American Suzuki Motor Corp. has an ambitious plan to top 100,000 sales in 2004 - which would be a first for the Japanese company - and to sell at least 200,000 vehicles in 2007.
To reach those goals, the company introduced two cars in 2003 and will add a five-door hatchback, the Reno, and a wagon this year. The company plans to have introduced nine new vehicles by 2007.
Suzuki also is offering its dealers incentives to renovate or build stores and has added staff to the regional offices to help dealers with sales and advertising.
Jerry Goldstein, chairman of the Suzuki Dealer Council, owns Five Star Suzuki Automobiles, a two-store business in Altoona, Pa. He is the largest U.S. Suzuki dealer, with sales of about 1,000 new and used vehicles in 2003.
Goldstein says he wants to help Suzuki and its dealers rise from niche players to mainstream sellers of cars and trucks. "I want to give Suzuki back what they've given to me," he told Staff Reporter Kathy Jackson in an interview. "I believe in the product."
What do you think 2004 will bring for Suzuki and its dealers?
It will be an exciting year for Suzuki. We're going from a niche retailer to a mainline retailer. We have new cars, and they're priced right. A lot of dealers will look at that and become focused.
You don't think the dealers were focused before?
The factory has done a good job supplying us with new product. Now they're adding manpower to help us in the regions. Before Suzuki was shorthanded at the national and regional levels. Now they've doubled the number of people at the regional offices. That will give support to dealers who don't know how to do it.
Don't know how to do what?
A lot of manufacturers think the dealers know how to do everything just because they're out there selling, but that's not true. For instance, when I sold domestic cars, we got a lot of advice from the factory - like what colors to choose, how to order, etc. Suzuki never did that. Suzuki was too understaffed. They never told us how to do successful promotions. Now we're getting that advice.
What will be the biggest challenge for you in 2004?
We have to get people to walk into our showrooms. Marketing will do that. It takes good advertising. That's what Suzuki lacked. Now the factory has committed to more national ads.
The company says it will spend $100 million on national advertising this year. Will that be enough?
I believe so, if it is wisely spent.
Does Suzuki listen to its dealer council?
It was the dealer council that came up with the 100,000-mile warranty plan. The council came up with the Suzuki loyalty program, which rewards people for buying another Suzuki. We came up with the idea of a cash bonus to reward people who come in and buy a Suzuki. Now we have to continue to give them good advice. We don't want to be a complaint board but one that gives good suggestions.
What other new programs is the company working on?
The company is changing the ordering system so dealers can get their vehicles allocated quicker. The dealers need to be able to order their vehicles more efficiently and know how to order the right vehicles for their markets. If we can put all that together, we can double our sales.
You're talking about doubling sales, but there is a lot of competition out there.
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, but our biggest priority in 2004 will be to get customers in the showroom. I think once we do that, we can make the sales.
Are you depending just on traditional advertising to get them in the showrooms?
We're doing a lot of other things. The dealers are taking the cars to the malls, to fairs and to shopping centers.
We've got to do more about taking the cars to the people instead of waiting for them to come to us.
Are you satisfied with the new product?
I think this new Forenza (mid-sized sedan) is head and shoulders above the competition - and it costs thousands of dollars less, and we've got the 100,000-mile warranty.
The company has partnered with Nuvell Financial Services as the first step toward establishing its own captive finance company. How beneficial is that?
Long term, this will be a wonderful marriage. I think it's the best thing to happen to Suzuki. Having your own captive finance company is a big advantage because they can help you close deals.