Ollin A. Dunford II is the Executive General Manager of Nalley Toyota Stonecrest, a part of Asbury Automotive Group, Inc. (NYSE: ABG), one of the largest automotive retailers in the U.S. The Corporate Group had a record year in Net Profit, including a record year in new car sales and used vehicle sales. Nalley Toyota Stonecrest achieved a 4.8 Customer Service Index on a 5.0 scale for the first time in the store’s history.
As a dedicated two-sport athlete in college, Ollin sought a professional career that involved teamwork. He found it quickly in car sales and has never looked back. In the following interview, Ollin talks about his servant leader philosophy and why it is key to building a great team and loyal customer base. He also explains how they became better as a store because of COVID-19, how they attract millennials, and how his store and the Asbury Auto Group go above and beyond to support community needs.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Ollin. To start, please fill us in on your background and history, and tell us why you chose auto retail as your career.
OLLIN: I was a two-sport athlete in college: football and basketball. I went on to work as a college basketball coach for 10 years. When my wife and I decided to have a family, I needed to find a more realistic career to enable me to succeed as a husband, father, and provider. The auto industry did just that.
I looked for the kind of career that would emphasize a team environment and camaraderie. The experience of being part of a team is always what I loved most about sports. I was excited at the opportunity to grow and compete. This was the first time in my life when I felt I genuinely had an opportunity to build a team from the ground up. The car business is the closest thing I’ve ever found professionally to athletics. You get to prepare, analyze, and compete. You have a 30-day window to do as well as you can. A year is like a 12-game season, and our goal is to make it to the playoffs, which means more wins than losses coming into November and December. I started my journey in car sales at Nalley Lexus Galleria here in Atlanta, Georgia. And I feel blessed every day I’m here at Nalley Toyota Stonecrest. That’s because the value is always in the TEAM.
DEALER MAGAZINE: You are an advocate of servant leadership. Could you explain what that means and why it is important to your life and to the dealership?
OLLIN: I think the two words next to each other say it all: serving is leadership. A leader’s responsibility is to be a facilitator. How many people can you facilitate to perform to the best of their abilities? Servant leaders are tuned-in enough to find out what each person’s life purpose is on their team. Then they use that knowledge as motivation for the things team members hope to accomplish.
DEALER MAGAZINE: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your business practices?
OLLIN: That’s really a good question. So, number one, COVID-19, for all the duress and pain it caused, forced us to be better at our jobs. Sometimes a disruptor is exactly what’s needed. Suddenly, we all had to care a little more and be a little more sensitive. We took a second look at the parts of our business that people weren’t comfortable with because we could no longer afford to ignore the uncomfortable parts. More importantly, it was a life and death issue because people were dying from the pandemic.
We all had to learn to adapt and accommodate the comfort levels of fellow team members and our guests. There was also a greater focus on touchless or digital transactions. In an industry where we are used to handshakes and face-to-face interactions, we had to learn how to adapt to a new normal. It was an opportunity for us to change.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Good point. Could you share an example of how the pandemic made you change your business practices?
OLLIN: We got better at our business because we wanted to, of course, not only protect our clients and help them to avoid the virus, but we also wanted to value their time. So in many respects, the unexpected arrival of COVID-19 made us challenge assumptions and listen more closely to our clients. The result was a better way of serving them.
It made us ask if we brought the car to them and they didn’t have to visit our showroom, would that make them feel more comfortable buying a car during the pandemic? If we condensed the sales or service process so they are not out as long, would that make them more comfortable? Remember the adage that claimed people hated going to the dealership because of being there all day and getting the run-around? COVID made everybody more concise and detail-oriented. We had to care more and be more responsible. And in no way is that – or any of those things – bad for business.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What other disruptors do you see on the horizon?
OLLIN: I think we need to watch out for inflation. And, of course, there’s a shortage of new inventory at this point. All over the country, you’ll find dealers that take advantage of this temporary situation by charging over sticker, which is a very short-sighted approach. I can tell you in Asbury, and in my store, we don’t do this. We charge our consumers whatever the MSRP states. I don’t want someone to feel we took advantage of them when times were tough. Consumers will remember that when we could have charged them more, we didn’t.
