The level of prosperity of any enterprise that deals with the public can directly be correlated with the amount of emphasis that is placed on the customer always coming first. Such is the motto at Capilano Audi in North Vancouver, which has been servicing its long list of gratified patrons for the last 45 years.
What began in 1970 as a shared facility with another dealer, Capilano Audi recognized its growth potential and separated to its own standalone facility in 2010. The move has provided substantially more physical space for customer service, a state-of-the-art showroom and enhanced inventory selection of new and pre-owned vehicles. While the dealership was very successful in its original location, the upswing in sales was almost immediately evident at the new address.
“In the last year that we were at the old location we were probably doing about 400 cars,” says Derek Lau, General Manager at Capilano Audi. “Over the past couple of years we’ve been doing about 1,000 cars as we look to reach that next level.”
Audi headquarters has always held a long-term vision that every franchise throughout the world would be a standalone store, which is certainly apropos and deserving for such a beautiful luxury line of German-made automobiles. The plan is for each dealership to have its own dedicated facility and staff, which was in fact the fundamental premise behind the move for Capilano Audi.
Lau is extremely proud of the results at the dealership, but is keenly aware that this is a very competitive industry and it’s imperative to always keep ones foot on the gas. In proving that the customer really does come first, Capilano Audi is open seven days a week, 363 days a year, closing only on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Focusing on generating an excellent customer experience is integral to the business plan. A prime example of that commitment was the increased complimentary shuttle service for local customers that was implemented in 2013.
“We want it to be more convenient for customers to come here and be able to service their vehicle with us,” Lau says. “We’ve increased our service loaner fleet while a customer’s car is in for servicing. We’re always looking for new ways to add value to the customer experience.”
Capilano Audi has a very flat organizational structure, which fosters an environment where everyone feels as if they are an important member of the team. Lau sets an excellent example by being at the dealership six days a week, as are all members of the sales staff.
“It helps having an organization without too many levels of hierarchy because we can make decisions quickly and accommodate customers more easily and get things done without having to check with multiple layers of management. My office is always very accessible,” he says.
Many staff members on the sales side have been with Capilano Audi for more than a decade and there are service technicians in the shop who have been with the team beyond 20 years. It’s a competitive advantage over some other dealerships, having knowledgeable and experienced personnel on the front lines taking care of consumers.
“We remember the customers on a first-name basis and they remember us,” Lau says. “We consider ourselves more of a boutique dealership with an intimate sales experience. It’s an atmosphere that customers find very comfortable, personable and accommodating.”
There has been a growing public trend towards embracing more efficient and economically friendly engine types when consumers are looking to purchase new vehicles. The Audi TDI turbo diesel technology has been a major success at Capilano Audi and it’s been introduced in many more models over the past couple of years. Audi pioneered TDI clean diesel engines to deliver more torque, lower fuel consumption and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, compared to equivalent gasoline engines. The result of this revolutionary engineering delivers remarkable performance, while achieving increased fuel economy.
“We have a lot of TDI models in our service fleet. Many customers who traditionally drove a diesel many years ago – that would complain about the smell or the noise – would drive one of our new TDI vehicles and be very impressed,” Lau says. “They offer unbelievable fuel economy and great driving dynamics.
We see more and more of the diesel models being expanded to other car lines. We’ve had to hire and train staff to make sure they can provide the proper Audi experience. We have plans to expand and be sure we are taking care of our customers for many years to come.”
Furthermore, there is tremendous excitement surrounding a new electric hybrid vehicle coming up on the horizon called the Audi e-tron. The automobile will have four electric motors, one per wheel, and will be introduced in 2016 making its debut in the A3. The anticipation for its release is already reaching a fever pitch, with sales of this intriguing car anticipated to be incredibly strong.
Technology in dealerships is also becoming a more targeted focal point with each passing day and those who embrace it are reaping the rewards. At Capilano Audi there has been a huge shift to making information much more user friendly; the company website is now updated with complete mobile capabilities. Included is an option to book service appointments in real time, which as Lau points out, many tech-savvy customers have come to expect. To that end the customer is able to pick and choose which service advisor they would like to deal with and schedule the day and time as well as a service loaner vehicle request, if required, and it can all be done electronically on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or home computer. Understanding the needs of expectations of a potential sale is enormous, especially given that, due to space restraints at the store, much of the inventory is physically located offsite.
“We make use of technology to ensure that our database of inventory is searchable by the salespeople,” Lau remarks. “If a car is not available onsite we are able to show pictures and provide a description of the vehicle so a customer can still get the vast majority of the information they need before they make a trip down here to see the actual vehicle itself.”
As an extension of the online mobile marketing initiatives, social media is becoming a much more relevant tool within the automotive industry. However, Lau is quick to point out he would not want to use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram where direct marketing and sales opportunities are concerned.
“It’s more about brand engagement,” he says. “It’s a good way to stay in touch as to how our customers feel about their experience with us.”
In addition to building on customer loyalty there is a huge initiative from Audi whereby the automaker is constantly introducing new programs to keep existing customers happy. Gaining new customers is also very important but the best customer is the one who’s already previously purchased a vehicle, as they know how excellent the experience has been in dealing with Capilano Audi.
“We focus heavily on our database and ensuring we reach out to our current customers on a regular basis,” Lau confirms. “We encourage staff to send Birthday cards or Christmas cards to let the customers know they are on our minds. The strongest push in terms of what we want to achieve here is to increase customer loyalty. We aim to do that through promotions and providing the best service experience possible with every visit.”
Lau and his team set ambitious targets for themselves. Each year they strive to make themselves better and to increase sales volumes, which they’ve been successful in doing since moving to the new location five years ago. The competitive spirt is evident within the management team at Capilano Audi and it extends to each individual working for the company. It’s a small, tightly-knit group that produces extraordinarily impressive sales numbers year in and year out.
“Everyone here wants to do the best they can and earn as much business as possible on behalf of the store. Those are the type of employees we surround ourselves with when we staff the dealership,” Lau says.
While the name Audi is associated with being a high-end automobile, there are very beautiful cars at affordable prices for people who in the past may have assumed they could never afford such a luxury vehicle. To that end there has been a conscious decision from Audi to expand the reach in terms of affordability. As example, the A3 and the Q3 start in the low to mid $30,000s. However, despite the fact Audi wants to broaden its potential scope of customers, there is also the inherent need to remember where the core success has come from – and that is still the high-end market.
“While it is important to expand our reach and sell the A3s, the Q3s and the Q5s we do want to make sure that our higher-end vehicles such as the A6s, A8s and Q7s are still very visible and sold at high volumes,” Lau states. “The perception and prestige of the brand depends on continually having those higher-end vehicles on the road.”
Capilano Audi has enjoyed substantial success and growth through the years, but perhaps just as impressive is the fact the dealership has been able to weather many external storms beyond its control, including economic downturns, some of which have had devastating worldwide effects such the one that began in 2008. The resiliency and ability to navigate through those difficult times is a determining factor for survival and a credit to how the dealership is managed and operated on a daily basis.
“I am extremely proud of the company and where it is today. I would like to see us continue to grow over the next few years,” Lau says. “By 2020 Audi Canada has a vision to be a top brand in the import high-group in Canada. A lot of new products will be coming out over the next five years and our product lines will be close to double by then.”