Located 100km east of Edmonton, Vegreville Ford has been a staple within the Town of Vegreville, Alberta for more than a quarter of a century with a solid reputation for its unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction by delivering outstanding quality sales and service along with competitive pricing.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Brian Baron, President at Vegreville Ford about the state of the automobile sales industry in western Canada. He estimates about 70% of all sales at the dealership come from referrals and repeat sales from previously satisfied customers.
“That’s always been our style from Day One. I had a partner, Dale Brodziak, who passed away in 1998. When we got here in 1991 we were partners because we both had similar attitudes towards relations with other human beings. We always aimed to have a friendly front and have people feel as if they are able to approach us, whether it was staff or customers,” says Baron.
Despite a well-documented economic downturn throughout a sizable portion of Alberta due to the state of the oil and gas sector Baron is happy to report that his business hasn’t really noticed any kind of appreciable slowdown.
“We’re kind of departed from the oil field. We have a lot of people that are employed in the oil business but not so much the oil business industry close by,” he says.
The Town of Vegreville and its 6,000 residents are quite reliant on the agriculture sector as an employment base, which has helped insulate the municipality from the oil and gas crisis. It has remained economically strong throughout the resources slump and so the pinch has not been felt nearly as hard as it has in other parts of the province.
Now in its 26th year, Vegreville Ford is a trusted name in the community and well beyond. It’s always been Baron’s goal to ensure that business is conducted in such a fashion that the customer will always want to return or send their friends and family when they are looking to purchase a vehicle. That sentiment is especially noticeable right now when dollars are tight. During the good times and a booming oil business Baron says it wasn’t as likely he’d receive many inquiries from people living an hour away because with money being more readily available most consumers weren’t as concerned about looking for the best deals but would shop based on convenience. Nowadays it’s a much more cautious public looking for better deals, which leads to more business coming to Vegreville Ford from further outlying areas.
“A number of those more educated buyers are now ending up on the doorstep of Vegreville Ford and they are pleasantly surprised how easy we try to make it for people to deal with us,” says Baron.
An excellent promotional tool for attracting those customers from farther distances can be attributed, at least in part, to a new professional website that helps expand the brand name of Vegreville Ford to other regions. Digital promotional marketing is something that Baron views as essential to success in the future.
“We keep our website fresh with current and pertinent information. Digital advertising through Facebook and Google has also yielded strong returns. We also do a lot of email newsletters,” he says.
“Being a bit more remote and away from the larger population in Edmonton we know we can draw people in digitally for pennies on the dollar compared to traditional advertising such as television, radio or even newsprint,” continues Baron.
An ability to showcase tech-savvy capabilities puts smaller communities and businesses on a much more level playing field with the larger markets. However, not all companies in the smaller rural areas have embraced the new era and it is holding them back. There has been a lot of resistance from some dealers because it’s not what they’ve done in the past and they are unfamiliar with the process. However, failing to adapt to the new ways of doing business means the risk of being left behind. At Vegreville Ford, Baron says that embracing evolutionary changes within the industry and progressing with the times is what keeps them ahead of the curve.
From a bricks and mortar aspect the dealership completed substantial renovations to the building about three years ago, including the addition of a 2,400-square-foot expansion to the showroom. Baron didn’t expect the upgrade would add a whole lot of extra business but it certainly has added to the comfort of the customers and the employees.
“We were rather crammed before. There’s also a far more impressive curb appeal as you drive by and that may entice someone to come in and have a look around,” says Baron. “We’ve always worked hard to keep our staff enjoying working here. There aren’t too any situations we haven’t been able to resolve in more than 25 years.”
Automobiles are constantly becoming more complex with newer technology and that means staff need to keep up to speed so as to best educate a consumer. Staff training is nonstop.
“We now do a lot of Web-based training that Ford provides. There are also many meetings and discussions – both formal and informal – regarding changes,” says Baron.
A noticeable trait at Vegreville Ford is the many number of long-tenured employees. Baron’s right-hand man has been with him for almost 26 years and the shortest serving sales person has worked at the dealership for about 12 years. The manager in the service shop has been with the organization for 23 years, while the parts and services manager is now in his 15th year.
“That’s the strength; I don’t do this on my own. I’ve almost made myself obsolete these days because those guys have a good handle on things,” says Baron.
There is a full complement of vehicles for consumers to select from at Vegreville Ford and while there are additional niche models available the biggest sellers include the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, Taurus and Mustang cars. There are four models of sport utility vehicles and the F-150 and the Super Duty pickup trucks.
“The good thing about Ford is they’ve done well in terms of product development and bringing vehicles to the market that fits every need,” says Baron.
A concern for many people looking to purchase a vehicle is the ability to finance the cost. At Vegreville Ford, the dealership can also set people up with the best plan possible for each individual buyer.
“It’s definitely a huge part of the business. There is a lady that looks after that part of our business. She’s been here for about 18 years. She always gives sound advice on what is affordable and what is not. She will not put a deal together for a customer if she doesn’t believe it’s the right deal.”
The Vegreville Chamber of Commerce has awarded Vegreville Ford with its Business of the Year designation on several occasions. In a small town bad news can travel fast and because of that Baron and his managers are always ensuring that all staff members constantly put forth their very best effort. In addition to that, many staff members take it upon themselves to get involved in the community supporting such things as minor sports, charitable organizations or helping with events that the Chamber and the Town put on.
“You always need to give back, especially in a smaller community. It improves the quality of life when you’ve got good people making those things happen,” says Baron.
Vegreville Ford also has the distinction of having won 23 Ford Motor Company President’s Awards, which are given out for outstanding customer sales and service satisfaction. In fact, the dealership has won 23 of the last 25 years.
“It’s important that we have a good environment for our employees because that positive vibration extends to the customers. We want our employees happy in what they’re doing so that the end result is we have customers who enjoy coming here,” says Baron. “We try to treat people like we’d like to be treated.”