Sometimes, a long-established business may be considered an institution, and sometimes it's an indication that it's time for a change. The latter appears to have been the case with Tallahassee Ford in Florida.
"Tallahassee Ford has been in Tallahassee since 1926. The store was in desperate need of renovation, so that's one of the first things we focused on when we took over in March 2003," says Ralph Avila, dealer principal at the renamed All American Ford.
Avila previously owned Ford of Pompano Beach, in Pompano Beach, Fla.
"The store's renovations made a major impact on the community, as did our immediate involvement with the community," Avila says. "We know that community involvement is a major reason for a dealership's success."
Dealership representatives are involved in a number of civic and charitable organizations, including cancer awareness, literacy programs, Boys and Girls Clubs of Tallahassee, Kiwanis and the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, he says.
In addition to renovating the main store, Avila and his managers also converted a satellite store into a stand-alone point called All American Ford at West Tennessee, also in Tallahassee.
While the dealership's physical changes may have been the most obvious changes to customers and passers-by, they are not the only reason for the store's sales turnaround.
"At our previous store, we had a full set of policies and procedures in place for ensuring customer satisfaction," Avila says. "We took those business approaches and implemented them here at All American Ford.
"We've trained all our staff - from management to the salespeople - on the importance of delivering the absolute best customer satisfaction.
"We made a 100 percent commitment to customer satisfaction, without making it a cliche. If our customers are not satisfied, we will not be satisfied. That's why our employees are empowered to fulfill that commitment to customer satisfaction. We continue to train our staff on satisfying our customers, regardless of cost."
Training is so important to Avila that he lists it as the key ingredient for any dealership's success - along with hiring new management.
"I'm sure a lot of people don't see an 8 percent sales increase (from 2002 to 2003) as a huge success," he says. "However, keep in mind that we achieved it at a time when Ford sales were down 3.5 percent."
Avila adds the following dealership results to his list of successes:
All results are measured against 2002.
"I give a lot of credit to our managers and to our staff for the results," Avila says.
The managers Avila mentioned were brought in from outside the Tallahassee area to provide a fresh perspective on the store's customer satisfaction and sales penetration results. While the new staff may not have been familiar with Tallahassee, they were familiar with Avila's business approach.
"The majority of the personnel I brought in were people who have worked for me in the past," he says. "Many were with me at the Pompano store, so they already knew we are committed to customer satisfaction and to their growth and well being."
According to Avila, having good people in place and taking care of them is a significant part of any dealership's success.
"Quality people who share your vision - along with a strong emphasis on customer service - will determine your dealership's success," he says. "Your people have to feel and act like they are all on the same team. The way your staff feels toward you will be reflected in the way they relate to their customers. So, the happier your staff is, the happier your customers will feel."
Avila summed up his business philosophy: "If you take on a venture like this, you have to commit to being fully involved and not take it for granted. When you stop doing the things that got you there, things can get out of control."