Quality Products, Quality Service

Carroll Auto Group

Presently, the North American auto market is booming with 1.7 million vehicles being sold over the last year, matching a 2002 sales record. Interest rates are at all-time lows and loan terms have been stretched out for up to 96 months. Consequentially, the Carroll Auto Group has shared in the industry’s monumental turnaround, maximizing profits with a great sales team, customer service and products that are flying out of the showrooms.

Scott Carroll represents the second generation in this family business. He is the current President, having just taken over the reins from his father who began this business in 1976 in Listowel, and moved to Moncton, New Brunswick, acquiring a Chrysler store. The company grew to become the largest volume dealership in the Maritimes. Three years later, in 1987, they moved again to the Dartmouth area, to run a Chrysler dealership right across the bridge from Halifax. Fast-forward to the present and all the company’s assets are located in Nova Scotia. The company now operates two GM dealerships, a Honda dealership with a Honda “Powerhouse” as well as a Kia franchise.

After establishing a base in Nova Scotia, the Carroll Group expanded to the South Shore with the amalgamation of the Chevrolet and Pontiac dealerships in Bridgewater. The same deal later took place in Liverpool. Scott Carroll explains, “The market couldn’t sustain two standalone franchises selling the same product; the owners for each store competed for years. They both became willing sellers because they saw an exit strategy in a market that could only sustain one store, not two.”

As a result, the Carrolls were able to choose the best of the staff from each location, all local people who operated as the frontline of the business. The model has worked at both the Liverpool and Bridgewater locations, each growing substantially. “These were endeavours that my father had accomplished,” shares Mr. Carroll.

Twelve years ago, Scott Carroll started up the Carroll Kia in Bridgewater. The team outgrew two locations and is now in a brand new facility, completed in 2011. “The Kia brand has come a long way,” says Mr. Carroll. “It’s a great product and very desirable now. It’s gone from a last resort car to top two or three on the wish-list because of the styling and the warranty.” He notes that the Kia product line is very similar to what you would see in European markets, making a unique mark on the roads of Canada’s east coast.

Two and a half years ago after the GM store in Halifax was sold, the company added the Honda dealership in Bridgewater to its portfolio. The dealership is paired with the “Honda Powerhouse,” which sells nearly every Honda product beyond the car, including motorcycles, ATVs, generators, garden tillers, and outboard motors and a full line of accessories for all products. “The business has been growing immensely,” says Mr. Carroll. “It’s a different environment; the customer is more passionate. You have to be more patient with them. They may come in for three weeks or months in a row before purchasing. I have had to learn to adjust to the pace at which that business goes in comparison to the automobile business.”

He explains that it can be a fun business if you are passionate about the product. “I love the marine side of the business, and have a deeper connection with the customer. I spend a lot of time on the water, so I enjoy selling outboard motors. It’s like a big toy store!” he laughs. In the Honda Powerhouse, sales are about building rapport and finding out the customer’s needs and wants before picking out the product that’s right for them, from a helmet for a motorcycle to a workhorse ATV. “At the end of the day it’s still people but the product is different and you have to let the customer take their time because it’s such a hobby and a passion.”

The Carroll Auto Group also boasts an award winning sales and customer service model. Whether someone is buying an oil filter or an $85 000 diesel truck, the Carroll Group’s philosophy is to look for every reason to earn their business. “Some deals are more marginal then others,” says Mr. Carroll, “but I don’t want to turn anyone away if there is an opportunity to earn their business. That way the customer leaves completely satisfied.” The company places special emphasis on acquiring sales and service skills experientially, whether it’s through everyday discussions on the sales floor, or in an in-depth weekly sales meeting. At the Bridgewater Honda store, this philosophy is paying off, as the team has broken every sales record since 1981 in both volume and targets.

The Honda dealership has accomplished a number of milestone achievements in recent years. For several consecutive years, it remained up-to-date on all of its official Honda training. The training is provided and recommended for sales and administration teams, and places special emphasis on customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction was also gauged by a survey that goes out to everyone who buys a new vehicle, to rate the store and the sales personnel that served them. The dealership has also consistently met or exceeded its sales targets. With each of these feathers in its cap, the Carroll Group was eventually awarded the coveted Senior Master Council Sales Award for its Bridgewater Honda dealership in 2012, a national recognition that Honda does not take lightly.

During the recession, Carroll Auto Group had to focus on what it could control. The company found opportunities with wholesale business and the parts department, focusing on servicing past customers who were holding onto their vehicles. “During the recession we found an opportunity in each of our stores and every department,” explains Mr. Carroll, “and we used the downtime to hone our skills, to be prepared when business started to turn around.” Around the same time, the dealership was also affected by the tsunami in Japan, Honda’s home base. Mr. Carroll recalls, “There was a tremendous shortage in inventory. We didn’t have a car to sell, so we focused more emphasis on our used car business through trade-ins. We did the best we could with what we had to work with.”

The tsunami impacted business for the better part of a year. The light at the end of the tunnel came in April of 2012. Once the shelves were stocked again, the Carroll Group saw the best month its history. Changing sales standards led to the company being able to extend people’s leases and cultivate new ways to earn business. Many customers remained loyal to the Carroll Group because of the exceptional client care offered throughout the recession.

When the internet made its presence known in the auto business back in 1998, The Carroll Group saw where the trend was going. “I think that a lot of dealers feared that at some point, the dealer as we know it would go by the wayside, and the manufacturer would take more control of sales via a delivery depot. There was some discussion about cars being sold by e-mail, and then delivered to a customer’s driveway,” Mr. Carroll recalls. “However, the dealer and manufacturer recognized that buying a vehicle is an emotional decision. There is a lot of emotion when buying a vehicle. The customer wants to see it, touch it, drive it. You cannot get that experience over the internet.” Instead, the web has proven to be a positive tool in different ways for both the consumer and the dealership. It offers not only marketing opportunities, but also provides the customer with a way to gather knowledge before entering the showroom.

These days, a customer can know as much about any given car in the showroom as the sales representative. The internet has armed and educated the buyer, allowing them to compare vehicles for days before ever setting foot in a showroom. Rather than visiting ten or twelve dealerships, they can narrow their choices down to a handful through online research. Consequently, sales representatives are more likely to come face to face with ‘buyers’ rather than ‘lookers.’ “Not that we wouldn’t take a walk-in very seriously and do our job, but we know most people that come through the door are going to buy a car within three days,” says Mr. Carroll. He explains that this new trend requires dealers who have a strong online presence.

The Carroll Auto Group has benefited from timely acquisitions, a strong business plan and good management. The company has certainly earned its accolades with its strong reputation and solid sales team, and the Group’s overriding philosophy has enabled it to thrive in the face of both recession and natural disaster. “I know that the Carroll name in the industry is a name that people have grown to know and to trust,” says Scott Carroll. “We are always looking for other opportunities. We may not be the biggest in the business, but we believe in the family approach. Our employees are not numbers, they are names and people, and that is crucial to our success.”

August 16, 2017, 7:29 PM EDT

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