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Perks program lifts struggling store's satisfaction scores, sales

Jason Puga, general manager of Land Rover San Diego: “We have seen tremendous upsale from this in sales and service."

Published in Automotive News Sept. 1, 2014

Land Rover San Diego is rewarding big spenders with a perks program that offers Padres baseball tickets, dry cleaning runs, preferential service times and other goodies.

The program has helped boost customer satisfaction scores, sales of accessories and clothing and service revenues.

The VIP Platinum program was launched in December 2011 by Jason Puga, general manager, when he joined the then-teetering store.

The dealership was purchased in 2011 by Kuni Automotive, which operates 15 dealerships in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. The group hired Puga to turn it around.

Customers are invited to join based on their total spending on vehicles and service.

It's costly, but the program has boosted the bottom line, said Puga.

"We have seen tremendous upsale from this in sales and service. It works, especially when you have a relationship at this level, and you remind them they get discounts for parts, accessories and service."

The store's customer service ratings, as measured internally by Land Rover, have improved about 20 percent in the past two and a half years, Puga said.

The rise in revenues has more than offset the cost of having three employees dedicated to making concierge and other trips and handling the phones six days per week, he said.

Land Rover San Diego expects to sell about 700 new and 360 used vehicles in 2014.

From bad to good

"If you went to Yelp, Google, or polled customers in the service drive, there was a lot of hostility toward the previous owners," said Puga. "Our [customer service rating} was terrible."

First, Puga said, he improved loaner and customer care programs and spruced up the customer lounge. That helped, but it wasn't enough to improve the store's reputation and lure back buyers and service customers in bigger numbers.

The store isn't in a prominent location or near other auto dealerships. It's in a warehouse area, and the closest retailer is a furniture store, Puga said. But, it's also 7 miles from the most affluent residential area of San Diego, Puga said.

Puga said he and a dealership marketing employee called every Land Rover and luxury dealership they knew to find out what kind of services they offered. "We found a lot had services, but none of them combined them or had a one-stop phone number."

Puga set up the free VIP Platinum program and offered it to 250 customers who had spent more than $70,000 for a vehicle, service or both.

About 35 customers accepted the first invitation. The threshold later was lowered to $65,000, and there are now 435 members, Puga said.

Perks and freebies

VIP members don't have to wait for service appointments, and a loaner car is always available -- even for an oil or tire change. The dealership will go to a member's home, drop off a loaner vehicle, pick up the Land Rover or Range Rover for servicing and then return it when the job is done, Puga said.

Members also get discount coupons for service and parts.

The concierge service can run errands for the owner while the vehicle is being serviced, such as a trip to the dry cleaner or a dog drop-off at a day care center for pets, he said.

Another perk is roadside assistance. If a customer's car breaks down or is involved in an accident, one phone call will bring a concierge with a loaner car to the site. The customer can leave, and the concierge will wait for a service team or tow truck.

The VIP program gives free tickets to members for San Diego Chargers and Padres games, high-end charity events and other events. Puga estimates he has given out $20,000 in free tickets to his VIPs in the past two and a half years.

For a VIP member's birthday, the dealership's gift is a $250 interior and exterior detailing. Members also get a free car wash each month.

Puga also offers what he calls an "executive car finding service" that will locate a used car -- any make and model -- that a customer wants to buy.

The concierge service also makes restaurant and spa reservations, books transportation and helps with travel arrangements.

Puga said just 3 percent of the VIP members use these services.

Platinum perks
A sample of perks offered by Land Rover San Diego's VIP program

• Priority service appointments

• Loaner cars, even for oil change

• Free sports and events tickets

• Errands such as dry cleaning, doggie drop-off

• Free detailing for birthday

• Dinner, travel and spa reservations

You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@autonews.com -- Follow Diana T. on Twitter: @dianakurylko

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