It would be an understatement to say that Fred Beans isn't your average car dealer. For one thing, his home phone number is not only on his business cards but also on signs in all 12 of the dealerships that bear his name.
'I want people to come to our buildings and feel comfortable but not know why,' says Beans, 61, owner of the Fred Beans Family of Dealerships in Doylestown, Pa.
'I want them to feel trust and integrity. To me, that name and number on the sign say there is someone behind the brand, a real person.'
His dealership group has been one of the most successful in the Philadelphia area for 25 years, and brand image has been an instrumental part of Beans' success. He and his entire organization work relentlessly to build and maintain an image of service excellence.
'Too many dealers depend on the sale of cars,' he says. 'We keep customers happy through service.'
A self-proclaimed 'plain and simple' man, Beans has achieved success through the back end of the business, and he is proud of it. The back-shop basics - the get-your-hands-dirty mentality and the service-above-all-else philosophy - have served him well.
Historically, Beans has been able to retain customers in a big way. He says about 73 percent of his business is repeat and referral business.
'We have worked hard to build a good name,' Beans says. 'As a brand, I hope we stand for honesty, sincerity and being good mentors to our employees, and being good to our community.'
Despite his focus on building a brand, Beans does not always use his name on dealerships. He lets the market area determine the store name.
In the Philadelphia area, Beans uses 'Fred Beans' for all 12 dealerships, plus the Fred Beans Collision Center and Fred Beans Detail Center, both in Doylestown, Pa. But he is co-owner of eight other dealerships in Pennsylvania. None of those carries his name.
Still, he acknowledges the power of his name as a dealership brand. 'I think the name has caught on because it is a simple name and easy to remember,' he says, adding: 'I'm not crazy that it is my name. The name thing doesn't drive me like it does other people.'
Beans is a mentor to his managers and employees. Since his employees and managers are the personification of the brand name, Beans works diligently to educate and inspire them, primarily through his love of reading.
Beans is a voracious reader, and he requires managers to read selected books and report on chapters during discussion groups. Inspired employees, trained with the best books in business philosophy, are likely to provide the strong service that is the hallmark of the Beans brand, the dealer says.
His focus on developing and training employees and managers is a key component to his business strategy.
Daughters help out
This year, Beans was nominated for the Time Magazine Quality Dealer Award by the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia.
But Beans is perhaps proudest of the fact that his three daughters have been involved with the dealer group. Beth Beans Gilbert, 36, is vice president and, according to her dad, has been instrumental in the growth of the group. Her father credits her with providing a strategic, visionary mindset to his old-style management approach.
His other daughters, Jennifer Keiser, 29, and Barbara Beans, 33, also are involved in the business. Keiser is general manager of Autorent of Doylestown, a company owned rental-car operation. Barbara Beans is in charge of fleet sales.
This next generation is charged clearly with retaining the company's customer service image and elevating it to the next level.
'I think that more than anything, the Fred Beans brand name means customer service,' says Beans. 'I'm proud of that.'