Gerry Lane is his own brand, a name that in 33 years has made him one of the most successful and recognized dealers in Baton Rouge and south Louisiana.
Even his competitor's 5-year-old granddaughter knows it.
After the youngster made an appearance with her school's pint-sized cheerleading squad, 68-year-old Lane gave her a hug in front of the fans, which included her grandfather, Cadillac dealer Sydney Duplessis. When she walked away, she was wearing a Gerry Lane Enterprises bumper sticker on her back.
'Name recognition is very important in the advertising business,' says Lane, who operates three dealerships in Baton Rouge: Gerry Lane Chevrolet, Gerry Lane Buick-Pontiac-GMC and Saturn of Baton Rouge.
'When you have more than one dealership and brand in an area, you can't establish one brand as the dominant one.'
Like all Saturn dealerships, his name is not part of the store's name, but Lane includes his name in his Saturn advertising and promotions. 'It's a wrinkle, but you overcome it in your advertising,' he says.
Lane picked his own name as his dominant brand name in 1968 after he had acquired a few dealerships. He started in 1966. At one point, he held franchises in several Southern states, but he later dropped all of them except his three Baton Rouge dealerships.
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Since 1966, he has been advertising the person instead of the vehicle, an approach that helped establish him as one of the top dealerships nationwide in sales.
Today, Lane's dealerships reach customers through the Lane Agency, which his daughter, Saundra Lane, runs. The advertising agency has other clients, but the dealerships are its bread and butter.
Most of Lane's advertisements feature satisfied customers, and his name - which is sung repeatedly in a jingle familiar to every TV viewer in Baton Rouge: 'You can count on Gerry Lane.'
Lane says all of the advertising has one goal: to make people familiar with his name. With other dealers selling the same makes of cars in the area, Lane wants his name to pop into the minds of car shoppers.
A survey Lane commissioned found that 90 percent of local respondents associated his name with cars.
It helps to have half of Baton Rouge advertising for him. Everyone who buys a car or truck from Lane and retains the promotional plate on the front of the vehicle (Louisiana does not require a front license plate) gets free oil changes and lubes for the life of the vehicle.
Lane doesn't stop there. In addition to driving his name all over town, he wants customers to say nice things about him. So he set up a department to contact customers four times a year by mail and by phone.
They get another letter after each service visit. Lane says he once had salespeople follow up, but high turnover made that ineffective.
Simple contact goes to the heart of modern car dealership success, Lane says. When he entered the car business in the early 1950s, the average customer was buying a new car every 17 months. Today, the average customer keeps a car for 10 years and three months.
Today's key to success, Lane says, is not so much to win repeat sales from a customer but to make customers so happy they help bring in new business. 'In 10 years, that happy customer will sell 60 cars for me,' Lane says. 'We feel he's working for us.'
The Lanes work at it as well. Lane, his wife and his children are members of 62 boards of directors in Baton Rouge, ranging from the local YMCA to the Baton Rouge Symphony. In addition, Lane sponsors youth sports teams and funds scholarships, shelling out $8 million during the past 12 years, he estimates.
'It's our way to give back to the community, and as it turns out, it also gives you name recognition,' Lane says. The strategies seem to be working. Thirty percent of his customers have bought from him before, Lane says.
It boils down to customer happiness, Lane says. If they don't like you or your service, they won't come back. 'People do business with people they want to do business with.'