Service manager, BMW of Bridgewater
Jeff Defonseka, service manager for BMW of Bridgewater in New Jersey, worked his way up through the fixed operations ranks during an auto retail career that’s coming up on 20 years. His hope is to one day be a general manager, something management at BMW of Bridgewater supports.
That’s going to require more experience on the variable operations side in new- and used-car sales — and other profit centers. It might also require an advanced degree.
But he’s not put off by hard work. Defonseka earned a degree in electrical engineering going to class nights, weekends and online while working at another dealership.
Defonseka got his start in auto retail as a valet not long after emigrating to the United States from Sri Lanka with his mother in 2001 when he was 17 years old. He has spent his whole career in one service department or another.
“A lot of fixed ops guys don’t have any clue what happens in new or used, and a lot of people on the variable side have no idea what happens in service,” Defonseka said.
Defonseka said General Manager Mike Yates has been teaching him the ropes in other profit centers.
“Our GM has been a mentor for me since I started here,” he said. “He is very good at exposing me to the other sides of the business.”
In addition, Defonseka said owner Gailon McGowen sent him to the NADA Academy General Management Executive Program, which he completed in March.
When Defonseka first went to work at a dealership, “I was going to community college, and all I knew was that I loved cars,” he said.
Fast forward to today, and the service department Defonseka is running is plenty busy. Last year, Defonseka said the department averaged more than 1,000 repair orders per month. The department includes 13 technicians and a shop foreman, four service advisers, two receptionists, a loaner manager and a dispatcher, he said.
Defonseka has been service manager at the dealership since he joined BMW of Bridgewater in 2018. He was first promoted to service manager in 2013 at a different New Jersey dealership, BMW of Freehold. In between, he had short stints as service manager at a couple of other dealerships.
Defonseka said part of his success at BMW of Bridgewater has been a willingness to try new things, such as service pickup and delivery, videotaping all multipoint inspections and offering financing for expensive repairs.
“BMW repairs tend to be higher in price. A lot of people don’t have the money to shell out $5,000 or $6,000,” Defonseka said. “And if they can’t fix the car, they also can’t get into a new car because of prices the way they are. If I offer financing, it’s much easier for people to buy the repairs and get their cars fixed.”
Sharing videotaped inspections builds trust with customers, he said.
“We can show a person, ‘Here’s the one that needs to be replaced, and here’s what the one on the other side looks like — that’s what it’s supposed to look like,’ ” he said. “We also prioritize it: something that needs to be done right away or something that we can see is coming up but doesn’t have to be done today. It makes it so much easier for people to decide what repairs to get done.”
— Jim Henry