Truro Nissan Is Why People Should Love Car Dealers
There are certain inescapable truths in this world: bacon is delicious, man buns should be outlawed, and car dealerships endure a reputation of being a refuge for the ethically bankrupt.
I — like many others around here — am no stranger to witnessing the unscrupulous debauchery occurring on some showroom floors. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and a fledgling dealer in small-market rural Canada puts the lie to the claim that backwards thinking is a trait of all car dealerships. There are bright spots out there, as proven by the team at Truro Nissan.
It’s difficult enough to start up any business these days, let alone build a car dealership from scratch in a small market.
Nevertheless, that’s what the dealer principal of an existing Fiat Chrysler Automobiles store did when a field near the region’s busiest highway interchange cropped up for sale. A flurry of land clearing and construction ensued, resulting in a shiny new Truro Nissan dealer ready for business in the first quarter of 2015. Compared to larger centers, this is not a large operation: fourteen staff in total. That’s everyone – sales, parts, and service. I’ve been in dealers whose sales staff alone outstrip that number. Heck, cows from the farm next door wander onto this lot from time to time.
The biggest question facing them, then, was how to stand out in a crowded business, especially one in which public opinion often hovers somewhere between tax preparation and getting a root canal. Partnering with local athletes in areas of motorcross and freestyle skiing certainly helps, as does pairing with the tractor dealership down the road to demonstrate towing prowess.
“But, Matt!”, you cry, hurling expired Vachon cakes in my general direction, “This stuff’s old news. It’s all been done!” True, but the key here is why it’s being done. Led by this dealer’s forward-thinking general manager, and absent of traditional dealer cynicism, these marketing efforts come across as genuine collaborations designed to improve the fortunes of both parties, not a cynical attempt to grab the spotlight and make some cash.
That they’ve formed an initiative for fitness and healthy eating for their employees is well worth mentioning. I will take this opportunity to contrast this to the dealership in which I toiled where, upon being asked to chip in for a refrigerator so we could store our lunches, the dealer principal replied, “I pay the electricity bill. That’s my contribution.” (After which he made sure his own lunch took up more space in the fridge than anyone else’s. I kid you not.)
You know another thing I noticed? Most of the general managers I know choose to have their office up on the mezzanine, where they can peer (and sneer) down on the showroom floor like a hawk stalking its prey. At Truro Nissan, the GM, Erik Muckle, has elected to take a small office over by the service department, so close to the garage that the whine of car lifts and jackhammering of impact guns are routinely heard through the office walls. A giant MOTOR VEHICLE INSPECTION STATION blocks the daylight though his lone window. If the place was still under construction, I’d chalk it up as a temporary solution, but it isn’t. Prime office space exists, yet Erik plunks himself down in the thick of things, taking an active role and making himself freely available to staff.
This goes beyond birthday-cake-in-the-boardroom comradery and an active social media presence, although the latter is an essential advertising tool sorely underutilized by most dealers. Sure, it’s easy to post pictures of customers and their new rides, but when the GM takes an active role in social media by, say, frequently doing a (hands-free) Facebook Live broadcast on his way to work in the morning, or encouraging his sales staff to select something off the lot and do a Periscope walk around, the personality of the social media properties take on a relationship-building tone instead of an OMG GREAT SALE BUY NOW KTHXBAI atmosphere.
Most of the B&B knows that auto journos occasionally go on OEM trips. They’re well planned events which highlight the strengths of whatever model is being shown, coordinated down to the last detail for maximum positive impact. What if I told you that a dealer applied this model to a new product of their own, but instead of inviting 20 shrimp-filled journalists, they invited 20 real-world customers? That’s exactly what Truro Nissan did, and it was remarkable.
Partnering with the local ski hill, they obtained permission for an off-road truck event. Using social media, people were encouraged to apply for a seat at the event, location undisclosed at that point.
Twenty potential customers were selected to meet at Truro Nissan on a Sunday morning, where they were given breakfast before being shuttled off to the ski hill, some 30 minutes up the road. Once there, half of the participants were paired up with a Nissan rep to drive – and this is the truth – up the side of the ski hill while the other half were given a presentation by other Nissan reps. Halfway through the morning, the groups switched activities and were eventually brought back together and fed a barbecue lunch. Once everyone had their fill of pulled pork and off-road adventure, all hands were shuttled back to the dealership where their existing trucks were found to be washed up and cleaned. A trade value was given only to people who were interested.
Did all twenty participants buy a Titan? Of course not. But a good percentage of them did, leading Erik and his team on track to contend for the number one spot for selling the most Titans of any Nissan dealer east of Montreal in 2016. Keep in mind that these other dealers are in well-established markets more than double and, in one case, ten times the size of the Truro market. The event payoff was enormous, both in terms of immediate sales and long-term exposure, and that’s without considering the good quality trades they took in as a result of those Titan sales, trades that have drawn in even more new customers.
Erik and his team at Truro Nissan could’ve looked at their shiny new Titans, grumbled and complained that they weren’t a “truck dealer”, halfheartedly tied a few balloons to sideview mirrors, and called it a day. They didn’t. Empowered by a supportive GM who was willing to take a chance and try something different, the dealership put together an event that took them way out on a limb. They didn’t know how it was going to turn out; the important thing is they were willing to try.
It’s at this point that I need to use a quote from Dave Pericak, chief engineer for the 2015 Mustang project, in an interview he gave for the Netflix documentary A Faster Horse. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. It’s fabulous.
My job is not to yell at people. I mean, I’ll do that if I have to, but that’s not my job. My job is to be the biggest cheerleader in the group. People are more willing to walk out on a limb, even if they think that limb might break, if they know you’re going to be there to catch them.
As a leader I try to give them the freedom. There’s a lot of smart people out there – a lot of smart people – held back by their own fears and inhibitions, and if you allow them to go out on the edge, hang out a little bit, knowing that no matter what happens, you will catch them, they will go out on the thinnest branches. Even if they know that thing’s gonna crack, they’ll go – because they know you’re gonna be there for ‘em.
When they do that, when more and more people start doing that, the power you unleash is unbelievable. Because when everyone stays reserved and says “I’m not gonna do that because I might fail” or “I might get hurt”, then the whole team doesn’t progress as far forward as they could. But when they’re out there slaying dragons because they know if the dragon gets a bit unruly you’re gonna come in and finish him off, they’ll slay dragons all day long for you, man.
Dave Pericak gets it, and so does Erik and Truro Nissan. Managers who figure this out, who realize they need to start giving their employees the confidence to slay a few dragons, will find themselves in a unique and powerful position, because not all deals start and end with a fresh “up” and a four-square. Most folks would rather sign up for a trip to the gallows than set foot in a showroom. Truro Nissan proves it doesn’t have to be that way.
In a business filled with dealers who strategically give balloons to unsuspecting customers, it’s only right to celebrate the bright spots of our industry. Dragon slayers, indeed.
[Image: © Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars]
Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.
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