General manager, Mark Miller Subaru Midtown
If the giant Larry H. Miller Group dumps a dealership, it must be a dog, right? Not necessarily -- as demonstrated at a store that was taken over by Jeff Miller (no relation).
When the Miller group unloaded its breakeven Subaru dealership in Sandy, Utah, in 2009, Mark Miller Auto Group -- again, no relation to Larry H. Miller Group -- snapped it up to augment its Subaru store in Salt Lake City.
Jeff Miller, Mark Miller's son, had been new-car manager at the Salt Lake City dealership and was named general manager of the newly acquired store. Jeff Miller took an outlet that was selling 45 new cars a month with $40,000 in customer pay gross, replaced 80 percent of the sales staff, and switched the dealership management system contract from ADP to Arkona. The store has doubled its throughput.
"We've made money since the second month," he said. "We'll make $750,000 this year."
He is a fourth-generation scion of the Mark Miller group, which started in 1953 with a Pontiac dealership.
While studying marketing and finance at the University of Southern California, Jeff Miller sold cars for local dealers Mike Sullivan and Steve Taub. He also interned for Toyota Financial Services, and that turned into a full-time gig as a bankruptcy analyst.
After graduating, he worked for a couple of health care staffing companies and eventually returned to auto retailing at his father's stores.
He worked his way up the chain: salesman, Internet business developer, F&I manager, used-car manager, new-car manager. Now he runs both Subaru stores.
"It just seemed like it was in my blood, but there was no pressure to do it," he said.
He is quick to share credit with his wife, Tatiana, for the dealerships' success. With no automotive experience, but degrees in psychology and organizational communication, Tatiana Miller became the comptroller and operations manager and instituted a new customer-service culture.
The new culture helped earn the store the Subaru Stellar Award for excellence in customer-focused performance, as well as the only Edmunds.com Five Star Dealer rating in Utah for any brand. Jeff Miller said Tatiana also helped him become "a better manager and leader."
The dealerships have also become more active in charity, improving their visibility in the community. They help sponsor the Ronald McDonald House, Boys & Girls Clubs and several homeless shelters. And Jeff Miller is a local media celebrity, hosting a weekly radio show.
"What makes us successful is we take care of our employees," he said. "If we take care of them, they take care of customers, and then we make money."
-- Mark Rechtin