet it is. To be No. 1 where the customers say it counts — not for selling the most cars or making the most money — that feels pretty good.”