Matick Chevrolet says hello to customers, hello to sales

Dealership relies on staff, improvisation to gain the upper hand

Matick Chevrolet
Location: Redford Township, Mich., near Detroit
Owner: Karl Zimmermann
Founded: In 1978 by George Matick
2013 new-vehicle sales: 2,022

It's not the 100-car showroom, high-volume Corvettes or massive new collision shop that have propelled Matick Chevrolet into the brand's top 1 percent of sales volume.

Rather, it is employees' obsessive approach to customer service, owner Karl Zimmermann says of the single-point store just outside Detroit.

"We have five other Chevy stores within 7 miles, and in this town, everybody gets the employee discount, so we can't compete on price," he says. "We have to offer a superior customer experience."

For starters, Matick Chevy works on greetings. Walk in the front door and head to the counter in the back corner. You'll pass several employees who make eye contact and greet you, but they wait for you to initiate further conversation. That's the norm throughout the building.

"Our rule of thumb is to greet anybody within 10 feet of you," says General Manager Molly Williams. "We're big on training." Top to bottom, employees recognize that a good customer experience is the dealership's edge, she adds.

Zimmermann, 49, says hiring is crucial.

"We look for people who are committed, who have a servant's heart," he says. "We value folks with integrity and a diversity of opinion and background."

Matick Chevrolet has a high- traffic location in Redford Township near the intersection of Interstate 96 and U.S. 24, and across the street from Detroit's west side. Neighborhoods on both sides reflect 1950s and '60s suburbs: grid-style streets with small, single-family homes and detached one-car garages on uniform 50-foot lots.

In 1978, founder George Matick converted a department store and connected grocery into a rambling dealership with 107,500 square feet under the roof and a massive showroom as his centerpiece and competitive advantage.

The dealership still counts on the area for repeat customers and takes pains to support Redford Township activities such as Little League, says Williams, a past president of the local chamber of commerce.

"Good employees need good homes," she says. "We want the neighborhood to be strong, a place where people want to live. What I love about Redford is its small-town atmosphere."

But with its high sales volume, Matick Chevrolet must also draw from other communities.

"We want to be a destination for car buyers," Williams says.

The high-traffic location helps. But I-96 is closed for reconstruction from the dealership 7 miles west until November.

"We're treating that as an opportunity," says Paul Zimmermann, general sales manager and Karl's younger brother. "The freeway is closed, but the detour means new people will drive past our driveway every day."

Employees will simply tweak the playbook from 2007-08 construction that virtually closed U.S. 24.

"We'll grin and bear it. Over-communicate with customers," Paul says. "E-mail alternate routes, confirm every sales appointment, offer to pick them up, even go to their office or home to demo a car."

Paul is Karl's only sibling to enter auto retailing. Like Karl, Paul worked in other industries before he joined Matick. He immersed himself as a salesman and used-car manager for five years before becoming general sales manager.

New-car sales have almost tripled since 2009. Paul Zimmermann credits his experienced 19-member sales staff.

"One's been here 34 years, another 20, and we have eight to 10 with at least eight years," he says.

But the Zimmermanns will improvise to gain an edge. A decade ago, a survey found customers considered the dealership's service expertise ordinary. So the store made Corvettes a priority, betting the required investment in service equipment and certification would boost the dealership's technology cred.

It did. And as 'Vette sales jumped from single digits annually to triple digits, the specialization also boosted overall volume and helped make Matick Chevy a buyer's destination.

Since last summer, the original building has been stripped to the bones, reconfigured and rebuilt to the latest green standards. Completion is close. It culminates a plan first drawn up in 1997. One that almost didn't happen.

When he sat down in George Matick's spacious, wood-paneled office in 1992, Karl Zimmermann was a frequent-flying young executive for Andersen Consulting. "I came to ask for his daughter Sarah's hand in marriage," Karl says. Matick was 65 and looking to sell his dealership.

"He was old school," Karl recalls. "I was young and a little full of myself."

Matick saw enough to offer his prospective son-in-law a job and a shot at becoming a dealer.

"The lure was a chance to own something," says Karl, who started in 1993 as a car-ordering planner.

The two often bumped heads. Four years later, as general manager, he wasn't certain his father-in-law would sell to him. But late that year, after Karl's team completed the dealership update plan, Matick sold him 15 percent, with a 10-year buyout plan. With three daughters, Matick wanted to create a liquid estate. Matick died in February this year.

"I thought I knew a lot when I got here," Karl says. "Now I realize how much he taught me."

The next challenge was timing. Zimmermann took full ownership in January 2008 as the recession was brewing.

"In August, my GMAC guy called to raise my floor plan [interest] rate 50 basis points and warn me to conserve cash," Karl recalls. "He said, 'If your roof leaks, don't fix it.'"

The makeover plan went back in the drawer.

But this year, Karl Zimmermann has covered every horizontal surface in Matick's former elegant office with construction blueprints, both for the dealership makeover and a new 38,000-square-foot body shop about a mile southwest.

The biggest change is the showroom.

"It's still Michigan's largest showroom," Zimmermann says. "But instead of cramming 162 cars in there, we're adding other features like a seven-car new-vehicle delivery area that lets customers drive straight out the front. We can still get 100 cars on the floor if we need to."

Matick Chevrolet
Location: Redford Township, Mich., near Detroit
Owner: Karl Zimmermann
Founded: In 1978 by George Matick
2013 new-vehicle sales: 2,022
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