Car buyers have changed since famed dealer Carl Sewell wrote his 1990 best seller Customers for Life. They shop fewer dealerships. They come in with more knowledge.
"But in the final analysis, they want somebody that cares about taking care of them, will take care of them and that they can trust," said Sewell, chairman of Sewell Automotive Cos. of Dallas. He spoke Thursday at the Automotive News Retail Forum.
Building a culture in which customers and employees alike experience that trust has been paramount to Sewell, whose company has 17 dealerships. Don't overlook those employees, he warns. They are the people who take care of the customer and are responsible for ensuring that integrity, trust and respect are part of the dealership environment.
"So often I get asked, "Well, which one is really more important? Aren't the customers really more important?'" Sewell said. "And those companies that put their customer ahead of their fellow associates make a terrible mistake. They should absolutely be treated with equal care and concern and respect."
When nurturing leaders within his dealership group, Sewell looks for intelligence, integrity "and a genuine caring feeling for people." Mentoring and educating those leadership candidates is the next step, said Sewell, 73, who counts himself fortunate to have had four great mentors in his life.
Sewell disputed a common complaint in the industry that millennials are lazy or difficult, calling that assessment "just a lot of baloney."
"We recruit about 75 college graduates a year, and they're outstanding," Sewell said. "They provide energy. They provide technological knowledge that's far ahead of the rest of us that are a little bit older. Our future is great and in great hands."