Selling cars is not rocket science – but, as with many endeavours, there is an art as well as a science to it. An holistic approach nets more in business and community goodwill, and it is this attitude that sees the Ferntree Gully Motor Group continue to flourish.
The phrase ‘good corporate citizen’ can be just that: a catch-phrase to which we pay lip service, or it can be a philosophy of how a business conducts and promotes itself within its community.
All Dealers have PMAs, the local areas to which they primarily market their wares. They can choose to focus on selling cars in that area and do well enough, but the secret to becoming one of the country’s best car dealerships and expanding your reach beyond your PMA lies, ironically, in part in becoming a contributing member of your local community. Ferntree Gully Motor Group does this better than most. Throughout its quarter of a century history, what began as Ferntree Gully Nissan has always tried to give back to the people on whom it relies for so much of its income.
Partner responsible for Customer Relations and IT, Scott Embrey, says the Group is proud of the contribution it makes – last year raising almost $180,000 for over 100 community groups via its Community Raffle.
“We’re a bit different to a normal Dealer. We do sell a lot outside of our PMA; because of our name a lot of people will travel to us. But still the vast majority, as a percentage, come from within our own PMA. So we feel like we’re obliged to give something back there, and everybody should try to serve their local community better,” he says.
“One club, like Outreach South-Eastern, are given 2,000 tickets to start. They’ll give them out to their members to sell. All that money comes back to them, so if they sell all 2,000 tickets, they’ll get $4,000 out of it for themselves. It’s just a way of us trying to help as many people as we can, help themselves. For the sake of us giving one car. A lot of Dealers will just donate money to charity, you know? So, $25,000 and that’s it. But we take a $25,000 car and we’re turning it into $180,000 by turning it into a raffle.”
It’s one thing to have noble intentions, but to succeed at marrying the business side with community relations, Scott says, Dealers need to win the trust of the community. Partnering with established community organisations helps, such as the local Rotary chapter who obtain the raffle licence and collect the ticket money.
“The problem with trying to get involved with the community when you’re a car Dealer is that no-one believes you. They all think you’re going to try and exploit their members, because by nature we’re not trusted,” he says of the clichéd ‘dodgy car Dealer’ image.
“So what we did first to gain that trust was we ran a thing called the Community Youth Awards, which ran for three years. I partnered up with the Knox Journal newspaper, which is one of our local publications here. Every school would put nominations in for community-minded kids. So it’s not kids that were good at sport, not kids that were good at academics, because they’re the ones who always win all the awards; it was kids that volunteer, kids that do good stuff within the community.
“Every week we’d pick four kids from four different schools, and each week their stories would go into a page four thing in the Knox Journal. They got promoted in the newspaper and people would come to our website – which is where there’s good kickback for us – and they’d vote on which kid they think should win that week. Every week I’d have to go to a different school assembly and hand out prizes to the kids who won. Then we would have the semi-finals and the finals, and a big presentation night here at the end. Over the three years that we ran it, it always ended up being on the front page.
“By the end of that, the schools totally believed in us. So all of those schools are now in the raffle. And they trust us. We never, ever have emailed their members, because it can’t be about that. The minute you put a foot out of place, then they go, ‘Ah, there it is! We were waiting for it – here it is’. So we’ve never exploited it.”
The Group, headed by major shareholder and pseudo-CEO, Craig Pearce, wanted to return the faith and realised they could raise more money, shared amongst the entire community, at a lower cost.
“We were giving away in prizes, I think it was about $60,000 a year, and that’s when we thought, you know, there’s $60,000 just going out to a few of those kids, and a few of the schools did not benefit, so that’s why we came up with the raffle.
“In the initial days we had a lot of what you’d call community partners. So we’d set up with basketball clubs and netball clubs. Netball clubs never get sponsors, so for their kids to be able to run out with ‘Sponsored by Ferntree Gully Nissan’ on the back of their shirts was just unbelievable, they’re a foot taller. Rowville Primary School, the first school we ever got involved with, we sponsored their boys’ aerobics team to go the national titles, things like that. And then it just grew from there.
“But the raffle, it was a real smart, logical extension in the end. Most of the charity groups use it as their main fundraiser now, so we couldn’t stop it if we wanted to! We’d cause a bit of a problem for a lot of them, because they rely on the money now.”
The community groups all come together at the FTG Group showrooms for presentation night, when funds are distributed and selected recipients speak about what they spent their money on.
“Which is lovely,” Scott says. “It’s always something like a new scoreboard, or new cricket nets, or put carpet down in the clubrooms. Something really cool.”
The pleasure taken in seeing the good done in the community is not affected. Scott, Craig and the rest of the partners are all locals with a genuine interest in bettering their home town.
“It’s beautiful: the foot of the Dandenongs. We’re all local. I came from Hobart when I was two and moved straight in to Willow Road, Upper Ferntree Gully. And I’ve lived in this area, never more than 10ks away from where I was born pretty much, my whole life. I love it out here.
“We take all that stuff really seriously, and we do it right. We don’t just take the easy path, we actually roll our sleeves up and get involved. The amount of man-hours involved in getting that raffle done every year, volunteering from within, we’re effectively paying the staff to do it, I suppose, but there’s a number of staff who just like helping out.”
As the Group strives to expand its civic influence, it also continues to grow within, recently adding a shareholder from Nissan Finance.
“It’s all about key people,” Scott says. “The turnover of staff we have, compared to industry standard, is miniscule. We have that many people who have been here 20-25 years, it’s not funny, and we just make a point of hanging on to key staff wherever possible.”
From its beginnings as a Nissan Dealership in a cosy valley in Melbourne’s east, the Ferntree Gully Motor Group has expanded its influence well beyond its PMA.
“The thing that I enjoy telling people about the most is that we’re not just the best Nissan Dealer in Australia according to the awards – we’re actually the best Nissan Dealer in the world. They have global awards, which are independently done surveys through the factories directly through the customers, so we have no influence on them whatsoever.
“And (it factors in) your sales and your service stuff and whatever, but 70 per cent of that award comes from customer satisfaction. We’re the only Dealer in the world that has won 10 global awards. No other Dealer’s done that; Mexico’s won nine. For years it was just us and Mexico, the only two, and then they missed one. So, effectively, that makes us world champions.”
It pleases and amuses Scott that when leading executives from manufacturers visit Australia, “they all get off the plane and say, ‘We want to go to your best dealership, the best Dealer in the country, or in your state at least’, and they start driving out to the sticks!”
It might be in the sticks, but the FTG Motor Group has cracked the key to being a big player in the global village. By integrating business ambitions with community sensibilities, it has become a successful corporate citizen of the highest order.