The Mile One Automotive Group, with 65 dealerships throughout the Northeast, began looking for customers where most dealers never think to look – their own employees, families and friends.

Steven Fader, the group’s CEO patterned the initiative after the American Express Centurion program, which offers a Black card to very wealthy and select members.

Called the Mile One Ambassador Program, the concierge-like plan encourages employees to buy their vehicles from the company, says David Metter, president of Mile One’s marketing division.

All employees are given an Ambassador card, (black, of course), which provides them with special treatment and the absolute best prices when they purchase a vehicle or service from any Mile One dealership.

Employees can provide their family members and friends with a Blue Ambassador card that affords them similar services.

The challenge for Mile One, says Metter, was to train all of its employees to roll out the red-carpet treatment for the Ambassador members, no small feat with 3,700 staffers.

But once employees learned just what the Ambassador program provides, it became an easy sell, Metter says. “We want to reward and acknowledge our employees for their loyalty.”

The group now is averaging more than 50 monthly vehicle sales from its Ambassador program. Meanwhile, the service revenue generated by Mile One’s employees is “staggering,” Metter says.

Each month, the group sends an Ambassador newsletter to its employees to alert them about certain specials and opportunities. Mile One also provides alerts with paychecks once a month.

“This is prehistoric CRM (customer-relationship management) stuff,” Metter says.

Mile One has not stopped with its employees, however. It has started rolling out Ambassador programs to many of its vendor partners, which are driving a lot of business back to the group.

Mile One now offers a Gold Card program to employees of the Baltimore Sun newspaper. Additionally, Mile One crafted an Ambassador program specifically for more than 60,000 Baltimore Ravens season ticket holders.

Mile One also is leveraging its relationship with a local credit union that wanted help in getting its customers to finance their vehicles with the financing institution. The Ambassador program is just another way to sweeten the deal for the credit union customers, Metter says.

In return for the programs, Mile One has access to its vendors’ customer databases. Currently, the group has amassed a database with 1.3 million names, including 400,000 e-mail addresses, practically at no expense, Metter says.

According to Metter, dealerships have to start selling and marketing differently than they have the last several years.

“Trying to put the “deal of the day” in the newspaper or on the TV is just a waste of time and money anymore,” he says.

cbanks@wardsauto.com