Published in Automotive News June 2, 2014
Merit Earl Fields was sales manager at Cadillac before becoming a Cadillac dealer on Chicago's North Shore in 1971. After his son, John Fields, quit a career as a contract-law attorney to join the car business, the duo began adding franchises: BMW, Saab, American Motors and more.
Today, Fields Auto Group sells 18 brands at 25 locations. The suburban Chicago company operates stores in Illinois, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina and British Columbia.
It sold nearly 20,000 new and about 10,000 used vehicles last year, generating more than $1 billion in revenue.
The founder's grandson, Dan Fields, is now president and shares ownership with his father, while his brother and uncle also hold positions at some of the group's dealerships. Dan Fields, 42, spoke with Staff Reporter Nick Bunkley.
Q: What are the biggest issues on your mind?
A: The technology that we're seeing in every area: diesel, electric, hybrid technology that's coming into the luxury brands, where most of our stuff is. That's a really exciting thing to see.
BMW has got some really neat products coming out in that area, using carbon fiber and new battery technology. I'm fascinated by the technology and think a lot of that will drive sales in the future -- the environmental aspects of the new products.
You just built a Chrysler store in Glenview, Ill., and are improving some other stores. What does that do for your business?
We have a ton going on. Right now we're building a new Land Rover store, and all seven of our BMW facilities are getting everything from a light remodel to a new building. It's costly, but it's an improvement. We're already ahead of the game with our facilities.
We believe in having real nice customer lounge areas and amenities. It's our goal to make it a nice, exciting, fun place to visit, which is the polar opposite of what it traditionally has been.
You must be confident of a good return on investment.
We need to make a lot of the investments for space reasons and for growth reasons, so there is a direct return. But we also believe that you do have to refresh the look of the building, and on the BMW end it's a warmer look.
Also, beyond just the structural changes, you have to look to new processes and new ways of doing business that just make the customer experience better and faster and be in tune with the new customers, the millennials, who want an experience that's a lot different from the traditional car-buying experience.
How are you helping your stores stand out?
I mentioned the lounge areas. We have in most of our large dealerships cafes that are really full-service food operations that serve breakfast and lunch and snacks. We have technology that recognizes when a customer enters the property so we can service them. We do a free car wash for anybody who buys a car from us, so we try to interact with the people as much as we can when they come in even for the free services, because once again we just want to get them comfortable with being at the dealership and make it a positive experience.
Everything we're doing in trying to build the new facilities tries to get that -- make it a comfortable, easy experience even when they're just there for something as simple as a free car wash.