DEALER MAGAZINE: How can dealers find, create, and retain loyal customers?
OLLIN: I like to say it is our goal to build clients, not customers. The person who goes to the drive-thru at a fast-food establishment has no idea about the person who just handed them their meal. They get their food, and they move on. When it’s time to eat again, they stop whenever they’re hungry, and it may not matter where.
Think of a client and their doctor. The client doesn’t see a different doctor every time there’s a sickness in the family. You go to your doctor because you’ve established trust and a relationship. So every day, I tell my team, let’s make sure that we’re doing a great job caring so that we can develop trust– and that trust will enable us to build client relationships.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Millennials recently became the largest generation in the nation’s workforce. What are you doing to bring in more millennials, as either consumers or employees?
OLLIN: Number one, it has to start with your culture. That means creating a place where millennials can not only feel comfortable but can also thrive. The best way to do that is to build a culture that enables you to be supportive of the things that are most important to them. We’ve built all sorts of metrics based on creating a supportive culture, opportunities, and avenues for millennials to come into the workforce and feel welcome.
That said, trying to figure out what millennials want is something of a misnomer to the point of being comical. We are all humans, all the same species, built to evolve. There’s nothing that we’ve ever had or built that wasn’t supposed to get better. Many employees today expect more of a work-life balance. For example, my store started a four-day workweek to meet that expectation.
I hear complaints that millennials don’t have the patience to work for something, and they want it all right now. They want to come in and take over the company in a week. And the fact that you want to take over this company tomorrow should never be used as a negative thing. Okay. Well, I can appreciate that sense of confidence. But they lack the patience of previous generations.
As I mentioned, we evolve. Realities change. Growing up, if I wanted to talk over the phone to a friend, I’d have to go through their parents first and politely ask if it would be okay to talk to the person on the phone. I wasn’t allowed to talk with my friend after 8:30 at night, so I had to wait overnight and talk in the morning. Today’s kids don’t have to wait. If my eight-year-old son wants to talk to his dad, he Facetimes me because a voice over a phone isn’t enough. I want to be able to see him, and he wants to see me.
DEALER MAGAZINE: In other words, there’s a current consumer expectation of immediacy.
OLLIN: Correct. And here at Nalley Toyota Stonecrest, we have done a great job figuring out how the technology of immediacy is such an asset. Digital marketing and social media help us understand and better serve consumers. But let me get back to your question about millennials because who would better understand the urgency of right now than them? Plus, this is the generation that is completely motivated by the recommendations of others. We advocate being guest-centric. We don’t just say we put our clients first; we prioritize delivering an exceptional experience and ensuring their satisfaction.
As a guest-centric business, our goal is to personally meet the needs of all clients, not just millennials. So, why would millennials join our store team? They have a need for growth, for approval, for purpose. Tell me how that’s a bad thing.
DEALER MAGAZINE: So you believe customer service is what separates your dealership from the many options in the market?
OLLIN: Yes. You can buy a car from anywhere. So, the only differentiator is how well we treat you. It goes back to what I said about servant leadership. We love to be called leaders when all we are really doing is finding new ways to serve the people around us and help them achieve their purpose. This goes for customers or clients, as well as for employees and management.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What kind of social media presence are you engaged in?
OLLIN: Most of our social media comes from our in-house talent. We’re on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. We live in a generation of instant gratification, and people want to get information as soon possible. It’s our job to change the adage of telling the consumer what and how to buy. Instead, our goal is to be the most guest-centric automotive retailer around. That means I need to get you the information the way you want to receive it. I need to listen. For instance, if you want to be able to look at your car while scrolling on Instagram, well, then that that’s where I need to be.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Which CRM and DMS tools are you using, and how are those tools performing?
