Yet like many ideas that require major process changes, Korte said, it was placed on the back burner as the store focused on day-to-day needs.
Until the pandemic.
Serra Traverse City — part of Serra Automotive Inc., which ranked No. 22 on the Automotive News list of the top 150 dealership groups in the U.S. in 2019 — sold 5,196 new and used vehicles last year.
It had offered pickup and drop-off on a limited basis before the pandemic, Korte said. That accelerated in April, when its sales and service departments closed for two weeks — even though auto repair was allowed to operate under a Michigan order restricting some in-person business activity.
Korte used the shutdown to reorganize employee positions to staff the transportation department so it was ready to operate the day the store reopened.
The new department has seven dedicated employees, he said. They include some porters as well as a number of newer technicians who previously had worked as a dedicated express service team that Korte disbanded during the pandemic. Some of the express technicians became apprentices working alongside more senior employees, which Korte said has led to higher-quality inspections and a career path for newer hires to get to the main shop. It also allowed the transportation department to form without needing to add personnel or lose any existing employees, he added.
Customers who live within 20 miles of the dealership aren't charged for pickup and drop-off but can choose to pay for a rental vehicle at $20 a day.
Customers who live 20 to 40 miles from the dealership are charged $29.95 for pickup and drop-off, and that price goes up by $10 in 20-mile increments ($39.95 for 40 to 60 miles, $49.95 for 60 to 80 miles, etc.). These customers are given a rental vehicle for no additional charge, so they pay only the pickup/drop-off fee. That's a savings for the customer and more efficient for the dealership because one employee can drive the rental out and return in the customer's vehicle, rather than having to send two employees.
Korte is working on setting up reports and metrics to study how many people are using the service and its financial impact.