ST. PAUL, Minn. -- How does serving Liberace a 3 a.m. meal relate to running a successful car dealership?
Sisters Sue Jacobson and Ann de St. Aubin became accustomed to late nights and putting customers first while working as teenagers at the Lowell Inn, their family's landmark hotel and restaurant east of the Twin Cities.
"Being part of a family business, we always need to be the example for everyone else who worked there," Jacobson said.
De St. Aubin said they now apply their mother's wisdom at the hotel to selling cars: Surprise customers with something special on each visit.
Today, Jacobson, 52, and de St. Aubin, 50, are putting in their late nights at Tousley Ford in White Bear Lake, Minn., which Ford Motor Co. confirms is one of the most profitable Ford stores in the country. Jacobson, who joined the dealership from Ford in 1984, is going on 15 years as general manager. De St. Aubin arrived in 1987 and is now general sales manager.
Executives at Ford and AutoNation Inc., which owns Tousley, praise their leadership.
"Whether it's customer satisfaction, whether it's ability to take market share, high repeat loyalty business or profitability, it's the best-performing domestic store we have in the entire AutoNation universe," company CEO Mike Jackson said during a June visit to the store.
Not surprisingly, Tousley is AutoNation's only store run by sisters. And it's the group's only store operating a longtime value-pricing model.
Jackson wants to spread value pricing -- which is market-based discounted prices offered up front, with limited room for negotiations -- throughout AutoNation. He sends executives from elsewhere in the company to Tousley to learn about the approach.
Said Jackson: "If I step back and look at what the customer wants, where the marketplace is going, there are lessons to be learned here."