If you stop at Capistrano Volkswagen in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., on a Wednesday, you very likely will remember the visit.
The staff will be clad in purple, and the dealer will insist on meeting you.
Dealer Miles Brandon, president and general manager, loves the color and declared Wednesday 'purple day.' There is something to be said about a guy who passes out purple polo shirts to his staff. It stands to reason he's not afraid to make bold decisions about the operation he took over in June 1997. In fact, the dealership has experienced 300 percent growth since.
Why would anyone want to take over a bankrupt dealership that was next to another dealership that had closed? 'I liked the idea of being one of 20 employees and the chance to be more hands-on. It was like 19 little disciples waiting for me to lead the way,' says Brandon, 39. The chief now leads 70 employees.
The right touch
Brandon was a Portland, Ore., high school student when he got into the auto business by answering an ad for a typist in 1977. He advanced from typist to car salesman as he worked his way through college and became a certified public accountant.
After four years with an accounting firm, he returned to the auto business, working for Ken Nieman, owner of City Chevrolet-Volkswagen in San Diego. Brandon worked first as controller and later as general manager. 'He told me I had a five-year position (as general manager), and if I did well, he'd help me get my own store,' Brandon recalls.
When Brandon bought Capistrano VW, he was betting on both the return of the Beetle and Volkswagen's restructuring plans for the United States. He was right about the New Beetle's success and has done well in the Volkswagen system.
'Volkswagen expects me to be exclusive. I see a lot of value in having been a single-point store - the value of having total focus,' Brandon says.
While Brandon's peers add franchises, he prefers to concentrate on his departments. 'I've put all of my eggs in one basket,' he says. 'That's why I'm determined to shine in every aspect of the store, including used cars and rentals, to lessen our reliance on new-car sales.'
Capistrano Volkswagen is a top-10 VW Certified Pre-Owned sales outlet, and its rental fleet has grown from eight to 100 units in the past three years. In addition, the dealership provides free rentals, car washes and inexpensive oil changes for customers driving new and used Volkswagens for as long as they keep their cars.
'I tell customers, I don't want all of your money today; I want to earn all of your automotive dollars tomorrow,' he explains.
While Brandon remains loyal to Volkswagen, his employees come first. The company focuses first on great service to the employee, from which customer service follows.
PCs for sales staff
An example of putting the employees first is his policy of providing each salesperson with a personal computer, which not only helps the employee, but also helps sell cars.
'It's only common sense when you realize that 80 percent of our customers use the Internet before buying or leasing their car,' Brandon says. 'How can I sell cars to customers who are computer literate if my salespeople aren't?'
Brandon's goals are simple: He wants Capistrano VW to be a great place for his employees, and he wants to focus on customer loyalty. One of his most loyal customers, Michael Cutler, has generated 92 car sales for the dealership.
How did Brandon inspire such loyalty? While other dealerships were charging more than the sticker price for the New Beetle, Brandon simply charged the sticker price.
Brandon also has not forgotten his first break and remembers a promise made to his mentor, Ken Nieman. 'He (Ken) said, `The only way to thank me is to help a guy out down the road.' I'm committed to doing that.'