Leigh's father began the business in 1952, and Jack joined him in 1970. In 1981 he added Mercedes to his product line, and since 1986 he has had total ownership of the business.
Q: Is it more or less difficult to deal with today's luxury client?
A: It's easier now than it's ever been to look like a superstar with our customers because people are constantly disappointed by the service they receive in [most industries] ... We don't have to send flowers or cookies to our clients for them to recommend us. We just have to do what we promise to do, to separate us from the competition.
The level of expectations, especially with our products, is elevated. We have a process to make sure we have the right people [on staff] who are educated about the products and have the right answers. When a problem arises, we take care of it. And we make things easy for [the client]; for example, if they need to go somewhere or if they need a loaner vehicle during repairs.
Women control 80% to 90% of purchases, especially in the luxury market. So even if she's not the main buyer, the woman certainly influences the end purchase. We have to be aware that we need to talk to both parties if it's a family purchase and make sure everyone's satisfied. I've seen where maybe the man pushes for a car the woman doesn't want. That's never, in the long run, a good decision.
Q: Describe your sales process. What is important?
A: The main thing we try to emphasize is to ask questions and then listen. Let customers do most of the talking. You can find out fairly early whether you're talking to a decision maker or someone doing research.
It's relationship selling. You hope that if you sell someone a car, they will be so happy with the service that the next time you'll have less [outside] competition, and they'll come to you. You have to do everything you can to make them stay happy.
Once, the day before the 4th of July, a French-speaking couple was waiting in the lounge. Their car had broken down nearby. It turned out they were from Belgium and had jobs with the Olympics [then being held in Atlanta]. The couple hoped we could patch up their car so they could get back on the road. I explained that the next day was a national holiday and no place would be open. I invited them to spend the night at my house and stay for our barbecue; then, on July 5, they could work out their transportation problems. I found them a trade-in car, which lasted them four years, and we still stay in touch.
Get to know [customers] personally. Our salespeople follow up with them. When I walk through my dealership I say hello to everybody there— employees and customers. I periodically ask questions and I get feedback from customers. I think that if I do this, then my people will follow my example. When the customer leaves, they've had a slightly different experience from what they're used to.
With my salespeople, the thing that benefits them most is having great product knowledge — about our own products and the competition's. We see what [the competition is] doing right and what they're doing to differentiate themselves. Nationally, the manufacturers want to have a brand image, but on the local level you need to become a brand ... It's not just selling one car to somebody, it's selling cars to everyone in their family and to their friends as well. They become advocates for you and help you sell every car you can.
Q: Similar to remodelers, car dealers have an image problem. What are you doing to change that?
A: People who are dealers now are professionals. The element that gave us a black eye is not as prevalent. [Dealers today] give back to the community. They are buying tickets to raffles, sponsoring charity events and golf tournaments, and providing cars for parades. You constantly need to be aware; you make your reputation every day. As soon as you disappoint [someone], you reaffirm whatever negative opinion they may have about you. You have to keep a constant vigil and eliminate problems as soon as they arise.
Q: From what sources do you get business advice?
A: I belong to a NADA 20 [National Automobile Dealers Association] group. It's one of the greatest management tools any industry can have — 20 geographically noncompetitive dealers. We don't talk pricing but talk about managing our businesses. If someone is doing something well you can get with ... them and talk about what they're doing. Plus it gives you 19 other sets of experienced eyes looking at what you're doing. It has helped my business tremendously.