BEST PRACTICES

Luxury retailer is in for long haul

Group fetches cars in 5 states for servicing

A Bentley Continental is loaded onto a Midwestern Auto Group carrier for return to its owner after servicing. The valet operation began in 2009.
Midwestern Auto Group
Location: Dublin, Ohio
Brands: Audi, Aston Martin, BMW, Bentley, Ferrari, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Lotus, Maserati, Mini, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Volkswagen and Volvo
Best practice: Provides valet service across a 5-state region for customers of high-end brands who wish to have their vehicles serviced by the group. The fee is $250 on top of the cost of service.

Published in Automotive News Nov. 10, 2014

For six days a week, Tom O'Keefe is a truck driver. But while he's on duty, he also gets to fire up such exotic cars as the Lamborghini Aventador, Ferrari Enzo, Bentley Continental and Aston Martin Vanquish.

Living that teenage boy's fantasy is part of O'Keefe's job at Midwestern Auto Group, a 15-franchise group of mostly exotic and luxury dealerships in Dublin, Ohio, that offers valet service to its high-line customers. O'Keefe is responsible for carefully loading expensive and rare luxury and exotic cars and transporting them from the owners' homes, mostly in a five-state region, back to Midwestern for service.

Midwestern began offering the pickup and delivery service in 2009 and has expanded it to the other states since then. O'Keefe sometimes travels as far as upstate New York to retrieve customer vehicles for service appointments.

"Everybody is very happy we offer the service," he said. "It eases their day and they don't have to worry about getting the car to us or getting it back. We take care of everything."

After all, there's reason for a customer to fret: What if something happens to their $230,000 Ferrari 458 Italia on the way to the dealership?

Barry Lester, Midwestern's general manager, says the service is a key part of the group's focus on fixed operations as a way to stand out from competing dealerships.

That competition spans a wider territory when you're dealing with such well-heeled customers and the small number of exotic dealerships they do business with. By offering pick-up and drop-off service across five states, the group can cast a wider net to attract customers and keep its service bays filled.

"We do a couple of things really well here," Lester said. "One of them is service. We have one of the few award-winning Porsche techs in the United States; we have the best Lamborghini tech in the country and an award-winning Ferrari tech."

Lester said the group's owner came up with the idea about five years ago during the recession. After starting with one truck, the group now does about 100 pick-ups and drop-offs a month with three drivers and three trucks. The group charges a flat $250 fee for each trip, on top of the normal costs of the service visit, which for exotic vehicles can reach into the five figures.

Rather than the typical open-air car carriers that haul two levels of vehicles loaded end to end, the group uses covered car-hauling trailers to protect the six-figure rides from the elements.

Loading the exotics can be "a little nerve-wracking," O'Keefe said, especially the Lamborghini Aventador, a V-12-powered beast so wide that it leaves only a few inches of clearance on each side of the trailer.

All the exotic cars -- Lotus, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari -- are low, he added, so you have to be careful not to scrape the bottom.

The TLC from O'Keefe and the other drivers has paid off. Lester says that many customers have referred their well-heeled gearhead friends to the group, and word-of-mouth referrals are a key source of new business. He says the group's service retention rates for customers who live outside Ohio is up 73 percent since it started the service. "Most of these owners know each other," Lester said. "This is an elite group."

As for O'Keefe, who has driven a truck for more than 30 years, he's happy with his job, even if it means letting go of a dream ride after just a few minutes. "It's like an amusement park," O'Keefe said. "There's a new ride every day."

Editor's note: Midwestern Auto Group has 15 franchises. An earlier version misstated that number. 

Midwestern Auto Group
Location: Dublin, Ohio
Brands: Audi, Aston Martin, BMW, Bentley, Ferrari, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Lotus, Maserati, Mini, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Volkswagen and Volvo
Best practice: Provides valet service across a 5-state region for customers of high-end brands who wish to have their vehicles serviced by the group. The fee is $250 on top of the cost of service.
You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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