John Hine Jr. believes the greatest lesson his father has taught him about the car business is the importance of consistent marketing.
'It's what has given the dealership a strong brand image,' Hine says. 'We're not just selling our services along with our franchises. We're selling our reputation as well. Otherwise, we are just one and the same as far as the franchises we represent. It's important to distinguish us from the competition.'
To that end, the Hine operation in San Diego has spent the past 40 years building a reputation for honesty and integrity and for being a comfortable place to do business.
'Our history in the community has led to the name becoming synonymous with the franchises we represent,' Hine says.
'For that reason, staff training focuses on educating employees to recognize what customers need and want today, which we believe is an effective and efficient place to do business. Our brand really represents fair and honest dealings with all customers, along with good communication.'
The idea is part of the dealership mission statement that promises commitment, caring and communication.
'Those ideals are paramount to us,' Hine says. 'Our everyday bottom-line pricing policy is an adjunct to our brand image. It started six years ago as a method of selling new and used cars and has evolved into our whole dealership culture for sales and service. We offer customers one price up front.'
Hine says the one-price approach has snowballed, too.
'The more customers we sell cars to in this environment, the more satisfied custo-mers we get, and our base of advocates grows,' he says.
To promote the Hine brand name consistently, the dealership uses the same logo and jingle instead of switching to new material every year.
'It's hard for a lot of businesses to stay committed to one consistent campaign or marketing philosophy,' Hine says. 'I'm not saying you shouldn't update your material or look at staying abreast of the marketplace, but I am talking about the core values of the business.
'You have to identify the core values, your mission, your vision of what you are trying to accomplish now and in the future. Once you have identified that and have that as your direction, it must be communicated to employees. We do that with a lunch at which we explain the management's and the dealership's ideals and philosophies to new hires. It enhances our brand.'
ECONOMIES OF SCALE
Hine has resisted the temptation to expand to other locations as San Diego has grown.
'We have stayed at one location to gain economies of scale,' Hine says. 'We may look at branching out sometime, but for the moment we are keeping everything here together.'
Hine believes the business still operates under the service-oriented ideals his father adopted when he became a Pontiac dealer in Alton, Ill., in 1942.
'We have always operated from the idea that sales sells the first car, but the service keeps customers coming back,' Hine says.
Today, the dealership has six pages on the Internet and updates them constantly.
'Our goal on the Internet is to keep customers on our Web site instead of going to other areas to research vehicles,' Hine says.
'We allow customers to build orders for cars, which is different from going online just to spec out a car. We view the Internet as another avenue of opportunity to get our message to our customers. It enables us to reinforce all the other things we do.'
Last year, the dealership changed its name from John Hine Auto Group and added the franchise names: John Hine Pontiac-Mazda-Dodge.
'We think it's important to try to reinforce an awareness of the brands we carry,' Hine says. 'Our Web sites are tied into the franchise Web sites. We have found that over the years our name has become synonymous with the Pontiac brand, so much so that most people who have lived in San Diego for any time associate the Hine name with Pontiac. We became a charter Mazda dealer in 1971 and have found it to be a strong brand, too.'
The dealership has one of the highest sales satisfaction indices in San Diego, which Hine attributes to the fact that more than 35 percent of all customers are repeaters.
He wishes more manufacturers would follow in DaimlerChrysler's footsteps to help dealers strengthen their brands.
'Their Five Star program is committed to enhancing the Chrysler name and the dealer brand image,' Hine says. 'And they don't award their Five Star recognition to just anybody; you have to be committed to the process of improvement. It's a quantifiable program that requires a dealer to substantiate the various processes.'