BackusFord is one of the older Ford dealerships in East Syracuse, N.Y., where the growth of the number of Ford dealers in the past decade hasn't reflected the area's shrinking population.
'The population of Syracuse is about 164,000 - down about 20 percent in the last decade - and we have five Ford dealers in town, and 15 within a 30-mile radius,' Bob Backus says. 'So we have to distinguish ourselves with brand awareness.'
To that end, Backus Ford devotes TV commercials not only to selling cars but also to strengthening its image as a full-service parts and body shop.
'We concentrate on the advantages of our facility and our shuttle service,' Backus says. 'With five Ford dealers in town (Syracuse), if you can't develop an image, you won't last.'
Backus realized the importance of consistent advertising when the dealership moved to a new facility three years ago.
'We spent a lot of money telling people we had moved,' he says. 'But a year later, people were still going to the old place before finding us and insisting they didn't know we had moved. We realized then that some messages must be repeated and repeated.'
The 22-year-old dealership has developed a reputation as a quality operation with good service, Backus says.
'In this area, our main competition is not from the local Chevy dealers but from the other Ford dealers,' he says. 'We have distinguished ourselves by selling not just our product but our service, and trying to build value to show the customer.'
Backus Ford advertises heavily, using image spots. The dealership has always been committed to community participation.
'We make donations to local charities and events; we buy playground equipment for kids and let people know that we consider ourselves part of the community,' Backus says.
Bob Backus' father, George, has held other franchises in other locations in the past, and he concluded that one well-run, well-staffed dealership was the most profitable way to operate, Bob Backus says.
'The biggest problem in being an absentee owner is getting capable people to run the business for you,' he says.
INTEGRITY AND SERVICE
Backus thinks the dealership's image has changed through the years. 'Years ago, we portrayed ourself as a big dealership that sold a lot of cars, and we felt customers would want to shop us for that reason,' Backus says. 'Now we concentrate on our image of integrity and service.'
A recent survey conducted by the dealership determined that price and the deal offered were the primary reasons for buying.
Backus Ford encourages customer loyalty by giving buyers their first oil change free. 'We also give them an owner's handbook, and if they have all their scheduled maintenance performed at the dealership, they get a $200 trade allowance on their next car - after the best deal is made,' Backus says. 'We charge it partly to service and partly to sales.'
Backus' aim is to introduce buyers to the service department, and take steps to keep them coming back.
'We know that the warranty dollars per vehicle are going down, and the only way to survive is to get more customer-paid labor,' he says. 'The average customer perceives that it's more expensive to do business in a dealership than to go to a quick-lube place.
'Ford says that's not true. We want to tell people that. To do that, we have put a price-comparison board in our service area. It shows the prices at various chain outlets and the fact that we are in line with them.'