Jerry Johnson is working as the new partner and general manager of the Ford and Chrysler dealerships in Jasper to make sure problems suffered in the past are corrected, with an eye to also be more …
Jerry Johnson is working as the new partner and general manager of the Ford and Chrysler dealerships in Jasper to make sure problems suffered in the past are corrected, with an eye to also be more involved in the community.
"We're not perfect, but we're trying to be," Johnson said. "We're making doing business fun again."
Johnson, who turned 63 on Sunday, June 24, came to Jasper on March 12 to work for Automotive Group of Jasper, which has formed Ford Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Jasper, or Ford CDJR, (www.fordcdjrofjasper.com), with locations across from each other on Highway 118. Individually, they are Ford of Jasper and Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Jasper.
Although he came from Westminster, Colorado, north of Denver, he grew up in South Dakota, in a town of 15,000 people.
"I'm kind of used to the small town," he said in his office, noting Jasper is just his style. "I love it." He said the area feels like home with "good solid people with different morals and ethics than what the city has to offer. Everybody waves to everybody and everybody will speak to everybody. That's enjoyable."
He attended classes for two years at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, where he was a pitcher.
"I played baseball and blew my arm out. I said, 'To heck with this. I'll find something else to do,'" he said.
That started his 42-year career in the automotive business. "I started out actually detailing cars. A buddy of mine's dad owned some dealerships, so we worked there ... after school. I started there and kept working my way up."
In his mid-20s, he left for California and spent 10 years in sales and management of dealerships. Johnson said, "I worked for a large auto group and traveled to all their stores as a consulting manager, I guess you would say." He then went to work in Colorado for 15 years, part of the time managing a consulting business to automotive dealerships.
He spent about 18 months with a store in Texarkana, Texas — owned by the majority owner of the Ford and Chrysler dealerships in Jasper, who has 10 stores across the country — to "understand their method and then came out here to take this over," he said.
Johnson knows that the Ford dealership needs to be built back up in Jasper, noting changes in leadership and a buyout were made over the past few years to resolve the situation.
"I understand (the dealership) has had a lot of problems in the past in the community. We're just trying to get people in here to do it the right way," he said.
It was the fact that the store had problems that attracted him to come to Jasper, as he loves the challenge.
"That's kind of what I have done my whole career is to fix places and fix people," he said. "I knew it had some issues and that's kind of what excited me about it.
"I love the challenge. It's a lot more work, but it is easier to see the progression. If you go into some place that is running smooth, then what are you going to do? It becomes boring. I love the challenge of the people."
His key factor in bringing improvements will be focused on people.
"You have to understand people coming into the service department are not happy because they have a broke car. It is having the right mental make up to take care of those people," he said.
He noted the same idea with sales, noting customers have access to large amounts of information with today's internet.
"They come here wanting more information, not to have to go through a hassle to get it. (They) just to be able (for salesmen) to give them the information so they can make a proper decision. I'm smart enough to realize we're not going to sell everybody a car, but I want them to have all the information they need so they can make a proper choice. Hopefully it is from us, but that is not always the case."
Johnson said it takes a while to find employees who understand that attitude "because the car business has never really been that way. It's driven to, 'Here, I need you to buy a car right now.' I just don't like that type of atmosphere. I just don't."
He said his method makes for a happier experience for the salesman and the consumer, eliminating the stress that leads to fear a buyer is being taking advantage of. "I did it in Colorado. I completely turned around a Chevrolet store doing it that way," he said.
Ford "has been awesome to me, understanding that the store had some issues," Johnson said. "They have been very supportive of what we are trying to accomplish here, both in parts service and sales," he said.
In terms of service, he noted sometimes the process can take time to resolve, but he also noted how important a car is to get to work, pick up their children and go other places. "We just need to accommodate that. If we need to get them a rental car or a loaner car in the process, that's what we have to do," he said.
He noted that he is overseeing two dealerships, which together employ close to 60 people.
"We own the Ford store and the Chrysler Dodge Jeep store across the street," noting that the Ford and Chrysler both deliver excellent products and do well in addressing problems. He also noted he loves domestic vehicles built in the nation.
Johnson said he wants to become more involved in the community, and he is planning a special community event at the Ford dealership on Saturday, Aug. 25, called Hot August Nights "because I guess it doesn't cool down until September.
"Anybody in the community is welcome to come. We're going to have a line up of different musicians, probably five or six different groups, some food vendors, and people from different businesses can set up their tent and talk about their business as well," he said. "There will be things for children. It will be a fun time for anyone who wants to come." Tentative discussions are for the event to run from that morning into the night.
"We've just signed up to be a sponsor of the Foothills Festival (on Sept. 7-8 in Jasper)," and is looking into donations for schools and high school athletic programs. He noted he loves children's programs.
"Really the community is what makes our store, so we need to be active in it," he said. "We need to show people we care about them as well. It's not a way necessarily to earn business, but you've got to give something back."
As for what customers should consider when they buy a car, Johnson advised to consider affordability.
"A lot of people want the luxury and stick their neck out to get it," he said. "But it puts them in a bind and it always comes back to be the dealer's fault because in their perception we charge too much, the interest rate is too high, the payment is too high. Well, ultimately it is your choice, not ours. You can say no.
"That is kind of a misperception, really. But on the average the public buys a car every five years, and we sell them every single day. I guess a lot of it is the trust in the dealer. Everyone has heard stories of having a bad experience."
However, he said the industry is now so tightly government regulated and woven into the business that the traditional horror stories are now a thing of the past.
"I guess the biggest thing I would love to change in someway shape or form, although I don't really ever see it happening, would be the perception of the dealer. Just because they buy a $20,000 car doesn't mean the dealer is making $20,000. We've got the investment in that car. When you think of it, business wise, our percentage of profit per vehicles is probably less than any business out there.
"But I understand where they are coming from," he said, noting with the price of vehicles as they are, families are spending "a chunk of change."
Johnson noted the Ford dealership has undergone some remodeling, although there is still much to be done in the shop area, including updating equipment. A new website for the two dealerships has been formed.
Internet has also become important to the business, with general sales manager Kyle White overseeing upgrades online.
"We're helping make it as easy as possible," White said of the website. "We're making sure we have plenty of pictures, 360-degree videos of all our cars, making sure everything is in good condition and that you get a real good image before you come to the lot, so that there is 100 percent transparency."
He also noted the company is on Facebook (Ford Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Jasper), where photos are posted with all of the customers. "We're very proud of all of them," White said.
Anyone wanting to call either dealership may call 205-384-4400.