BMW Customer Magazine Article
Article on dealership sales, service and parts departments written
by Richard Stewart for BMW "Nucleus" dealer magazine.
BMW Dealership With
a Service Philosophy
The BMW Store in Cincinnati runs a car wash
every Saturday for anyone who buys a car there.
No charge. Rain or shine. Every week of the year.
It's a hand wash, so the cars don't get scratched,
and it includes interior cleaning and vacuuming.
Added value to the customer? About $10 per wash.
Every car in for service gets the same treatment—a
thorough cleaning inside and out, plus a 30-minute
Quality Control inspection. Even just for an oil change.
Extended hours in parts and service—weekday evenings
until nine and Saturdays until six—add convenience for
customers. Cars are picked up and delivered. Service
customers are shuttled back and forth as a courtesy.
And it's not unusual for a runner to go out to change a
customer's flat tire.
Dealer Tom Schwartz has a simple philosophy:
"The success of the dealership will be determined by
the quality of the service we provide." That philosophy
hasn't changed in the twelve years since he opened the
store as a three-car showroom and four-bay service
facility. But just about everything else has.
Today The BMW Store can display 18 cars in its
bi-level showroom. The parts and service facility alone,
with its 16 bays, is larger than the original store. And
Tom, a BMW service technician for many years before
opening the dealership, is especially proud of The
BMW Store's reputation as one of the most service-
oriented BMW dealerships in the country.
Eliminating the Hassle for Service Customers
"We try to make every aspect of dealing with us as
easy as possible," he says. "We started our extended
hours in parts and service more to help our customers
avoid the eight and five o'clock rush than to make
money. And we're set up so that if a customer has a
quickie job, he can get it handled while he waits.
These are selling tools."
Tom wrote what he calls his service department
bible, a 40-page manual on understanding customers.
"I try to communicate to my employees the right way
to take care of a customer—as opposed to getting him
in, getting his money and getting him out."
He feels pretty good about the dealership's high
percentage of repeat customers—a good indication
that all the efforts are paying off. "We spend a lot more
money on keeping our existing customers happy than
we do on advertising for new ones," he notes. "I'm
sure that for a couple hundred bucks I can bring a
fresh 'up' through the door, but I'd rather use that
money on a free car wash on Saturday or a service
policy or something else to keep the people who are
already coming in the door from going away.
The BMW Store's marketing efforts, which Tom
directs, also go beyond the ordinary. Tom believes
in selling the store, not just the cars. "In our
advertising and promotions, we focus on selling the
added-value of what we offer a customer vs. just
the car," he says. "We made a decision to rub
people's noses in all the extra things we offer.
Nobody else is going to tell them what we're all
Service Questionnaire Yields Valuable Feedback
A service questionnaire asks customers about the
courtesy and professionalism of the service advisors,
whether the repair was priced fairly, if the customer
took advantage of the pickup and delivery service
or the courtesy lift, if the car was returned thoroughly
clean and repaired to the customer's satisfaction, and
if the customer was contacted after the last service
visit. The questionnaire also asks for suggestions on
how to improve service to the customer.
There's a sense of urgency in everything Tom does,
and he admits that that probably creates the illusion
of a less-than-smooth operation. "I carry a portable
phone when I'm out of my office because I think any
customer should be able to get me. And I feel that
when you're dealing with customers, it's critical that
you don't make them wait," he remarks.
In the morning, he'll be in the service department
talking to customers. He'll write repair orders. "I
spend most of my time wandering around and
interfacing with my people. Everybody knows that
I'm liable to show up at any time. They all want to
do a good job, and they want reinforcement from
me when they do. That's what I try to give them."
Training Program for New Salespeople
New salespeople go through a ten-day sales training
program designed to familiarize them with the
operation of every department of the dealership.
Emphasis is placed on product knowledge (through
1976 model year BMWs) and the store's service
philosophy. Developed by General Sales Manager
Andy Wilson, the training program aims to teach
a salesperson how to handle a deal from start to
finish and show customers all the ways that the
BMW Store is different from other dealerships.
"The training program has a little bit of
psychology, a little philosophy, a little on reading
body language, how people are reacting, knowing
when to back off, how to slow people down,"
explains Andy. "When a new-car prospect comes
in with a 1982 320i, we want our salespeople to
understand what motivated him to buy that car
eight years ago and what might make him click
After spending ten days in the program, the new
salesperson has a core from which to work. "Then
it's much like a football play: These are the moves
and this is how it's executed. You still need
someone to call the shots and coach you through,"
he acknowledges. "I see my role as the coach."
