Customers who bought a vehicle from Hooman Toyota of Long Beach, Calif., were told they could get free oil changes, "tires for life" and other perks that the dealership said were worth nearly $7,000.
Then the dealership was sold, and the new owner declined to continue the perks. That turned the former loyalty-building "VIP" program into a big headache for the dealership groups on both sides of the transaction. The sudden switch-eroo prompted irate owners to vent on social media. A local TV station aired an unflattering news segment on the now-invalid offers.
The angered buyers include Adam Fukuyama, who bought a Toyota Tacoma just days before the dealership was sold and moved about two miles away. Fukuyama said the free benefits were a big reason the dealership got his business in June, a year after his brother bought a Tacoma there.
"I asked the sales guy if the VIP program would be honored if they moved and sold to new owners, and he said yes," Fukuyama, who posted a one-star review on Yelp for the store, now called West Coast Toyota, wrote in an email. "I asked a few times actually, and he said yes every time."
The dealership's new owner, Ken Garff Automotive Group, has been working to calm frustrations and win customers over since taking possession in early June. It studied the VIP program while negotiating the deal. Executives, realizing the change would be unpopular, proactively held coaching sessions with managers and trained front-line employees -- many of whom stayed through the ownership change -- on how to respond when people complained.
"What we do in our company is going to be different than what others do," John Garff, the group's president, told Automotive News. "If for every store we bought we adopted the prior dealer's differentiation strategy, we would be all over the map."
Ken Garff Automotive Group of Salt Lake City ranks No. 8 on Automotive News' list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S. with retail sales of 71,703 new vehicles in 2015.