Shannon Harper had some big ideas for growth when he joined his father's Harper Auto Square in Knoxville, Tenn., in 2009. But his father's advice was clear: "He told me, we need to first focus on what we have here," recalls Shannon, vice president of the eight-franchise group. "So that's what I put my energies into."
Mission No. 1 was the fledgling Web sales operation. Harper had spent six months in an internship at Audi of America's national sales and marketing headquarters in 2007, where he worked in Audi's Internet department. He saw firsthand how the factory processed sales leads and tracked Web traffic, and how the top Audi stores in America handled the business.
In 2009, after graduating from the National Automobile Dealers Association dealer academy, he began to apply those practices at Harper's Porsche-Audi-Jaguar store in Knoxville. He set up systems for responding to sales leads and customer follow-up. He gave special attention to bolstering the stores' online reputation and customer satisfaction. In one program, he awarded sales personnel $250 every time they elicited a positive online dealer review, and another $250 to their sales manager.
"We received 200 positive reviews," Harper says, "and we've expanded our efforts to our other brands. My attitude is that, today, everyone is an Internet shopper."
Mission No. 2 has been managing growth. Sales at the Volkswagen dealership are up 66 percent this year.
Harper just oversaw a $1.2 million expansion of the showroom. The group's local Infiniti market share is running at twice the brand's national average. That store is also being expanded.
In June, the family was awarded a Fiat franchise for Knoxville. Harper will be in charge of opening that new dealership next year. "I'm working closely with my father on new ideas," the son says.
"We're not looking for growth for growth's sake. But we do see some new opportunities to do unique things, like with Fiat, while also taking good care of the things we already have."
-- Lindsay Chappell