Used-car Department Grows in Importance
Andy has played a major role in building the
dealership's used-car retailing operation. "The
used-car end has become an important part of our
business. We used to wholesale as much as 60
percent of our inventory. Now it's probably two
or three percent," he says. "We keep everything
—non-BMWs too—and recondition them all. We
realized that the used-car department at this point
in the market has to pull the new-car department
"To make a lot of deals happen that wouldn't
normally happen, you need a used-car department
that can accurately appraise a car, know what it
will take to recondition it, what your total investment
is going to be and what you're going to get out of it
once you're done with it," he contends.
"If you build a reputation of selling a fine car, no
matter what make it is, it can only help you. The
used-car customer might refer someone else to us;
he might finance with us or buy an extended
warranty. And he might come back and buy a new
BMW. If you're willing to delay gratification and
realize that you can build a long-term customer—
and still make a few dollars up front—you'll see
the value in having a strong used-car retailing
Bringing New Prospects in the Showroom Door
According to Andy, each salesperson has targeted
a group of prospects of his choice. "They know
that when it's 20 degrees outside and the snow is
blowing around, very few customers will be
walking in the showroom door," he says.
Salespeople have to depend on relationships they
have built with their customers. "If they haven't
built the relationships, they're just prisoners of
the floor. If somebody happens to come in the
door, they get lucky. But what they bring in the
door themselves, they've worked for."
David Van Bemmel is one of five salespeople
at the BMW Store. He's been prospecting
chiropractors. "They're tough to get hold of, but
I'm still persisting because I think every one else
has given up on them," comments David. "We've
seen that a lot of chiropractors are in the market
for our cars."
In his sales presentations, David emphasizes
the high level of support the dealership provides.
"Everybody is so focused on the car and the
price that they forget they need somebody to
hold their hand for the next five years or so. I
try to come up with ways of introducing the
things we offer here that make people think
about them," he says.
"While we're out on a demonstration ride,
I'll ask them if they've ever had to put their car
through a car-wash machine in the winter. I say,
'Don't you hate what it does to your car over
time? Well, at this dealership, you'll be bringing
your car here every Saturday, and our detail
people will wash it for you by hand.' I try to get
them to think about the advantages of the support
In Service Department, Every Car is Inspected
Every car that comes into the service department
is checked thoroughly—fluid levels, tire pressure,
lights, the cooling system to make sure there are
no leaks—all part of the QC inspection. If
something is needed, the customer is advised.
Service Manager Mike Nolloth wants customers
to know about everything that's done for them.
"We have a sticky note that we attach to the
repair order, and we'll write something like:
'While your car was here, we noticed that it was
a quart low on oil. We topped it off for you. And
your tires were a little low. We topped them up.
Please keep an eye on them.'
"It's just to show customers that we're looking
Every service customer is called whenever
his or her car is done. A service advisor makes
the call, discusses what was done and explains
the bill. "We always try to communicate with
them before they come in. It makes the pickup
much smoother," says Mike. He plans to
purchase beepers for customers who are difficult
to reach during the day. Every customer is
called two days after the service visit to ask
about the work that was done.
A service questionnaire is attached to every
repair order. Mike personally calls every customer
who returns a negative service questionnaire and
tries to resolve any problems as quickly as
possible. Even people who come in for the free
Saturday car wash are given a questionnaire and
asked to rate the service department.
Maintaining Right Parts to Get The Job Done
Keeping the balance in the parts department is
Parts Manager John Zaffle. Having enough, but
not too much, inventory to take care of customers
isn't easy. "Sometimes you feel that no matter how
much you have, you still need one more part," he
confides. Like Andy in sales, John also sees
himself as a coach and trainer. "I spend a lot of
time running between the phone and counters,
eavesdropping, coaching. I try not to answer
questions with part numbers."
The customer service philosophy extends to
the parts department, too. "When we learn that
a part for a customer is going to be back-ordered,
we'll start calling other dealers. We have a
circular list, and we start moving out from here,"
explains John. "If you're willing to make some
phone calls, 99 percent of the time we can
handle the customer the next day. It's an
attitude—the willingness to try another resource
if your first method of attack doesn't work."
At the BMW Store in Cincinnati, that kind of
attitude starts at the top, with Tom Schwartz.
"I really believe that if I can make people happier
with their cars and with the relationship of
dealing with my dealership," says Tom—"if I can
add value to their life insofar as their car is
concerned—then I've done something worthwhile.
And that's corny as hell, but I really believe it."