Special Report

Ward’s
Dealer 500

GARDEN CITY, MI – Of all the dealerships on the Ward’s Dealer 500, one of the few with a female general manager is Gordon Chevrolet in this suburb of Detroit.

I worked my way to the top of this dealership,” says Susan Ianni, “I'm not related to the owner. My boss, Gordon Stewart, has a son and a son-in-law running two of his group’s Chevrolet dealerships down South.

“But my only job has been at the Gordon Stewart store here, starting as a salesperson in 1984, going to sales manager in 1985 and general manager in 1991.”

What marks Ianni (pronounced “yonni”), is her enthusiasm for Chevrolet and her pride as a woman dealer. Interviewed in her office, she’s optimistic about General Motors Co. in general and its Chevy brand in particular.

“We're emerging from a tough year,” she says of the dealership ranked No.378 on this year’s Ward’s 500. “But we're up 15% from last year in new- and used-vehicle sales for the first quarter. Used cars are especially strong.

The dealership could sell more Equinox cross/utility/vehicles and Camaro sports cars if it could get more from the auto maker, she says. “But showroom traffic and Internet leads are up this spring and the GM organization is doing its utmost under the new chairman (Ed Whitacre) to keep our stocks close in the market.”

Ianni is excited about Chevrolet’s upcoming small-car entries, such as the all-new Volt and Cruze.

“We've struggled in the past with weak small-car sellers like Aveo, Nova, Chevy II and Geo Metro, but the time has finally come for a total GM turnaround in that segment,” she says. “What we're seeing in GM's lineup reduction is movement of Pontiac and Saturn owners to Chevrolet, plus a return to easy GMAC credit packages in leasing and 0% loans.

“I think we can raise sales 25% higher than 2009 by year-end with the traffic surge for Volt, Cruze, Malibu and Equinox.”

On Ianni’s to-do list is the Chevrolet Image program, calling on dealers to erect a new building facade in blue and white colors. The Gordon Chevrolet building was modernized in 1990 in red and white, a color scheme that extends to its retro cafe.

She supervises 75 employees. The 20-member sales team includes three women. “There's no question in my mind that women customers prefer to shop with or e-mail to women salespersons.”

Ianni is a working mother, with two sons, ages 17 and nine. “The Volt and Cruze will appeal to younger buyers like my 17-year-old Nicholas,” she says. “Chevrolet is definitely on track with the youth market.”

Surrounded by five Chevrolet stores in Detroit’s nearby western and downriver suburbs, Gordon Chevrolet stays on the Ward's 500 list through the likes of aggressive radio advertising and an ambitious sales team, including a 5-member Internet department.

Metro Detroit has too many Chevrolet dealerships, she says. “I couldn't believe it when I saw a Saturn store turned into a Chevrolet store in March just six miles (9 km) north of us.”

She adds: “The entire tri-county Detroit market has 42 Chevrolet stores. It’s doubtful so many dealers can stay profitable with that much Chevrolet competition. But as for us, we’re on the Ward’s 500 to stay.”