Interview with Scott Smith – Dealer Principal Automotive Associates of Atlanta
Dynamic Dealer Principal of Automotive Associates of Atlanta – His Story of Success and Building a Winning Team Culture
Scott Smith is the Owner of Nissan of Newnan, Nissan South Morrow, Nissan South Union City, The three dealerships he owns are all at or near the top in sales efficiency and service retention in the state of Georgia. Two which was in last place when acquired in 2010 – is number one in both sales effectiveness and in service retention in Georgia.
Smith started selling cars at age 20 and bought his first dealership – a Nissan store – when he was 30 years old with the help of the Ken Page Automotive Group. He and Page are partners to this day.
Dealer magazine had the opportunity to speak with Smith. He shared his secret for creating a culture in each of his stores that expects – and demands success.
An Exclusive Dealer Magazine Interview with Scott Smith
Those lessons and tools I learned early in life helped me become a leader very early. Within that first year, I began working in the finance department learning how to structure deals and then became the finance director for all three stores.
Early on, I also saw that the car business was a stimulating industry. I love the fact that I meet new people every day; there’s new product constantly, and new technologies. It’s new challenges and it’s exciting.
As I was working my early years for the Ken Page Automotive Group, I learned a lot of valuable lessons from Ken Page and his father Bill Page Sr. They taught me the ins and outs of the business, and I owe a lot of my success to them.
Our Toyota store was dead last in the region when we acquired it in 2010. Now it is number one in sales efficiency and service retention. Two of our three Nissan stores are in the top five. Our Kia of Cobb County store had been number two years in a row but has been second the last two years to our Kia of Union City store.
I want future challenges and opportunities. The manufacturers constantly are bringing us new opportunities because of our success. Nissan, who is a good partner for us, wants 10% market share in the U.S. in the next couple of years. Both of my stores are at 20% market share this year. I started with Nissan so that’s where my roots are. I am very excited about the new management team at Nissan North America and the direction Nissan is heading. We are looking to add more stores and will.
I try to lead by example by staying upbeat and positive while demanding results. We also recognize excellence. Doing that means I can – with credibility — call out in confidence when someone needs to be reprimanded and moved back on track.
I have one computer in one office where I may spend 15 minutes a day in. I don’t have an office at each of our stores. We do have offices in them but they are mainly for meetings when the manufacturer comes to town.
This is probably the biggest key to my success. I believe in the ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’ that a real ‘Car Guy’ brings to a dealership is invaluable. My office is the showroom floor, service department, and the meetings with my managers. The money might be counted upstairs in an accounting office, but it’s made looking at the customer in the eye; looking at my employees in the eye, being in their heads, knowing what’s going on.
I shop the competition each month and maybe one in 10 has that energy level that attracts employees and customers. A lot of these stores are drab and are missing direction. It’s what I call the CFO syndrome. While CFO’s are a necessity in helping us follow procedures, letting them have control in the sales department contributes to a lifeless culture – a salesperson becomes just another cog in a company and are just a vehicle away from having their legs knocked out from underneath them. And they know it.
Our Culture and ‘Belief System’ is all based on being ‘Truly Exceptional’ and providing the customer with the best possible product and service we can deliver. It is the customer that pays us for the job we do. I try to catch people doing things right! In our company, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”
After 20 years in the Atlanta market, our reputation precedes us. That allows us to attract top talent from the outside. But we also grow from within. More than 50% of our staff has been with us more than 10 years. For me, I measure my success not just through the lens of my career, but also in helping others realize and fulfill their dreams.
So we do a lot of promoting from within. Our service director for all of our stores started as porter and has been with us more than 20 years. We’ve had more than 30 employees move up into general sales managers, general managers, and finance management roles. These things speak to the type of environment we’ve created here. And it shows that we value loyalty above all else.
We invest a ton of money in our facilities. We have a full time maintenance team that is cleaning and updating all the time. We’re also painting constantly. I want stores that look and feel clean. All of our ceiling tiles are new, the tile grout looks clean, and the stores smell crisp. It’s part of the buying experience. Customers come in and see a clean, crisp facility and then see employees with smiles on their faces.
We’re also number one in the state of Georgia for auto policies with Allstate since we’ve created the ValueMax Rental 400+ units.
I value our people above everything. We accentuate their positives and help them work through the areas they need to improve. It’s about leadership. I require each of my managers to replace themselves. They have to be able to train and mentor the people they are leading.
With Nissan, we’ve been in the south Atlanta market for 20 years. Just the other day, we had one of our first customers – a Delta pilot – come back in and buy his seventh car from us. I was the sales guy 20 years ago that had sold him his first car, and he’s returned every time.
We also have a gentleman who lives in Jacksonville – five hours away who bought a vehicle from us. He drives that five hours each time to bring his car back to get serviced by us – that shows how we approach treating our customers.