By John R.P. Del Rosario
Local businesses being bought out by larger out-of-town businesses is the very antithesis of “staying local.”
But when Houston-based Group 1 Automotive acquired BMW and Mini of El Paso, Shamaley Ford and Shamaley Buick GMC last year, it wasn’t a move that left employees questioning their futures with the company or led to a major shift in the way the stores did business. Instead, it has ultimately led to several physical facelifts and an opportunity to gain outside perspective as to how to run a better local business.
“Traditionally, that’s not the way that Group 1 has worked,” said John Attel, General Manager at El Paso BMW and Mini, about the fear of the acquisitions being a complete takeover. “They told us that from the very beginning that they don’t have a bus load of managers around the corner to come operate the stores.”
Instead, there was no downsizing and hardly any re-staffing. “They allowed us to surround ourselves with the best people,” he said. “General Managers of stores are only as good as the people around them. And I have great people around me: in parts, service, sales, accounting.”
Attel knows a thing or two about being surrounded by the best local people. Born and raised in El Paso, he is a UTEP graduate of their mechanical engineering program. “My family had a produce business in El Paso that started in 1939,” he said. “They moved it to Phoenix in 1963.” He also boasts an encyclopedic knowledge of local restaurants.
Attel started at Shamaley GMC in 2004 working in the parts and service department and eventually moved up to manager around 2009.
Since the acquisitions of the three businesses early last year, Group 1 has been making changes to all three locations.
“The GMC store is going through a heavy renovation right now,” he said. “They’ve renovated and re-faced the whole thing. They’re putting upwards of $2 million into that facility.”
“They’re going to go through a huge renovation of the Ford store that’s somewhere between a $4 to 6 million project,” he continued. “They’re changing everything. They’re changing the complete layout of the parts and service department, the sales facility, the finance offices. They’re completely renovating the facility to make it more user-friendly and accessible to customers.”
As for the BMW and Mini store that he manages, the flooring in the shop was redone in clinker tile and they are also looking to re-pave the parking lot and re-do the striping. “The biggest improvement is going to be on our used car site,” he said. “We’re going to be renovating the used car building and putting up the new signage so that it resembles the BMW look.” It is a project that will cost at least $100,000, Attel said.
Attel stresses the importance of using local companies to make these improvements. The three businesses have managed to stay local in terms of the lighting they use, the construction companies they contract and even the computer system they have switched to, a service called ADP. “We have huge support in our own backyard through ADP,” he said.
“I think that’s what El Paso’s about,” he said in regards to using local businesses. “You know somebody that know’s somebody somewhere.” It is through connections and relationships that the best work and value can be expected in the improvements and renovations.
It is that very attitude to relationship-building that has kept the three stores successful, Attel said. “It’s all about relationships,” he said. “Our best advertising is word of mouth.”
With Group 1 did not come a complete overhaul of the way they did business, Attel assured. “They’ve simply improved the process,” he said. “It’s developing our process, what works for us. What works in El Paso is not going to work in Houston.”
Since the acquisitions, Attel said that business has, in fact, increased. “I think it’s just consistency and building relationships,” he said, also citing that a lot of sales come from customer referrals.
“It’s the more relaxed, transparent way we do business,” he said. “We’re not after the hard sell. We’re not about today, this deal, this car. We’re after future business. It’s great to have a large corporation to come in and tell you that because sometimes large corporations just want numbers, numbers, numbers.”