Eric Kinkead, 36
General manager, Victory Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep- Ram
Achievement: Stepped in when other managers were fleeing one dealership
Eric Kinkead didn't start as a dealership fixer or turnaround artist. But given his recent history with Fiat Chrysler dealerships in suburban Pittsburgh, the descriptions are likely to stick."I got forced into the situation, really," explains Kinkead, 36, now general manager of Victory Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in Delmont, Pa. "I got pretty good at keeping things glued together when things got bad."Kinkead had been the used-car manager at a busy FCA dealership in nearby Monroeville, Pa., in 2012 when the owner announced April 1 that he was selling the store that July. Kinkead had worked at the store since he was 19 years old."With the announcement came a mass exodus of the sales department senior management and more than two-thirds of the sales staff," Kinkead said. Two managers remained: Kinkead and the head of finance. On the sales floor, just four of 10 people remained, including two who were new hires."The store was left to fail with the sale agreement still about three months from finalization," Kinkead said. Somebody had to step up "or the store was going to fall apart." The outgoing owner turned to Kinkead, who began his own under-fire training in running a dealership while he tried to find warm bodies to fill his sales floor. He immediately pulled two of his lot attendants in and began training them, along with the 18-year-old son of the dealership principal.It worked, eventually. Thanks to long hours and a dedication to ongoing employee training, the Monroeville dealership's operations stabilized.In the crowded metro Pittsburgh market, Kinkead's feat got noticed. So last spring, when the small FCA dealership of principal Alysia Stephens and her father, Scott Cornish, began to struggle and then faced its own mass exodus of sales staff, they looked up Kinkead. They quickly hired him, first as an assistant general manager at Victory, and then as the store's general manager."The first month I started, we sold 13 new cars and 30 used cars," Kinkead said. "There were no managers, except for myself and another guy that was there. I think everybody thought the store was going to fail."First, he worked on finding the right sales staff, focusing his search on customer-service specialists and training them to have a deep knowledge of FCA's products. Then, with the support of Victory's owners, Kinkead told his staff the dealership would commit to three principles: honesty, clarity of pricing and great customer service.Kinkead cut the dealership's advertising budget by moving away from print and broadcast and going all in on digital.Kinkead said about 70 percent of sales now come from Internet traffic. "And as a result, we went from being a store that nobody talked about to being one that people are stepping up and recognizing," he said.
Larry P. Vellequette