CEDAR LAKE | There's a new team in town at the corner of U.S. 41 and W. 133rd Ave. with a new philosophy, and customers are really buying it.
Three months ago, Bobb Auto Group took over the reins of Center Garage, a longstanding Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealership.
Art Georgion, who has been a principal player in Northwest Indiana auto sales for decades, most recently as general manager of Napleton Nisson in Schererville, is president of Bobb Auto Group. He said he and the other management team members feel strongly about their approach to sales and have all taken a bit of a pay cut to be able to do it their way.
"We'd like to be a little different. We don't negotiate. We don't haggle. We don't pay salespeople by commission," Georgion said.
Instead, Georgion said sales personnel are paid a "nice salary" and receive bonuses for such things as positive comments on customer surveys.
It's an approach proving itself, Georgion said. He said the sales team exceeded the monthly goals management had set in December.
Beyond that, "Chrysler tells us we need to sell X amount of units. ... We did 30 percent better than the manufacturer projected," Georgion said.
As general manager at Bobb Auto Group, Jae Chang, who has 15 years in the auto business in northwest Indiana, said making the move now in a tight economy wasn't rocket science.
"I don't think anything in retail is difficult if you treat customers right. It's just a widget," he said. He recalls a sales transaction to a friend that took only five minutes. "It was a straight price. Why not treat everybody that way?"
Taking it further, Joe Fasanella, Bobb's used car director, observed there is a certain respectful demeanor afforded clients of Mercedez-Benz where he spent the last 16 years. "There is no reason you can't treat a Chrysler customer like a Mercedes-Benz customer," he said.
Others whose philosophy is the same and came on board are fleet manager Tom Decanter, finance director Rick Garcia and service manager Dennis Barakos.
Bobb Auto offers a free powertrain warranty.
Georgion's chance meeting with chief investor Robert Bobb of Chicago more than a year ago eventually led them to Cedar Lake.
"This is what he does for fun, he told me," Georgion said of Bobb's investment.
According to Forbes, Bobb has been a principal equity investor in a number of lower to middle market operating companies including start-ups, turnarounds and private and public acquisitions. He is currently chairman of the board for Chemcoaters LLC, Chicago Steel LLC and Robert J. Bobb and Co.
For Georgion, who has personally invested in the business has well, Bobb Auto Group is a breath of fresh air.
"Being happy in your work is so important," he said. "I want to be the nice guy and make people happy."