“The dealership is a tribute to Dominic Longo, Roger Penske and Greg Penske and to all the employees who have helped to create a truly unique store.”

PEOPLE WANT TO SOUND OFF. WHAT BETTER FORUM for that than this one? So buckle up and let's go…

I gave accolades in the June issue to Greg Penske, president of Longo Toyota. It ranks as the top dealership in the 15th annual Ward's Dealer Business 500. I said that Mr. Penske, son of Roger Penske, “turned Longo Toyota into a huge success.”

That prompted a response from Ed Pasini, a former columnist for this magazine and a former CPA for Longo, located in El Monte, CA. Says Mr. Pasini, “You got it almost right.”

He says that, yes, Mr. Penske is a great dealer. But, he adds, don't forget dealership founder Dominic Longo, “a remarkable man.”

Mr. Pasini explains, “There is no question in my mind that Dominic Longo built Longo Toyota into the ‘huge success’ it continues to be. Greg and Roger Penske had the good business sense not to needlessly disturb an organization that was running well.

“Dom died on October 10, 1985. If memory serves me, the dealership sold approximately 12,000 new vehicles that year. Not bad for a facility that had a ‘footprint’ of slightly less than five acres.

“A visit to Longo Toyota today reveals that many of Dom's ‘innovative’ policies are still in place. No closing booths, no salesmen's desks, late night service and the bulk of the inventory displayed outdoors rather than in a showroom. Dominic felt that closing booths made the customer feel ill at ease. He also felt that the excitement of seeing other people involved in the buying process fed the fire that built volume.

“He started night service, not because he thought he would make more money in the service department, but because he believed that most dealerships looked deserted at night… Opening the service department made the dealership come alive at night, thereby increasing vehicle sales.

“Oh, the ‘no showroom’ policy. The old store just didn't have room. There were actually weekends where salesmen and their customers were filling out forms while standing waiting for an open table.

“Roger and Greg have continued and improved upon a great legacy. Few people who visit the dealership can believe that it was originally a strip mall, adjacent to a Sears anchor store. The property was virtually abandoned when Roger decided to move the dealership. The outstanding design and layout of the present facility are 100% Penske. The dealership is a tribute to Dominic Longo, Roger Penske and Greg Penske and to all the employees who have helped to create a truly unique store.”

Blue Oval blues:

I quoted a dealer in my June column who says Ford's Blue Oval dealer certification program is disdained by so many dealers — including those who are Blue Oval certified, such as himself — because it gives Ford “absolute control over its dealers' every action.

Another Ford dealer, after reading that, tells me, “The dealer you spoke with certainly hit the nail on the head. Most dealers believe that in reality this program is not about customer satisfaction but is all about control. Simply put, Ford wants it and we want to keep it….

“In my 45 years in this business I've seen many a Ford program and I have bought into probably all of them. Even though presently I am Blue Oval-certified, and the money couldn't have come at a better time, I still believe that if Blue Oval is not defeated, it might well signal the end of the rural dealer.”

Dealer:<br />Why I hate incentives

Jeff Cauley, dealer principal at Cauley Chevrolet in West Bloomfield, MI, says someone must tell automakers that the competitive war they're fighting with rebates and incentives is ill-advised and can damage dealer-customer relationships.

He explains, “Our job is to market the car and build the customer relationship. Now you have to worry about what incentive program is thrown in. Nobody's got the guts to stand up and say it's wrong.”

He says that, among all the other things they must do, dealers must know every rebate program. He says customer relationships can be hurt when dealers hold back information on upcoming incentives. Dealers can lose repeat business from customers who purchase vehicles, then discover that if they had waited a bit longer, they could have saved money on a later rebate. Who do they blame for that? Why, the dealer, of course.

Meanwhile, other savvy customers will put off their purchases until an inevitable good rebate deal comes along. The time limits of those incentives also force dealers to sell cars in spurts.

“Recent $2,500 rebates on Cavaliers, for example, force dealers to move the product in the one-month period or they sit unsold,” says Mr. Cauley. Meanwhile, “the new Chevrolet TrailBlazer is the finest GM product ever launched. Yet GM has put incentives on TrailBlazer leases.”

Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. His e-mail address is: sfinlay@intertec.com