Sunday, August 3, 2003

McCluskey Chevrolet driven by challenges

Enterprise insight

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] At the Galbraith Road truck lot are Mike Kelsey, president (left), with Mark Meyers, national fleet manager (center), and Ed Cordon, commercial sales director.
(Tony Jones photo)
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READING - When you're a front-runner, how do you consistently stay ahead of the pack?

That's been a crucial question at McCluskey Chevrolet, Greater Cincinnati's top volume General Motors dealer for the past seven years.

What you don't do, said company president Mike Kelsey, is engage the cruise control.

"Our challenge is to widen the gap between first and second place; it's about being different," he said. "What are you going to do differently to raise yourself to the next level?"

The key is to apply the same kind of entrepreneurial attitude toward achieving long-term success that the dealership has used to transform itself from an undistinguished small-town car seller into a Chevrolet powerhouse. The entrepreneurial spark that has kept the company firing on all cylinders has come first from Dan McCluskey and then from his son, Keith.

When Dan McCluskey purchased the King Motor Car Company in 1973, the Chevrolet dealer's volume was 17th - dead last - in the market, and showed what the manufacturer calls "low planning potential."

"They sold an average of 34 cars a month," Kelsey explained. "Now we sometimes sell 34 cars a day."

McCluskey believed that his energy and knowledge of the car business could turn the dealership around. A few years later he realized he had another big asset: his son Keith, who joined the business following his freshman year of college. After working in various aspects of the business, Keith took over the company in 1980 and became, at 21, one of the youngest car dealers in the Chevrolet network.

"Dan realized that his son would be able to drive the thing," Kelsey said.

Keith McCluskey decided to increase his company's market share by identifying niches. Because of his experience in the service department, he believed there was potential in truck sales.

"When Keith and I worked together in service, we started getting some municipalities bringing in trucks and telling us, 'Nobody else knows how to fix these,' " said Mark Meyers, McCluskey's national fleet manager. "We asked them how they bought their trucks and learned how the bidding system worked."

McCluskey Chevrolet started taking part in the bidding process, and through sheer persistence began to win an occasional bid.

"We went from getting a few bids to getting most," Kelsey recounted. "We were on the map. Truck sales were the catalyst for us. As that aspect grew, we brought on other people."

Taking advantage of the fact that Chevrolet makes everything from economy cars to medium-duty trucks, McCluskey worked from the specialized market to the general, selling personal vehicles to satisfied truck customers and building a loyal customer base.

Since taking the lead in area Chevrolet sales, the dealership has sought to strengthen its internal systems to create a more positive experience for the customer. A major component is personnel.

Said Kelsey: "We needed to increase the quality of potential sales consultants in hopes of decreasing employee turnover, increasing the number of vehicles sold and increasing our overall customer satisfaction index. We also wanted to do a better job of retaining existing and past customers."

The company hired a full-time director of recruiting and full-time director of training and development, an unusual step for a single-location dealer. Kelsey said both positions have had a substantial impact on McCluskey's operations.

"In the past when we had a vacancy we put an ad in the paper, and 25 people would show up. We'd interview them, choose the best and give them some training on the job and hope they would work out."

Both the process and the expectations are different now, said recruiting director Todd Hudak. McCluskey Chevrolet uses Internet and other search resources to target candidates who have broad life and professional experience, and who mirror the car-buying public.

"What we're going after are people who want to excel, who want excitement. We want women, African-Americans, Hispanics," Hudak said. "We talk about expectations and give them the tools to be successful."

Training and development director Steve Stoll works with new hires as well as the existing sales force to ensure that they are familiar with all operations of the company and can establish a lasting rapport with customers. In the truck division, an outside sales group identifies and cultivates prospective customers. Car sales personnel see themselves as partners in helping customers find vehicles that meet their needs and budget. There is consistent follow-up after all sales.

To oversee the new customer relationship management system the dealership established a business development center, which monitors the process from customer inquiry to after-sale support. It also tracks and measures all dealership promotional activities and additional sales opportunities.

McCluskey Chevrolet's efforts to become a truly customer-oriented dealership were recognized this spring by USA Today and the National Automobile Dealers Association, which honored the dealership as the regional winner of their Dealer Innovation Award. Judges cited McCluskey's efforts to reduce employee turnover, increase employee morale and participation in training, and augment customer satisfaction and quality of service.

Said Ed Cordon, commercial sales director: "McCluskey does what most dealers don't do: put emphasis on their people and their product."

Gearing sales higher

In addition to maintaining its status as Greater Cincinnati's No. 1 volume General Motors dealer, McCluskey Chevrolet has also been named Chevrolet Motor Division's No. 1 volume dealer for customer satisfaction.

Keith McCluskey continues as CEO of his dealership, although much of the day-to-day operations are managed by president Mike Kelsey.

McCluskey's new car showroom is at 8525 Reading Road in Reading. Its commercial truck sales are around the corner at 555 E. Galbraith Road in Sycamore Township and its used vehicles sales are at 435 E. Galbraith Road in Arlington Heights.

Information: 761-1111.


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