At a management meeting several weeks before Dorian, Jason later recalled, the discussion over what the dealership landscape would look like in the next decade was grim. One fear: The very idea that brings Earl Stewart Toyota its success — giving customers what they want — could one day put it out of business.It may also be the key to survival. Disrupters such as Netflix and Amazon are often cited by experts as the models to emulate. But when it comes to interacting with customers, the Stewart family looks to Apple Inc. A large portion of the store's recent renovations was devoted to redesigning the sales floor to resemble a Genius Bar.
Desks on the showroom floor no longer have drawers and offer limited space for employees' personal belongings. Instead, they are given lockers in another area. The offices surrounding the showroom are similarly spartan, save for a few family photos behind desks. The unwritten message: Customers and their concerns should be the only things on the table at Earl Stewart Toyota.
In a sales meeting, Jason described his experience at an Apple store. While awaiting a repair, he heard an employee give a TED Talk-style presentation on the Apple Watch.
The salesman "is telling me what's wrong with my phone; I can't help but listen to the [presentation on the] Apple Watch. I don't have an Apple Watch. But after half hearing this guy, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get an Apple Watch," Jason said.
He wants to do something similar in the store, where salespeople would demonstrate the technology in Toyota vehicles. His brothers share that viewpoint. "My sincere hope is that we can really become experts because the cars are getting more and more advanced, just like our phones are," Josh said. "We could maintain our relevance in a quickly changing industry, by offering an amazing customer experience." In the meantime, there's a solid, if threatened, foundation to work from.
While the novelty of Earl Stewart's message may have faded over the years, the devotion to the concept — and the man behind it— still resonates.
"He'll actually say, 'I believe in my heart, if people knew what we did, that nobody would buy a car from anybody else,' " Stu said. "He's dead serious when he says that. He's not P.T. Barnum.
"I think that gives us a little bit of a leg up, the ability actually to achieve some of the things that we hope to achieve — because we've got a true believer at the head of the organization and buy-in from everybody else."