If 2013 was a banner year for the Briarwood Ford dealership at State and Michigan, then 2014 promises to be an historic one.
Last Thursday, Ford Motor Company presented owners Steve Whitener and Eddie Hall with the President's Award – which goes to the top dealerships in the country. As employees gathered for the award ceremony, they did so in front of renderings of the future dealership. Starting June 20, the Briarwood Ford will undergo its first major remodeling since the company moved from downtown Saline to its Pittsfield Township location in January of 1988.
A rendering of the exterior of the future Briarwood Ford.
Ford Detroit Region Sales Manager Mike O'Brien and Ford Detroit Region Service Manager Mike Kross were on hand to recognize the Whitener, Hall and the Saline operation's staff.
“What the President's Award represents is the highest in customer satisfaction among dealerships. Only 10 percent of dealerships nationwide earn this award. It's very difficult to do. It's the second time this dealer has won it,” O'Brien said. “I know when Steve and Eddie put their minds to something, they're going to accomplish it.”
A key component of the President's Award is hitting sales targets. The other component is scoring well on customer satisfaction surveys, both for sales and service. Briarwood Ford was among the best on all accounts.
Whitener and Hall own Briarwood Ford in Saline. They've owned the Royal Oak Ford dealership since 2005. Last year they bought Vicksburg Chrysler Dodge Jeep.
Whitener said the President's Award was the kind of recognition that is gratifying for everyone on the Briarwood Ford team.
“Everyday we work on processes, so you get to a point where maybe you're focusing on things you want to improve. You almost lose sight of the things you're doing right,” Whitener said. “This makes you step back and realize that the majority of what you're doing is good. Enough is never enough, and good is never good enough, but I think this allows all of us to take a deep breath and say, 'we're doing things well.'”
A look at Briarwood Ford today.
Why are things going well? Whitener heaps the praise on his employees.
“We don't have a lot of employee turnover. I think customers like coming back every few years to purchase another car and deal with the same person. When they come in for service, we know each other by name,” Whitener said. “Buying a car is the second biggest investment a lot of people will make in their life, next to buying a house. So you want to deal with people you know and trust.”
The reasons why employees stay, Whitener said, are similar to the reasons why customers are comfortable in his dealership.
“We've created an atmosphere where it's not the high-pressure sales situation some people associate with a car dealership. Life's too short to be in a pressure cooker. We're trying to convey at atmosphere where people like coming to work and like walking in the door,” he said.
Bill Brenke shakes hands with Steve Whitner after receiving the Employee Excellence Award. Brenke has been with Briarwood Ford since 1988.
Bill Brenke joined the Briarwood Ford team in 1988, shortly after it moved to the Pittsfield Township location. He remembers when customers would call from Briarwood Mall and ask where they they were.
“I'd tell them, just keep coming south, through the cornfields, about six miles to Michigan Avenue. It's developed a lot since then,” Brenke said.
Brenke said he's stayed with Briarwood Ford because the company treats him well.
“I've been treated right. And I like the people. The people I sell cars to are like my family,” said Brenke, who estimated that he's sold about 6,000 vehicles in his 26 years with Briarwood.
Thursday, Brenke was one of five Briarwood Ford employees to receive Ford Dealership Employee Excellence Awards. Also receiving awards were Mark Garcia, Mike Collins, Paul Mazzara and sales manager Jeff Russell.
Some of Briarwood's 75 employees will have to give up their comfy desks this summer when the dealership undergoes its first major remodeling since it moved to its current location in 1988.
“It's just time,” Whitener said.
Work is expected to begin June 20 and the hope is that it will be completed by Thanksgiving.
Ford architects looked at the existing building and came up with a plan for a new Briarwood Ford that will look a little more like the other modern Ford dealerships.
"It actually makes it easier for us because they suggest the tile and the carpet, so it saves me from looking at a blank sheet of paper, because I'm not a decorator," Whitener said. “It's exciting. I think it's going to look great and make the experience nicer for customers.”
About 29 employes will work out of portable trailers for a few months. Whitener said customers will notice the work, but that it wouldn't impact service and sales.
A rendering of the interior of Briarwood Ford.
O'Brien said the investment in Briarwood Ford is a symbol of the owners' belief in the Ford lineup.
“We'll have a fantastic lineup that's better than anyone in the industry. These two gentleman see that. They put their money where their mouth is and put their faith in Ford. We anticipate even bigger and better things going forward,” he said.