How to Make Your Brand Timeless

April 20, 2018
The keys to keeping your long-running dealership’s marketing vibrant and relevant.

When George Schaefer opened his business in east central Michigan in 1852, he toiled as a blacksmith and woodworker. Sixty-two years later, that company began selling automobiles. By the 1930s, the family-run “Schaefer & Bierlein” business had expanded, to sell John Deere equipment alongside cars. By the 1970s, the dealership was selling snowmobiles, and lawn and garden equipment, too.

And, now, in 2018, Schaefer & Bierlein Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Fiat’s employees will proudly inform you that the Frankenmuth, Mich., dealership is entering its 166th year in business.

They’ll also inform you that it’s believed to be the second-oldest car dealership in America.

Clearly, the owners at the rural Michigan dealership learned long ago that it pays to adapt with the times.

“The product line has changed over time,” notes Joe Seckora, Schaefer & Bierlein’s current business development manager. “It has evolved … to show that we’re changing, we’re adding and growing.”

These days, Seckora works alongside multiple owners who represent the sixth generation in their family to work for the Michigan business. Together, the group has learned how to keep the venerable business vibrant. Here are some of Seckora’s keys for keeping an older dealership’s marketing and branding, in particular, as relevant as ever:

Have a Huge Online Presence.

Seckora—a Frankenmuth native who has 15 years in the auto industry—has recently helped Schaefer & Bierlein make a push for more digital marketing. He says his bosses, to their credit, have come to recognize the value that the Internet, social media, reputation management on review sites, and email blasts could offer a dealership that’s located in a town with barely 5,000 residents.

“Digital marketing’s a necessity these days,” Seckora says. “We’re about branding ourselves continually. ... Whether on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, that’s easy to do.

“We work with various [third-party] companies now; we’re doing Facebook ads for our company and it’s reaching thousands of people for paid and for organic, and that’s working well.

“In the digital world, things are ever-changing—you can’t become stagnant in that world.”

Stress Your Uniqueness. 

Seckora has worked at a few other dealerships in his career, and he’s never before seen marketing tactics quite like the ones used in Frankenmuth, where not only is the sales department successful, but the service department also addresses nearly 1,300 repair orders per month.

“We’re not a pressure ‘sales’ environment,” he says. “People find that when they go back to our service department, and they see how well we take care of them on the back end, too.

“We’re not pushing price, we’re pushing information—just giving knowledge out to people, and increasing awareness.”

Remain at Top of Mind.

A key element of Schaefer & Bierlein’s marketing methodology is “staying in front of” potential customers, Seckora explains. That means sponsoring several community festivals, and supporting area schools and churches through fundraisers.

“A good chunk of our focus is on events, and taking care of the people that take care of us,” says Craig Bierlein, the dealership’s fixed operations director.

Seckora says that the dealership sponsors a majority of the community events in Frankenmuth.

Consider Expanding Your Reach.

The leaders at Schaefer & Bierlein have discovered that it’s well worth the investment to market as far away as Detroit, which is a two-hour drive from Frankenmuth. Digital and radio campaigns have helped the dealership make inroads throughout much of Michigan.

Schaefer & Bierlein also has parts personnel that are willing to deliver to clients earlier in the day than any competitors are, as well as pass out handouts to potential clients one day per week. Likewise, the dealership’s other employees work hard to network, reaching out to potential customers they know throughout the market.

“We reach out to counties across the state,” Seckora says. “And we’re able to sell and service them.”

Sell Your Reliability. 

Just because a dealership might be older than most certainly doesn’t guarantee that its practices are out of date. In fact, Seckora suggests promoting a long-time business’ longevity, and time-tested customer service.

That strategy has served Schaefer & Bierlein well, judging by the dealership’s 96.5 CSI score.

“Obviously, what we’re doing is working,” he says. “And, obviously the way that we’re treating people—and how we sell to them and deliver to them—is working. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been here this long.”

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