On Feb. 21, Steve Pleau, president of Future Automotive Group in Roseville, Calif., gained entry to an exclusive club: Pleau joined Bert Boeckmann, Vince Sheehy, Bill Brown, Sam Pack, and Brad Adkins as the sixth member of the Ford Dealership Hall of Fame. The only catch? He had no idea it was coming. Auto Dealer Today met with Pleau shortly after the big day.
ADT: Steve, congratulations on your induction. Was making the hall of fame a personal goal or did it just happen?
Pleau: It really just happened. I had no idea. I was attending the top 100 volume dealers’ meeting Ford held in Los Angeles. I didn’t know I had been nominated or would receive the award. I should say it was not such a surprise to my wife and son, who knew for two months. They typically only invite the dealer and their spouse, so when Geoff showed up as well, that was a huge surprise.
ADT: How did the presentation go?
Pleau: It was the final part of the meeting. We were invited up on the stage and they gave me a Ford Dealership Hall of Fame jacket and ring. And a Pro Football Hall of Fame player, Anthony Muñoz, who was maybe the best lineman in the history of the sport, he presented the jacket. The ring was presented by Ford executives.
ADT: Tell us about your operation and how you got started in the industry.
Pleau: I actually started in the industry at 16 years old, washing cars. My dad owned a dealership. I worked for him through high school and college. I got out of the service and worked full-time from 1969 to ’81 and, at that point, I decided I wanted to get my own dealership. I found a Ford dealership in the Sacramento region. My dad and I actually became competitors, but in a healthy way. We became minority stockholders in each other’s store. We did a lot of work together behind the scenes. Over the years, I bought a number of dealerships, and we now have eight locations and 12 franchises throughout Northern California.
ADT: What’s the secret to managing that kind of growth?
Pleau: You’ve got to have a good team. We are blessed with competent people who have been with me a long time. We have virtually no turnover in management positions. My philosophy is to try to hire the right people, train them, and let them operate. The business is too complicated for one person to run. Give them the authority to manage. We have policies and procedures, but we don’t mandate how each dealership markets themselves or design their pay plans. The Bay Area is a car market whereas the Sacramento Valley is more of a truck market. You have to give them the flexibility to do what’s right for their stores.
ADT: What is one thing about the business that hasn’t changed since 1969?
Pleau: The simple answer is how you take care of customers. When I first got in the business, it was made clear to me that, if I was going to make this a career, it was going to be on repeat business. We focused on customer satisfaction long before the manufacturers did. That’s one thing that’s never changed. That and taking care of your employees.
ADT: What is one thing you do at Future Ford you think every dealer should try?
Pleau: I don’t know about other dealers, but for us, because the industry has changed so dramatically over the years, we have decided to be very, very transparent in all of our operations. You will hardly ever see a closed-door meeting. We’re very open about everything, from sharing financial data with our management team to our weekly meeting with executives. We’re an open book.
ADT: I think of Ford as a dealer-friendly brand that nevertheless has had its challenges in dealer relations, including its experiment with factory-owned dealerships in the early 2000s. Is that a fair assessment?
Pleau: That’s fair, but I would say Ford is an extremely dealer-friendly brand. We represent multiple manufacturers, and with Ford, you have always been able to get to know management very well. That hasn’t changed over the years. It’s a very personable company.
ADT: What does the future hold for Future Ford? Any thoughts of retiring?
Pleau: I’m not anywhere near retirement, and we’re still trying to grow. I have a conversation probably weekly with another opportunity to expand our dealership network. I am very involved in the business and plan to be that way for a long time.