Auto retailing thrives on new. New vehicles. New marketing methods and advertising campaigns. And new blood. Meet the men and women who make up the fourth annual Automotive News listing of 40 Under 40 Retail: 40 up-and-comers who already are making their mark in dealerships. These individuals are applying the lessons of the past with the techniques of today to carry vehicle retailing into the future. And they're delivering astounding results.
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Seth Knighton's automotive accomplishments over the last five years in tiny Pryor, Okla., would look good anywhere.
The 35-year-old is general manager and managing partner of three dealerships in Pryor, population 9,500. Together, the three stores, which are 50 minutes northwest of downtown Tulsa, represent nine Detroit 3 brands.
Sales have grown from 270 new and used vehicles a month to an average of 380. Net revenues and profits have grown substantially as well.
Yet the most impressive accomplishment Knighton has ticked off was a six-month upswing in customer satisfaction at the group's Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram store: It went from worst to first among 651 dealerships in Fiat Chrysler's southwest business center.
"One of the things that took the longest to learn was how much we have to value our customer, and learning to do anything short of a crime to make people happy," Knighton said.
The secret, Knighton said, comes from realizing that drama and trepidation are natural when a customer considers a purchase. Deliveries at Roberts Auto dealerships are big events. When a customer buys a car, it is announced over the speaker system, the staff stops and applauds, and comes to congratulate the customer.
"Being in the car business, we forget how big of a deal it is to the customer to make a purchase that big," said Knighton.
A 2002 graduate of Oklahoma Wesleyan University with a degree in business administration, Knight-on started his automotive career selling used cars at an independent dealership. He sold a minivan on his first day on the job, he said.
Over his career, Knighton has gone from salesman to used-car manager to general sales manager. He became a general manager with Roberts Auto in 2010.
Though Knighton has had impressive success, he's confident the dealership group can improve.
"I think we can get up to 600 vehicles a month within the next six to eight months," he said. "Sometimes, the same things that will get you from bad to good are the things that will get you from good to great."