Bruce Automotive’s roots go back to 1995, when Les Barker bought a Pontiac dealership in Middleton, N.S., in the scenic and rural Annapolis Valley, 150 kilometres west of Halifax.
When General Motors eliminated Pontiac, Barker rebranded the outlet to Bruce Chevrolet-Buick-GMC, formed a dealership group and over several years added three stores. Then Les’s son Justin Barker — the group’s president — acquired four more stores between 2017 and 2020. The group now sells Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, Buick, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Jeep and Hyundai vehicles.
GET BIG, ACT SMALL
The senior team saw the potential for the company “to turn into a much larger thing,” said Martel. A construction company that had used EOS recommended it to Barker, and the planning work began early in 2020.
Initial meetings were between EOS facilitator Haddad and Justin Barker as well as Bruce Automotive Group’s three vice-presidents.
The group went through a “soul-searching experience” to identify its four core values — ethical behaviour, innovation, synergy and audacity — and then articulate a clear mission statement. The Bruce group previously had a sense of mission, Martel said, “but it wasn’t really known by staff.”
Then the dealership group began documenting core processes, such as sales, service, marketing and accounting. Having those processes documented provides reference material that can be used to train new employees in those areas. EOS also helped determine how to get the “right people in the right seats” as the group grows.
After additional meetings with the staff at the eight dealerships, the team settled on the 30-dealership expansion goal.
“It’s not to say that we will stop after 30 stores,” said Martel, but that much expansion would mean the group would have to look beyond Nova Scotia for acquisition targets.
Larger dealership groups have several advantages, he said.
“With every store we buy, we learn new best practices and obtain great talent that helps us get better at what we do, which translates into better customer service.” Having more stores in more markets also provides better market data, he said, which can fuel additional business possibilities.
‘BUILD TRUE STORIES’
Like many businesses, Bruce Automotive Group has had mixed results with previous planning initiatives, Martel said.
To convince employees that the EOS planning was not just another “flavour of the month,” executives had dealership general managers hammer home key messages at every staff meeting.
Posters of the company’s core values were put in high-profile locations such as lunchrooms, and real-life examples of success were retold.
“That’s the thing,” said Martel. “If you can build true stories, then they can have real impact.”
With EOS, Haddad checks in with the group quarterly to ensure it stays focused on its goals. Individual managers also set “rocks” — essentially individual goals for each quarter. Martel’s current rock is to create an omnichannel process for Bruce’s used-vehicle inventory.
Looking outside of one’s own industry is a “smart move,” said Robert Karwel, senior manager of J.D. Power’s automotive practice in Canada.
“You always want to look at best practices and benchmarking in any industry.” Looking outside auto retailing “makes sure we’re not too insular,” he said.
“That’s not to say the findings will be any different — although they could be different — but it’s a check.”
The true value in having a third-party facilitator is the ability to view the business from the “30,000-foot level,” Martel said. “It helps the bottom line by adding structure, discipline and clarity to what you do every day,” he said. “That’s what we were lacking.”