EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been corrected to correctly identify the provider of business development center services used at Henry Brown Buick-GMC in Gilbert, Ariz. It is Traver Technologies of Houston, a business unit of ADP Dealer Services.
In the mid-1990s, Henry Brown expanded his Mesa, Ariz., Chevrolet store from a modest outpost on the outskirts of Phoenix into one of the nation's highest-volume Chevy dealerships. It sold more than 8,000 new Chevrolets for four straight years through 1997.
The next year, Brown sold the operation to Republic Industries, AutoNation's forebear, and retired, settling into a 340-acre quarter horse farm in Oklahoma. But the third-generation dealer soon got antsy. In 2004, he returned to Mesa to buy a Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealership. Brown moved the store, now called Brown Buick-GMC, in 2008 to nearby Gilbert, where he is transforming it into another volume monster. New-vehicle sales in 2013 jumped to around 1,800 from about 600 when Brown took over.
Brown, 69, credits much of his success to his business development center, an office in the dealership in charge of following up on phone and Internet leads, as well as contacting customers for everything from birthday wishes to lease-expiration reminders.
Although business development centers have been around for years, Brown says most dealers don't use them, partly because contracting with a third-party vendor to help operate one can cost $5,000 to $10,000 a month.
But Brown is a business development center believer. At Brown Buick-GMC, the center occupies a prominent office.
Brown is chairman of Buick-GMC's National Dealer Council, and General Motors touts his business development center as an example of how such an operation can drum up sales and keep consistent contact with customers.
Salespeople "want to rely on floor traffic, but that's diminishing" because most shoppers research vehicles on the Internet before visiting the showroom, Brown says. "So it's become vitally important to learn how to contact your customers through your BDC."