Apple Ford’s ability to keep Customers sets them apart from the competition.

Apple Ford in Columbia, Maryland decided in 2004 that their focus would be on providing a customer experience that would lead to maximum customer retention. Today, this decision is impacting every department in the dealership and has changed everything from new and used car marketing to the quick lane. “Not only do we sell more cars, retention has helped us to grow service, parts and body shop,” said Apple Ford President Chip Doetsch. “We are in the process of expanding our second quick lane to accommodate the volume we have and set an all-time record in parts and service last month. Our retention initiative has had a major impact and has become an engine that drives subsequent business to every department.”

Let’s begin with how Apple Ford got its retention initiative started. The dealership knew that to really excel at customer retention across all departments, they needed it to be a part of the company’s collective soul. Every employee during every customer interaction would need to embrace this new dealership direction. This is apparent in the first two sentences of the “About Us” section on Apple Ford’s Website. “At Apple Ford Lincoln, we want every customer that walks through our door to be a customer for life,” Doetsch said. “We know from experience that nothing beats a courteous and respectful experience when it comes to buying cars, and we strive for the best for every driver who enters our showroom.”

With a mission in hand, Apple Ford sought out the technology and a partner to help them complete this dealership transformation. The leadership knew that they needed more than just technology to really make a difference in their business. They needed someone with experience that had already seen the mistakes made and solved the issues that would arise. They found an experienced partner that could help them hands on at the dealership to train every employee on how improve the customer experience and maximize retention. They relied on this partner for not only for technology and marketing but to help every employee at every level feel confident in their role to deliver the best customer experience and build retention.

The benefits of retention at Apple Ford are seen everywhere. “Our more than 100 percent absorption allows us to be as price effective and aggressive as we want to be,” Doetsch said. “We are often willing to go further than other dealers just to get a new customer into our retention machine. We know the future value of that customer will far exceed a little extra money on a trade or a little larger discount. Our OEM volume-based incentive program helps, too. Retained or repeat customers cost less to sell, so our average advertising cost has declined dramatically.” Apple Ford enjoys a 42 percent share of the parts and service dollars available in their market for the brands, where most dealers in the area average 25 percent. This means that Apple Ford is getting way more than their share of the parts and service revenue in their area.

“Our whole brand is built off of the relationship program,” said Apple Ford GSM James Koser. “We added lifetime powertrain in 2012 and this really differentiates us from the competition both near and far. About 40 percent of our sales come from out of state. Our OEM can change the incentives three times a month. We like to be first to let our customers know and can have custom creative the same day. We use our retention system to pull the list, have creative produced, send an email to relevant customers and track performance for continuous improvement. For the customers who don’t act right away, the system will let us know if they visit our site later and notify us so we can contact them, answer any questions and invite them in for a test drive. Both our past customers and new prospects benefit and the dealership sells more cars and grows our customer base.”

In a nutshell, over the last 12 years Apple Ford has enjoyed tremendous growth by implementing a comprehensive retention system and working with the right partner that has helped and mentored them along the way. It has truly become the value differentiator for them versus their competition. They have grown every department in the dealership and now have reinsurance on every vehicle. If this sounds like a story you would like to tell about your dealership a few years down the road, you should look into starting a retention program at your dealership.

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Jack Garrity

Vice President Sales BIO

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