By on December 22, 2016

Truro Nissan storefront

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.

Truro Nissan truck/tractor

“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.

Truro Nissan - top of ski hill

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.

Truro Nissan - rest stop

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.

Truro Nissan - ski hill rainbow

[Image: © Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars]

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29 Comments on “Truro Nissan Is Why People Should Love Car Dealers...”

  • avatar

    That’s good but aren’t all Canadians nice? If this dealer was in the US…I’d be shocked for sure. But kudos to Truro. Oh, and nice scenery up there.

    Do you know if they give free hockey sticks and a pack of Molson with every car/truck purchase?

  • avatar

    Good for them. They actually get it and I’ll bet people are willing to deal with them without both sides scratching for the last nickel. Sounds like they want to be a trusted part of the community and are in it for the long haul.

  • avatar

    These guys know how to use their brains. A lot of H. sapiens don’t.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Very nice story. These management principles can apply everywhere and in any industry.

  • avatar

    The local FCA dealer is completely opposite. They brag about sales volume but I don’t know many people that would go back again.

    It is sad to think that a dealer with a people first approach is an oddity.

    Where is Ruggles to say that they will fail?

  • avatar

    That’s pretty impressive for a dealership. Also, that Mustang documentary was really good to see how the current Mustang came to be.

    Fun fact: Mike Smith (aka Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys) is from Truro, and the recent Netflix exclusive seasons have been done in Bible Hill Estates, which is in Truro.

  • avatar

    Matt, I expected lots of snark from this article. After all, giving props to a car dealership appears to be against TTAC’s grain, like how much are they paying you for this article?

    You did not mention the buying experience. How’s that going?

  • avatar

    I don’t see anything in the article about how they don’t shove the Tru-coat down your throat, or how the F&I guy won’t demand you buy GAP insurance and an extended warranty.

  • avatar

    Our local VW dealer is a flagship store that was built from scratch about 3 years ago. A very reliable source told me that the ownership/senior management there has a saying. To paraphrase: We’re here to sell everyone in the world a car one time. In other words, there are so many people in this world that we’re going to focus on selling them all a car once, not some of them a car twice.

    When you go in there, the salespeople are young, no sales experience drones that they train on their rigid process. I’ve been in there several times, and nobody knows much of anything about the product. They have, however, been trained to work you endlessly until you buy. Turnover is fierce.

    It’s all about get you into a car today, or follow up with you non stop until your deal is closed.

    They send crazy ads out all the time. We’ll give you what you initially paid for your car on trade, free Jetta come and claim it, free TV sets, etc. All of the ludicrous ads have tiny fine print, but it must drive people in the door.

    The astounding thing is, they seem to have basically sucked up all the VW business in the metro. There are three other VW dealers in this city, and they all seem to be withering on the vine while this new store sells the crap out of VWs.

    The other stores have the guys that know the difference between a Golf and a Jetta. Guys that know what a MK3 VW is, or a MK5. Not the new store. They couldn’t care less. But they have a closing process that must be legendary. I’m guessing Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glenross works there.

    Basically, the place epitomizes the opposite of what you’d think a modern, enlightened dealership would be. It’s total old school from the top down. The opposite of this Nissan dealership in Canada. And they move the metal, to the detriment of the more “touchy feely” or laid back stores in the area that you’d think would win out with today’s supposedly more educated client base. I’ll be darned.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I act/serve as an unpaid car consultant to dozens of people (usually through word of mouth, and mostly women and minority). I’ve put together a great little network of “go-to” dealers who have always treated me and/or my friends well – honest, open, and reasonable.

    There are dealers out there like that, even in the big city – sometimes you just need to look a little harder and scope out the operation. Kudos to Haas Toyotaworld, Tomball Ford and Hub Hyundai for always keeping it real. People drive 25-30 miles out of the way passing up numerous other dealers to get there. Well worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      Jean-Pierre Sarti

      Dave, do you have relationships with the salesmen at these dealers as well? or do you deal with someone new everytime?