OLLIN: Our DMS is CDK, and our CRM is Elead. Such tools, no matter the vendor, are all designed with wonderful intent. For every CRM tool out there, you can find 10 people willing to tell you what they love about it. As store leaders/general managers/dealer principals, it is our responsibility to ensure our team members have the best resources needed to succeed. All DMS or CRM vendors have technical teams willing to show us all the wonderful nuances of their tools. As operators, we typically do a terrible job using these resources, which is why training is so important.
Our goal is to make sure these resources are functioning at full capability. We want to maximize our usage of these tools because the technology is unbelievable. The AI and automated pieces that come through these DMS and CRMs are mind-blowingly incredible. These tools continue to amaze me.
But there’s a catch. If you don’t have a staff that understands how to use these tools, you are not maximizing that opportunity or investing in your team’s skillset. You need to invest time in teaching them how to use these tools.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Car dealerships are well known for giving back to the community. Please tell us about the various charities or non-profits your dealership supports.
OLLIN: Be glad to. We are an active partner with the Fight Hunger charity in Florida. They provide meals for low-income families and partner it with a literacy program. It is one of the most incredible things we’ve had the opportunity to be a part of here in the Atlanta area.
When Fight Hunger comes to your area, they look at a 25-mile radius of your store and select Title One schools, which are the schools that have the lowest funding or the lowest income bracket right.
One thing they do is provide three meals a day. And these families come to the school every week and pick up three meals a day for their kids. So, for a lot of these kids, their only meal each day was when they came to school at lunch.
At Christmas time, we clear my shop. A Fight Hunger team comes in and sets up the tables. My entire staff works together to build the meals with packets. For example, one packet might include oatmeal and brown sugar, another could be macaroni and cheese, and a third packet might be beans and rice. The charity provides seasoning packets that are actually minerals and vitamins. We put together 60,000 meals last year and split those meals between three schools. We also delivered 10,000 books.
Another way we give back is by funding a park in one of the county’s lower-income areas. It’s a park that, simply doesn’t get the same care as other parks in the county. So we make sure the grass gets cut, and then we have people come out there and make sure the playground is picked-up and clean. It is the only real playground in the area, so we painted it, then did the baseball fields, helped maintain their football field area, and so on.
Asbury gives team members 40 hours of paid volunteer time each year, so our dealership employees get a chance to give back to the community while being paid. It’s a rare benefit but a great one for team members to get engaged locally.
Also, at a national level, Asbury is involved with HBCU Change. Our guests can round up their change or make a custom donation to Historically Black Colleges and Universities in our market, including colleges like Spelman, Clark Atlanta, and Morehouse. Asbury has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for HBCUs nationwide.
DEALER MAGAZINE: How would you classify your management style: delegator or hands-on?
OLLIN: I think you have to be able to do both. But if I had to pick one, I’m probably more of a delegator. Again, I think they’re both very necessary. I would rather give an employee their own chance at winning or losing. Going back to my servant leader philosophy, long-term, my number one goal is to lead in a way that I serve you and help you find your purpose. I want to give people opportunities to grow and learn. Failure can teach valuable lessons.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What advice would you offer others considering auto retail as a career?
OLLIN: It is absolutely the best industry to learn more about yourself. This business challenges you to grow no matter where you are in life. Often, when people find themselves in this industry, it is because they’re at loose ends and don’t really know what they want to do. Certainly, a small percentage want to sell cars. Others see someone who is doing well in life, has nice things, and they would like the same in their life.
For example, when people see I have a nice home and a nice car, they want to know what I do for a living. I tell them I’m in the car business. That’s typically how people’s interest is piqued. Once that question is asked, the conversation becomes a learning tool that can help you find and grow into whatever your purpose is, and your purpose could turn out to be a long-term career in automotive. There’s nothing better to teach you because no matter what the purpose is, the currency is people. And there’s no business that teaches you better, in my opinion, on how to be a good person.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What one word or expression best describes you?
OLLIN: I can offer two. The first is “To lead is simply to serve.” The second is “Pressure is a privilege.”