The Ford-Lincoln dealership in Scottsbluff, Neb., had a miserable reputation and only five employees were left when Fremont Motor Co. bought it three years ago.
Its previous owner, who was arrested months earlier after allegedly vanishing with two managers and truckloads of inventory, had focused all of his resources on an attached Toyota store that was sold separately and moved down the street. Charges against the previous owner were later dropped.
On average, the Ford-Lincoln store sold just two new vehicles a month.
So Philip Brooker had a lot of work to do when he moved to Scottsbluff in 2009 to become the dealership's general manager.
Then a year later, a tornado tore off the dealership's roof.
But with the help of a showroom remodeling forced by the tornado and a staff that has grown to 33 people, Brooker turned Fremont Motor Scottsbluff into the highest-volume Ford-Lincoln outlet in its 60-store zone in 2010 and 2011, with sales of 20 to 30 new and 30 to 40 used vehicles a month.
"When we bought the store, all of their customer base was Toyota, and they basically didn't sell Ford," says Brooker. "In the first month we sold 10 new cars and were super excited. It went from one of the 10 worst Ford stores in that region to No. 1."
Brooker, previously the sales manager at a Fremont Motor dealership in Wyoming, began meeting with local groups and supporting numerous local charities in Scottsbluff to build relationships with residents and get to know the community. Scottsbluff is a city of about 15,000 in western Nebraska's panhandle, about 160 miles northeast of Denver. On some days, he spent the morning having coffee with area farmers and the evening at fundraising banquets. "We built a reputation on fair deals and we're a true community partner," Brooker says. "In a small town, when you're not part of the community, you're an outsider. There's not a million people to sell to, so you can't take advantage of one person. And you can't not help one person because it will get around."
-- Nick Bunkley