      I have to say I have had nothing but terrible experiences at Fred Haas Toyota World.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s why I drive 50 miles down to Richmond to Toyota South for anything dealer related. They have always given me top notch service and treated me fairly whenever I have bought cars there. I have sent several people down there because of this, and told many people to avoid Toyota on Nicholasville and Green’s Toyota because of what they have done to people I know. Good Dealers get my business a lot, Bad dealers get my business once, then get to lose everyone I talk to.

  • avatar

    Good to hear. Too bad they’re pushing Nissans.

  • avatar

    My nearest Nissan dealer adds a $3,000 markup to the sticker of every. single. Nissan. Whether that’s a 10% markup on a $30K Maxima (=$33K) or a 20% markup on a $15K Sentra (=$18K).

    That one terrible dealer is enough to turn me off the brand forever. Nice to know someone is trying to reverse the trend.

    • 0 avatar

      Is this for real? Please…give us the name of this stealership.

      • 0 avatar

        Not at all uncommon in my area. Herb Gordon Nissan of Silver Spring. College Park Honda/Hyundai does the same thing. There was one Chevy dealer too, can’t recall the name of it. I first noticed it because the markup was on an electric Spark. Then I noticed it was on every other car on the lot as well. And they always go with $3,000. I don’t know why.

        At least some places give you the pretense of value with their markups, by adding pinstriping and nitrogen in the tires, or maybe a non-existent “appearance package” like one Honda dealership in Laurel. Those other places I mentioned are like, “you won’t believe how hot the market is for these leftover Elantras. We need to charge $3K over sticker.”

        You have to actually walk onto the lot of these places though. The ADM sticker is pasted to the window next to the Monroney sticker. Visit their actual websites though, you’ll see the usual “call us for an e-price!” games.

    • 0 avatar

      Bull. Not even legal here in Canada.

      • 0 avatar

        Well I live in Maryland, not Canada, and it’s a free-for-all. I’d be happy to take your money in a wager though, if you’re ever in the DC area.

        Obviously those stickers are a ploy to fleece some poor sucker. But hey, go look at Jack’s article on the Kia Soul. There are people who will walk onto a lot and pay whatever the dealer tells them to pay. There are a lot of people who probably don’t even realize you can negotiate the price of a car. Especially people who are new to this country and see that we typically don’t negotiate prices, without realizing that cars are an exception.

        • 0 avatar

          Its also a ploy to give customers the impression they are being given a fantastic deal, when in reality, they just dial back a little fluff so the customer can say “I’m such a great negotiator! I got this Equinox for only $500 over MSRP!!! They wanted $3k over, but I’m so head strong and such a great player of the numbers game, I got them to knock $2500 off!…Wait, you paid $2500 UNDER MSRP at a different dealer? Who did you have to kill?”

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    This may sound a bit crazy but I purchased dozens of cars for my company from a particular salesman for over 12 years, regardless of the dealership he worked at.

    He always made the transaction pleasant and never any back end nonsense in any manner. While it may never have been the absolute rock bottom price, the sales, service and taking care of us more than made up the difference.

  • avatar

    When I worked the floor in the early 1990s, nice guys and one-price dealers consistently finished last. Hence I left the business.

    Things have changed in Canada since then. With tighter margins, and well-disclosed incentives and black book values, the scenario of Ma Kettle being taken for thousands of dollars by a fast-talking new-car salesman is largely limited to the public’s imagination.

    The weakest link in the sales chain is product knowledge. Back then maybe 1 in 4 salespeople actually knew the product, and this dismal ratio continues today. While a good salesperson is worth a couple hundred bucks on a new-car purchase (even to the most cocky self-educated consumer), the majority are minimum-wage key wranglers.

  • avatar

    “I — like many others around here — am no stranger to witnessing the unscrupulous debauchery occurring on some showroom floors.”

    Wow, really? Debauchery is ‘the excessive indulgence in sensory pleasures,’ according to the dictionary. Enquiring minds want to know just what people are getting up to on those showroom floors! (And I do hope they’re cleaning up after themselves.)

    If you meant ‘douchebaggery,’ then I imagine we’d all agree.

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