"We're looking at this going, 'We can do this, and we can do a better job and keep the business in house,'" recalled Jim Moyer, vice president of operations for the dealership in Chicago's affluent northern suburbs. "At the end of the day, our bottom line is shrinking just like everybody else's, and we were looking for opportunities to optimize our income."
So far JAM Werks has produced about 20 Jeep custom builds, each of which has anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $15,000 in dealer-added accessories, Moyer said. A few were ordered specifically by customers, but most were dreamed up by Moyer and his team to display in the showroom.
Until they find a buyer, the vehicles, most of them Wranglers, show customers what the dealership can do with various Mopar accessories. JAM Werks has helped Fields more than double its sales of accessories, from $103 per vehicle in 2012 to $250 per vehicle this year. Counting accessory sales made after the original transaction, the effect has been even bigger, Moyer said.
Before starting JAM Werks, Fields -- the top-selling Jeep dealer in Chrysler's Midwest Business Center -- typically didn't perform any customization work more complex than light guards and other bolt-on items, leaving the rest to the factory or aftermarket shops. Now, Moyer said, the store does everything except powdercoat wheels.
Pat Dougherty, Mopar's vice president of sales and product development, said the company loves to see dealers undertaking such efforts to promote the brand, but few go this far.
"They've been a great dealer for us," Dougherty said of Fields and its parent, Fields Automotive Group, which has 32 stores in the Chicago area, Florida and several other locations. "The guys that are really good at this kind of stuff, they build a brand all to themselves and get a lot of people talking about it because they do unique things. We try and help them as best we can. The exposure is great."
Dougherty said accessories can help Chrysler and its dealers build customer loyalty by encouraging return visits and future vehicle purchases.
"People buy a Wrangler and they treat it like a house," he said. "They can't afford to put everything on it all at once, so they come back year after year."
Accessories also tend to have higher margins than many other revenue sources, so selling a few upgrades to a customer can increase the value of a transaction significantly.
Chrysler does not break out sales or financial results for Mopar, but Dougherty said "it is a profit pillar for the company." In addition, he said, parts and accessories "definitely help build the profit for the dealer."
To help get the word out about JAM Werks, Fields customized a Wrangler for the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation. Moyer said they chose the organization in honor of a friend of his who died in a 2004 car crash while on duty with the Chicago Police Department.
The vehicle, which has a retail value of more than $50,000, features a 2-inch lift kit, Katzin leather seat covers, a "police baton" shifter handle, 17-inch black aluminum wheels, a 50-inch light bar and custom-designed decals. Mopar donated parts for it, the dealership covered a portion of the Wrangler's cost, and its staff donated the labor to create it. Chrysler showed it on the Jeep stand at the Chicago auto show in February.
Eventually Moyer hopes to offer similar customization options for Chrysler's other brands. When the dealership moves next year into a 45,000-square-foot building that is under construction, JAM Werks will have a separate display area in the showroom much like Chrysler's actual brands.
"It allows us to come to work and do something different and be creative," Moyer said. "It really changed our whole perspective. It makes you feel a little better walking in the front door because you're not doing the same things every day."