Business

At Suzuki of Wichita, it's 'business as unusual'

Scott Pitman, principal of Suzuki of Wichita, in his showroom.
Scott Pitman, principal of Suzuki of Wichita, in his showroom. The Wichita Eagle

For two decades, Scott Pitman has had a different idea of how cars should be sold.

And for the past three years, Suzuki of Wichita's self-described chief evangelist has been putting those theories into practice.

Last year, Pitman's dealership was the top Suzuki dealership in the country. Now, it's a finalist for one of the Wichita Metro Chamber's 2010 Small Business Awards.

"It's a neat reward for our co-workers," said Pitman, 42. "It's not an ego-driven thing on my part, but more of a recognition for our co-workers who find a lot of pride in our dealership."

To get here, Pitman's operated under a "business as unusual" plan — a car-buying experience a little outside the norm.

"As long as I've been in a decision-making capacity in dealerships, I've tried to challenge the traditional things that happen in car dealerships that customers don't like," Pitman said.

"People don't like back-and-forth. They don't like salespeople who say 'I don't know.' They don't like wasting their time, and they don't like salespeople who only care about commissions.

"Whenever possible, I challenge all the steps in the sale and all the traditional thinking that goes on in the car business."

Pitman attributes the dealership's success to being open to that brand of change.

"Now, the automobile industry is a great business. I love it, but sometimes we're slow to change," he said.

One big change is the way salespeople are paid.

"Salespeople always try to talk you into the turquoise blue conversion van because it has the most markup of anything on the lot," Pitman said. "You might not have any use for that van, though, so I pay my salespeople a salary so there's no pressure.

"But they do get incentives. ... It's more performance than profitability, because they get paid based on how satisfied you are, based on J.D. Power's customer satisfaction scores. Their incentive is to take care of you so you want to buy a car from them, but they don't care what car you buy."

Pitman's also proud of the transparency his dealership has in the car-buying process.

"Standard rules in the car business is to put the trade off until the very end. You don't address it so you won't get an argument," he said.

"Here, we're going to pull your Carfax, the books, the Kelly, the Black, the NADA. Our salespeople are trained to talk what a banker or a consumer would look at. We're very aggressive on our trade values."

On the new-car side, Pitman's philosophy is similar — post all prices and cut them down to a no-haggle spot where the dealership can make margins.

"I came to the realization that very sharp people own car dealerships, but they still put their pants on one leg at a time," he said.

"It could be within my reach; if I worked hard and did everything right, I, too, could be a car dealer.

"I set a goal that day to accomplish that before my 40th birthday and I made it —by two months."

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