Dom Genova knows how to stand out in a crowd.
When other car dealers were using gimmicks and stunts to sell vehicles, Genova, president and owner of Genesee Valley Motors Inc., bucked the trend and got people into his showroom using a transparent and straightforward sales approach.
Now he aims to take his approach nationally.
“You have a lot of dealers doing the strategy and tactics that are very close to carnival barkers. Push, pull or drag; nothing down; everybody gets financed,” the Livingston County car dealer said. “So, what do you do if you’re a solid, ethical dealer trying to do business in an environment where you’re supporting your customers and you have to compete with all this?”
Genova discovered many years ago how to differentiate his dealership, and it begins with honesty and integrity, he said. He has trademarked his “no-nonsense car dealer” branding.
“Why no-nonsense? We say that the car-buying public will increasingly gravitate to dealers with a supportive culture,” Genova explained.
His marketing strategy has been successful.
Genesee Valley employs more than 70 people at its Ford and Chrysler shops, up from the seven staffers Genova started with when he opened the dealership in 1993. In 2015, the dealership posted $65.5 million in sales.
An increase in business led to the need for expansion. Genova has added eight service bays to its Ford building to accommodate additional commercial diesel truck work. He expects to increase his staff by up to eight individuals as a result.
“People have come to depend on us to get their trucks fixed,” he said. “So it’s a niche that we’ve tried to take advantage of.”
Genesee Valley’s success has been recognized through awards, including an Ethie from the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation; a Better Business Bureau Torch Award; and an FCA Customer First Award for Excellence from FCA US LLC, formerly Chrysler.
An ethical approach to car sales is important, Genova said.
He classifies car dealers in three categories: the traditional dealer, who uses gimmicks and sometimes shady ploys to get customers in the door; the dealer who realizes a change is needed but is unaware of how to make that change; and dealers that have changed the way they operate to a more ethical approach but do not know how to market themselves.
Genova is reaching out to the third type of dealer, offering his marketing plan for a nominal franchising fee. He declined to disclose how much.
“We’re trying to get a number of dealers nationwide that are doing business the right way already, and they just need a way of articulating the message,” Genova said. “This is not a remedial thing. This is not something to take a bad dealer and make it good. What it’s trying to do is take a good dealer and give them a message.”
Through his new company, Next Revolution Strategies LLC, Genova last week signed his first branding franchisee, a Chevrolet dealer in Louisville, Ky.
“He’s pretty much mirroring what we’re doing already, but he doesn’t have a way of articulating it,” Genova said. “So we have a set of marketing tools that we will give the dealer.”
As a result of the marketing franchise deal, Bob Hook Chevrolet expects to see 10 percent growth in sales this year, on top of the dealership’s previously forecasted 10 percent growth. The company employs 105 people and last year sold 750 new vehicles and 1,100 pre-owned vehicles.
“Our situation in Louisville is we are a single point store and some of our competitors are much bigger auto groups,” General Manager Bob Hook III said. “They have ad budgets that are much bigger than mine. I’ll never be the company that can have the most advertising in the market.”
Rather, Hook said, the no-nonsense branding will help the family-owned dealership by cutting through the clutter and showing potential customers the business is different than others they have dealt with.
“Our message is going to be a lot different from what other people are saying,” Hook added. “I think that will get us noticed, get us on people’s radar for consideration.”
The dealership was founded by Hook’s grandfather in 1953. Hook’s father also ran the business for some time and still participates on a daily basis, though he has turned over much of the operations to his three children, Bob Hook III, David and Lauren.
The founder’s grandson met Genova through a friend of a friend, consultants who had worked with both dealerships.
“I’m in charge of our marketing and advertising here and I know what our store is about,” Hook said. “I know how our culture is different than a lot of other auto dealerships, but I don’t think I’d ever landed on the right way to explain that or articulate that to potential customers.”
The tenets of the no-nonsense sales message struck a chord with Hook. Genova defines the approach as offering a transparent sales and service process devoid of tactics customers find unpleasant, as well as subscribing to a holistic business philosophy that values long-term customer loyalty over short-term profit.
Charles Cyrill, director of media and public relations for the National Automobile Dealers Association, declined to comment for this story.
A different approach
Genova’s vision is to spark a revolutionary change in the automotive retail experience. A 2015 study from Autotrader found less than 1 percent of car buyers—17 of 4,000—prefer the current car-buying process to a new, more transparent approach.
The Car Buyer of the Future study contends that eventually, while the actual components of car shopping and buying will remain the same, the execution will look different. Convenience and shared control of the process will be essential to earning a car shopper’s business and loyalty.
Genova has been doing that for decades.
“We started advertising ‘real price’ and ‘real payment.’ That’s what set us apart,” he said. “We don’t get the cars cheaper, we don’t have a more convenient location. The difference is the way we sell cars. It’s no-nonsense.”
Genova does not try to sell customers things they do not need, he said. Genesee Valley does not offer paint sealant, fabric protectants or electronic rustproofing. And the dealership’s salespeople are not commissioned. They get paid a decent salary, Genova said.
“When I started reading into Dom’s message, the no-nonsense message, the standards and the promise they’ve put in writing for their customers, I said this fits our store and this is what I’ve been looking for,” Hook said. “We do business a lot like Dom does. It wasn’t a change we had to make here in our store. It was just a better explanation of how we do things.”
For their part, dealers who choose to franchise Genova’s marketing message are required to maintain and adhere to a set of core standards, which they set for themselves. Dealers are able to set their own no-nonsense processes, but they must be consistent with the brand. Dealers have to publish them online.
The benefit is satisfied clients and new customers via referrals.
“We’re talking about profitable growth; the power of referrals,” Genova said. “If I’m selling 2,000 cars a year and one out of every 30 people sends somebody else in, at the end of 20 years I’ve doubled my business. That’s not even advertising. That’s just making people happy.”
Hook and Genova rolled the no-nonsense program out to employees last week. Customers will start to see the message when Hook and his team incorporate it into their advertising in April.
Hook said he is flattered that Genova chose his family’s dealership as the first to participate in the franchise deal.
“I know that as he franchises this message and really looks around the country for other opportunities, he’s only looking for people who do it the right way and share a similar philosophy to what his store does,” Hook said. “We’re proud to be associated with it.”
Genova’s goal is to help a select group of revolutionary dealers thrive.
“In the end, the car buying public will be better served and revolutionary dealers will enjoy incredible sustained growth,” Genova added.
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