CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. -- Jenkins & Wynne is an outsized dealership group. It says it was Tennessee's largest Ford retail dealer last year. Its Ford, Lincoln and Honda stores in Clarksville, Tenn. (population: 142,357), sold 3,877 new and used vehicles in 2014. It is preparing to move from its 11-acre downtown site near Austin Peay State University to new buildings under construction about four miles away on a 41-acre plot still in Clarksville but closer to Fort Campbell, Ky., whose Army personnel account for 35 percent of the group's annual sales.
Dealer principal Don Jenkins, 65, spoke with Automotive News TV Managing Editor Leslie J. Allen and Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell about some of the reasons behind his dealerships' success.
Q: What is Jenkins & Wynne's philosophy about employee tenure?
A: I learned a long time ago if you make your employees happy then they will make your customers happy.
When customers come into our store, they want to see the same salesperson, the same sales manager, the same service adviser, the same service manager, the same F&I person. They don't want to consistently be starting new relationships.
So we do all of our promoting from within. I don't have any managers here that came from another dealership. We grow our own people. It's a whole lot easier to train somebody than it is to retrain somebody.
On the normal sales force, if you have a salesman that's five years [with the company], he's a veteran. We've probably got at least 25 people who have been here over five years right now, and we've probably got 10 that have been here over 20. So we have lots of tenure in our staff in sales and service.
My general manager has been here 53 years. My parts and service manager has been here 37 years, I think. My parts manager's been here almost 40 years.
You have to pass four interviews to be hired at our dealership. We rarely advertise that we want to hire people. We do it by word of mouth. We try to find good people that believe in the kinds of things we believe in -- which is basically customer treatment. We want to treat customers the way they deserve to be treated.
How does Jenkins & Wynne spot the right ones?
I've always thought if I wouldn't invite them to my house, I wouldn't invite them to work here. We have four of us that interview, and of course we have lots of questions to ask, but we try to find out what they want. If they're looking for a job, we probably don't hire them. If they're looking for a career, that's the people that we look for. If they're open to learn our way of doing things, then that's what we look for.
I'd like to tell you that it works out every time -- and it doesn't, even as careful as we are. We have some people who don't make it long-term in our business. The car business is a tough business. We work a lot of hours. I work fewer hours now than I ever have in my whole life, and I still work 55, 60 every week.
How does Jenkins & Wynne keep them?
There's a very fine line at Jenkins & Wynne between an employee and a manager. It's just a very, very fine line. It's just a difference in responsibility.
We don't curse in the workplace. We don't cuss at each other. We have a 10-foot rule: If you're within 10 feet of a customer or another employee, we speak to each other. We're not a chain. We're a family dealership. This is one store and we all work well together. We work hard together, we play hard together and the good Lord's blessed us and made us successful.
You say you're determined to keep this an independent dealership. What if somebody makes you an offer?
I think the key is, am I ready to hang it up and go to the house? And I'm not. And my daughter, this is her future. She loves the car business. She loves our people who work here. Honestly, I wouldn't sell our employees down the road. They have all been loyal, hardworking and we've got a great team and it's not hard to sustain a great team.
My joy in this business is training people, helping them to be something they couldn't be on their own, and we've got lots of people in our store that mentor other employees and help them along the way, so it's a culture. This is not just a place where we come to make money every day. We enjoy what we do. We enjoy who we do it with.
Describe Jenkins & Wynne's return policy.
We have a 48-hour Love It or Leave It price and product guarantee. If for any reason a customer's unhappy, they can bring back a vehicle for a full refund on their money within 48 hours and less than 200 miles, as long as they haven't done any damage to the vehicle. It's not an exchange program; it's a money-back guarantee.
When did it start?
About 15 years ago, I went into a Kmart. I had a $5 item that my wife wanted me to return, and we couldn't find the receipt. I took it in, and they made me feel like a criminal. Three weeks later, I went to Wal-Mart, and I didn't have a receipt at Wal-Mart to return something, and it was no big deal -- they just refunded my money.
I thought to myself, "You know, we have customers in our industry that have the very same problems." And that's how we came up with the 48-hour Love It or Leave It guarantee because our company motto is "Our obsession is your satisfaction." I wanted to put our money where our mouth was.
Next, I wanted every employee that interfaced with any customer to be easily identifiable. So if they're wearing a coat like this they've got to have their name -- first and last name -- and Jenkins & Wynne on it. On our company shirts it has Jenkins & Wynne on one side, but it has their first and last name on the left side.
So we're clearly identifiable. And we're clearly accountable for any action that we take any time with any customer. On my business cards, I have my home number, my cellphone number and my work number, and I encourage them all to have the same things, because if our customer has a problem, we want to be able to take care of them.
Do you ever get phone calls at home at night?
Sure. And it's just another opportunity to long-term maintain a customer. Ford says that nationally the average Ford dealer has about 35 percent repeat business. Our repeat business is over 90 [percent]. We're very, very fortunate in that we work hard to retain customers.
Is the guarantee for all three of Jenkins & Wynne's franchises?
[Yes, and] used cars. Most people would never put it on a used vehicle. But why should I feel one way about a new vehicle and feel a totally different way about a used vehicle? If the previous customer says it's not a good vehicle, we wholesale it. We cherry-pick what we put on the used-car lot. But regardless, we have people that bring vehicles back.
They'll bring them back and say, "I can't afford the payments," "I bought too much car," "My wife doesn't like this one" -- any number of things. But the bottom line is they get their money back, and they get their trade-in back without any hassle from us. Almost nine times out of 10 they buy a vehicle before that day's over from us anyway. But the key thing is the next time they come to buy a vehicle, six months or a year down the line, they think of us because they had that positive experience.
I trademarked 48-hour Love It or Leave It in five states. We've had several people that tried to copy it, but the way we do it, without pressure on a customer, is different from the way anybody else would treat it.
How often do people take Jenkins & Wynne up on that?
We average selling 320 to 350 vehicles every month. It may happen four or five times a month.
But the difference is that the high-pressure salesmen who go from store to store, from hot product to hot product -- they're never welcome to come selling at our store. We have a nonpressurized sales approach at this store, and when somebody buys a car from us, they bought something not because we sold something, it's because they wanted what we sold. We present them the features and benefits of the product, and put them in a position to make an informed decision.