When Mike Brosin joined Crest Auto Group five years ago as managing partner, he brought in focus groups to find out why customers might not buy from his luxury-brand dealerships.

The groups included customers from competing brands.

Brosin put their ideas to work in his Cadillac and Infiniti stores in Plano, TX. In 20011, Brosin also began working with Van Chevrolet in Carrollton, TX, which was added to his group. 

Many industry leaders talk about the importance of listening to customers, but Brosin goes beyond that. He implements worthy suggestions, with his company bearing the cost.

“We let them tell their story, talk about their wants and needs,” Brosin says of his customers. “They have told us they wanted a certain kind of coffee and cookies in the lounge. One customer complained there were no diet sodas in the dispenser.”

Fulfilling those requests was easy enough. But when customers wondered why there weren’t more core products – Cadillacs and Infinitis – in Crest’s self-run service loaner pool, the requests grew more complicated and costly.

Still, Brosin quickly boosted the Cadillac and Infiniti pool from 70 to 250 loaners. “If you give customers your full attention, a lot of that attention comes back to you  instead of tension and complaints.”

His formula is simple, in theory at least: “Customer attention equals customer retention.” It’s his “must-keep” marketing principle.

“If you spend $5,000 or $50,000 on a vehicle, we’re going to take care of you. We want you to keep coming back,” Brosin says.

Payoff is not just in profits, but also in Cadillac and Infiniti Dealer of the Year awards for Crest’s customer-satisfaction and sales performance in 2011.

Now the Crest group has expansion in mind. It will take its customer principles with it. Managers are in the planning stages with architects to build a new facility in Frisco, TX, a Dallas suburb.

Brosin projects an early 2014 move-in. Crest will keep a presence in Plano, however, including service and sales. 

Crest employs 270 staffers between Cadillac and Infiniti and almost 90 at Van Chevrolet.

Before joining as managing partner in 2007, Brosin had been around the block a few times. He began in 1982 and worked his way up in sales with Chrysler Dodge Plymouth stores, where he was the top national salesman for several years.

He ran Acura, Toyota and Volvo stores as sales manager throughout Texas.

Nissan had debuted its luxury brand Infiniti in the U.S. in 1990. It was a natural fit for Crest, which added the brand in 1991.

Brosin doesn’t see Infiniti as a luxury import competitor against Cadillac: “We see them both as luxury (brands). We allow (auto makers) to brand the products; we focus on branding Crest and what we can bring to the local community as a local dealer.”

The General Motors bankruptcy restructuring in 2009 was a bloodbath for many dealers, several of whom lost their franchises. But the Crest group was entrenched and its location in the hot Dallas-Fort Worth market meant performance wasn’t crippled.

“In Texas, we’re in a bubble, and I think the economy is more stable inside the Dallas/Fort Worth area than outside of Texas,” Brosin notes.

Not that there weren’t hurdles to clear.

“In 2008 and 2009, we had to make some drastic cuts,” he says. “We grew our business with less people.”

That meant downsizing staff and consolidating positions. A number of employees accepted restructured pay plans and wore many hats at work.

Crest Auto Group is No.21 on this year’sWardsAuto Dealer 500. Last year, the group sold 2,233 new cars and 1,555 used units. Total revenue was $187.7 million.

Brosin projects even stronger sales this year in an industry that is bouncing back.

“We are on pace to sell upwards of 5,000 units, a record year (for Crest).”

Add to that 1,200 new and used units for Van Chevy.

Crest is also strong in Internet sales, rating No.23 on the WardsAuto e-Dealer 100 in 2012. Crest tracked about 200 Internet-resulting sales a month, with a closing ratio of more than 20%, says Steve Lee, Crest’s marketing director.

Brosin says, “There has been a lot of talk about whether the role of Internet director should be a tech geek or a sales guy.”

He thinks Crest is lucky to have an Internet director and staff with people skills. “They are highly skilled and knowledgeable in both the Internet and sales management.”

Brosin likes to drive the customer message home whenever he can. “Our philosophy is that the customer is always going to win. They can buy a Cadillac or Infiniti anywhere, but the service, the treatment and the dealership experience has to be over the top.

“If you don’t take care of your customers, you can’t retain them,” he adds. “And without customers, you can’t grow your business.”

For Brosin that means understanding the fundamentals: “Being at work every day, in the trenches with the (staffers) that are doing the heavy lifting and coaching the teams about the culture and philosophy of Crest.”

He admits he’s fortunate to be able to run dealerships in a stable part of the country, an opportunity a lot of people don’t have and he has “the autonomy to do things the way I want.” 

Brosin may take on a few more dealerships up the road, he says. But for now, he enjoys being part of an entrepreneurial dealer group.

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