Although Chris Alexander worked in the automotive business all through college, he never planned on it being a lifelong career. But here he is, 20 years later, working in the same industry and happy to be doing it.
After joining the Hyundai/Ford Dealership of Columbia almost two years ago, he’s now the general manager and a dealer-partner. And for the last few months, he has been busy shaking things up.
“My biggest goal is to change the perception and business model of how dealerships are run,” he says. “It first starts with your employees and their commitment and their interactions with customers. We have very little turnover and high retention. In my opinion, our employees are our greatest investment.”
Every morning, Chris meets with his service team at 7:20 and then with his sales team at 8:30. “We don't try to focus on the big picture or one big thing. Instead, we focus on one detail and maximize that in a day, which creates an opportunity for 30 details in 30 days to become greater and better.”
One of those details is to have sales managers, not just salespeople, meet and greet customers when they come into the showroom. “They don’t only come out to try to convince them to buy a car,” he says. “We want them to introduce themselves right away and thank them for giving us the opportunity to do business with them.”
He adds, “We are no pressure sales and our people don’t work on commission. We also pride ourselves on being fully transparent with the car buying process.”
What he’s doing is certainly working. The dealership, which is under the Barnes Crossing Auto Group with fifteen dealerships across six states, is ranked number 19 out of 887 Hyundai dealerships in the country. “We have the highest numbers of all Hyundais in our region for our service, and right now we're ranked number one in our whole region in fixed operations,” says Chris.
Hyundai of Columbia also uses technology to accommodate customers’ preferences. “We don't call, we text,” he says. “We don't have written ROs [repair orders]. Everything is digital.” For those who prefer phone calls and paper documents, they will of course accommodate that.
“If you take care of people, you’ll have all the business you need,” says Chris. “I take a lot of pride that we rank in the top in the country. But we’re always looking toward how we can get better, so we want to hear from our customers.”
Another goal for Chris is to get more involved in the community and give back, and he’s succeeding with this as well. “We just visited the Vanderbilt Children's Cancer Hospital which was very, very touching,” he says. “Our Hyundai brand presented them with funding for cancer research, and we were able to meet with some of the kids and their parents.”
He’s also working on putting together teams of management personnel to volunteer in the community doing clean up, planting trees in parks and whatever else needs to be done. The dealership has also reached out to local high schools and has supported events in the community such as a rodeo and fair.
“In the automotive business, you will hear management speak about how they believe in their people, their employees, and their customers, but I think actions speak louder than words,” says Chris. “There has to be substance and it can't always be something that you do because you're looking for a return. At the end of the day, people want to believe in something, they want to be a part of something, and they want to understand the why of it.”
Many dealerships, he reiterates, have a terrible reputation. “People don't always trust us, they don't believe us, and for whatever reason the industry created these norms. I think the more we get involved in the community, and not just from a marketing standpoint, the word of mouth of what we’re doing will travel.”
He adds, “Our employees see that, and they understand why we do what we do, and that their investment is not just an opportunity for dollars and cents. It's because they feel that they're a part of something greater than just a job.”
He often asks his team, “'If these were our last five minutes on earth, what would we be thinking about? Would we be thinking about our position? Would we be thinking about how much money we have, or about our cars, our house?' What really matters is the substance that makes us feel fulfilled and gives us hope. I feel that it is our responsibility to do more for others, not just for ourselves. Fulfillment comes from investing in others and seeing things change for the better.”
For the holidays, Hyundai of Columbia will be choosing five local families who need assistance. These families will be given food, presents and some additional financial help.
“We have 160 employees and we’re going to ask our team to let us know about families in need and then choose the five most needy,” says Chris.
Chris, who lives in Spring Hill with his golden retriever, Jules, enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Drueann, and being outdoors. “I'm a beach bum at heart. I love to surf, but I also love the woods.”