In northern New Jersey, when 'Jack Daniels' is mentioned, people immediately think of Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen - not Mr. Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey.
Jack Daniels III, president of Jack Daniels Motors Inc., opened his automobile dealership in 1972, after working for Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen of America, where he became a corporate sales manager for Porsche and Audi. In that post, he helped others open dealerships and expand franchises.
Then, his son Jack Daniels IV explains, 'he saw an opportunity to have his own business.'
So he chose Fair Lawn, N.J. Situated due west of New York City in Bergen County, Jack Daniels Motors is on Route 4, centered amid most of the major highways in the area. That gave the new dealership a broad range of coverage.
The dealership name was chosen sitting around the kitchen table with his family. Jack Daniels Motors had a nice ring, was approved by the manufacturer and the state, and somehow mixed American culture with the foreign product line. The name blended with the product, and quickly established a brand image.
Although one might think Jack Daniels Motors might have caught some flak over the dealership name from officials of the distillery, the opposite was the case. When the dealership opened, a representative from the Jack Daniel's Distillery was there to congratulate dealer Daniels on the opening. He even requested, and was granted, permission to set up a display about the whiskey in the showroom.
Meanwhile Daniels' sons, Jack IV and Mike, were growing up. Both attended college and played baseball in New Jersey. They also worked at the dealership, while their father struggled to gain a foothold 'in a period when the domestics dominated,' says Jack Daniels IV, dealership vice president. He and Mike realize the challenges their father faced.
Both sons have become part of the team, which also consists of 'our factory representatives' and dedicated employees, some with 20-plus years of service.
'If you treat employees fairly and support them, help them when they need it, they'll do the same for you,' says Mike Daniels, who is also a vice president of Jack Daniels Motors.
In the early years, the dealership brand was developed using billboards, newspapers, radio and direct mail, which reinforced the central location and community presence. Now, after 27 years in the business, a strong commitment to product and service and a repeat customer rate of 70 percent to 80 percent, the Daniels brothers call 'word of mouth,' their best promotional tool.
In fact, customer loyalty prompted expansion of the Jack Daniels image. In 1992, the dealership added Volkswagen 'to fill a void' and provide alternatives for our loyal customers,' says Jack Daniels IV.
Coming out of the recession, 'we found ourselves sending people to other dealerships to buy other brands,' he adds, and his brother smiles and recalls, 'But our customers would say, `We want to buy from you.' '
Today, the brand name Jack Daniels remains 'product driven,' and embodies 'quality, value and service,' Jack IV says. 'The challenges that we, as the second generation, face' are the 'manufacturers' increasing expectations and expanding service requirements.'
Billboards and community presence, often through involvement with charitable events, still promote the dealership's image and are boosted by the manufacturers' marketing strategies and the growth of the Internet.
The Internet helps increase brand image and awareness and should be used as a convenience, conducive to repeat business, says the younger Jack Daniels.
As for being a direct sales device, the Daniels brothers agree the Internet is a good tool for gathering information and for starting the decision-making process, but it removes the personal touch.
Because their personal involvement has been the cornerstone of the brand image, it's not surprising the brothers think it is important to continue 'building the personal touch.'
'Otherwise, you don't do it anymore, and you lose touch with your customers,' Mike Daniels emphasizes.
As for future expansion, the Daniels brothers are always open to opportunities. But they recognize the value of Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen and the benefit of having fewer, more effective dealerships. However, when considering new makes, Jack Daniels IV says, 'My father always told us it's OK to diversify, but don't dilute the product line.'
Plans were recently approved to build a Porsche showplace in Paramus, just east of the present operation.
Accompanied by their father's advice and friendship, their team loyalty and customer support, the brothers are committed to continue to enhance the exclusive brand image and to strive to be the best.