Sales+Marketing Branding

Strike a Balance

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Sommer’s, Love the Difference.

Family owned and operated for 70 years, Sommer’s Automotive, one of the largest dealers in the Midwest, has established a reputation as a top dealership in Wisconsin and was recently named a TIME Dealer of the Year finalist. The reason? It’s all about the “difference.”

“The customer is the focus of everything we do. It’s all about the customer,” Grant Sommer, the dealership’s sales and marketing manager, says when asked to describe Sommer’s brand.

That’s not uncommon to hear. Most—if not all—businesses set out with the expectation that they’ll put customers first. The difference? Sommer’s follows through and the results speak for themselves.

For loyalty, Sommer’s has outscored its district, zone and region since 2016 for Subaru. These numbers show the dedication its customers have to the dealership, in particular, not just the Subaru brand.

“It’s important to brand your dealership, not just [the OEM],” Sommer says.

Another example is the customers that drive from out of town to visit the dealership. In fact, one customer traveled 156 miles to get her vehicle serviced at Sommer’s because of the way Sommer’s treats her.

By taking into account its customers’ feelings, Sommer’s has been able to get its customers to spread positive word of mouth and create loyal customers for life.  This is how Sommer’s has effectively been able to “strike a balance” in its brand.

The Thought Process

Sommer’s Automotive has been around for 70 years, but the tagline “Love the Difference” only came to be a few years ago. The reason for the change was because the dealership wanted to create a tagline that made customers question what made it different from the dealership down the road, Sommer explains.

The word “love” is used in Subaru marketing, and it worked well with GM (another brand of Sommer's), so Sommer’s Automotive thought the tagline would be a perfect way to mesh the two and represent what it wanted to feel like as a dealership, which is lighthearted and friendly—two words that are used to describe all of Sommer’s Automotive marketing campaigns.  

The brand has evolved so people no longer talk about just the car brand—they talk about Sommer’s, Sommer says.

Customers bring in all of their vehicles to get serviced, not just the Subaru or GM vehicles that were purchased there.

“That, to me, is a brand,” Sommer says.

Another factor that needs to be considered is the fact that all dealerships offer the same type of service and are competing with one another.

“Everyone has a good offer—how are you different in the eyes of the consumer?” Sommer says.

The Execution

“Hi, welcome to Sommer’s. My name is _____, and yours is?”

This is the greeting that every customer that enters Sommer’s Automotive in Mequon, Wis., should expect to hear. Simple, but effective, this line sets the customer up for the experience that they are about to have.

The greeters are all part-time employees and the first person the customers see when they enter the dealership. Instead of having to wait for a service advisor to finish up or get to them, customers are shown that they are a priority right away and the check-in process starts. After they are greeted, the service is confirmed and the process begins. What seems simple can make all the difference to a customer.

It all goes back to the “feeling” that the customer gets when they walk in. Part of Sommer’s’ success could be because of the tight-knit, family culture on which it has built its success. Sommer’s own grandfather and his grandfather’s brother started the business, and following in their footsteps, his father and uncle (Wally and Don, respectively) now own the business. Rather than locking themselves away in a corporate suite, the Sommers make themselves available to customers and employees alike—greeting the staff each morning and personally addressing customer issues that may arise throughout the day.

Another reason that Sommer’s has been able to create an emotional connection with its customers is the people that work at Sommer’s Automotive.

“We really want to make sure we’re hiring the right people,” Sommer says.

By focusing on personality traits when hiring, Sommer says they’re able to train the rest. As long as they have a positive attitude and a work ethic, the rest can be learned. Sommer adds that some of the best employees they have came from outside the industry. Once someone is hired, they are paired with someone at Sommer’s that exemplifies the mentality. That has been the key to success for creating that customer-friendly atmosphere, Sommer says.

The Takeaway

“If you start out right, it sets the tone for the experience,” Sommer says.

The brand goes back to the culture, he says.

“You can have all of the signs and slogan and all of that, but if someone shows up and what they see isn’t the same as what you put out there, it’s a waste,” Sommer says. “You have to act.”

The brand at Sommer’s is a mentality. It’s not something that is plastered all around the walls or repeated in a daily meeting; it’s just the way things are, explains Sommer.


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