Purchasing a new or used vehicle can sometimes be an arduous task. Not so at Fairway Ford in Freeport, where the staff attempts to make every sale or service visit a fun experience. Learn how this car dealership puts service to customers and the community first.
The first indication that Fairway Ford isn’t your typical auto dealership is the fact that the entire staff wears floral shirts. And not just to work. They wear the colorful garb just about everywhere they go.
“We can go anywhere in town and people recognize us by our shirts,” says Adam Tollers, managing partner of Fairway Ford, 555 W. Meadows Road, Freeport. “We wear them all year long. It’s a hokey thing that people remember us by, but it neutralizes the intimidation of coming into an establishment to buy a car. Many people wear suits and ties, but not everyone dresses up to buy a car.”
When it comes to selling or servicing cars, Tollers and his crew have an unspoken rule: It has to be a fun, enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
“I love working with customers,” says Tollers. “The most rewarding aspect of my job is taking someone who hates buying a car and turning them into someone who enjoys the car-buying experience. It’s a simple process. As long as you’re honest with the customer, it’s really easy.”
It wasn’t always that way at Fairway Ford, a dealership that opened in 1988 and is a member of a group of dealers in Illinois and Wisconsin. Morale was low, Tollers says, which impacted the bottom line. “It’s astonishing, but no one would buy a car from us when I came here, not even our employees,” he says. “There was no trust. If employees don’t have trust, how are customers going to trust us?”
Tollers began his auto industry career in 1999 and was hired six years ago to turn the dealership around. Employees say he has provided much-needed leadership and stability to the organization.
“It’s become a pretty tight group,” says Rudy Bennett, general sales manager, who joined the dealership two years ago. “The best thing about our staff is that everyone cares about the business and takes ownership in what we do. They don’t treat it like a job, but like a career.”
Tollers agrees. “We have a vision, and we’ve stuck to that vision,” he says. “It was the 35 employees who created the vision together. We talk about the vision every month in our regular meetings – to create an environment that customers want to be a part of. I want employees who are proud to work here, who enjoy coming to work and want to have fun. I want our staff to invite others to do business with us.”
Tollers has implemented subtle changes that impress car buyers. Every July, for example, Fairway Ford invites customers to an appreciation day, complete with music, food, health screenings and vendor booths where area businesses promote products.
In addition, a small, cramped lounge that once left customers standing in the hallway has been replaced with a spacious waiting room that feels more like a living room, with leather couches, comfy chairs and a flat-screen television. It’s so relaxing that some customers occasionally doze off while they wait for a tune-up or oil change. There’s also a small playroom for children to pass the time. And any time of day, customers can snack on complimentary donuts, coffee, juice and popcorn.
Customer Larry Shipley, a Freeport resident, is a self-proclaimed “Ford man” who’s been buying cars at Fairway Ford for several years. “They’re fair and they always go the extra mile,” he says. “Adam has a winning attitude and has created a good atmosphere among the staff members. That’s why they’re so successful.”
A Fairway salesperson always begins the sales process by conducting a short interview. Budget, of course, is a major factor. “We try to make the process easier by determining the end result before we start,” Tollers says. “We help to steer the customer into the right direction when it comes to buying a vehicle. Some dealerships find a car and try to pound a customer into the vehicle. We don’t do it that way. We find a round peg to fit in a round hole, even before we start. To us, it’s not about selling the cheapest car; it’s about selling the best car.”
The key is to keep customers happy and therefore loyal. At least 60 percent of Fairway Ford’s sales come from repeat business. One customer has purchased six vehicles from the dealership and has often referred family members and friends.
“We treat people the way they want to be treated,” Tollers says. “We don’t pressure anyone into buying a car. Our job is to give you enough information to make an educated decision. If we don’t have the right vehicle, we’ll try to find one that’s right.”
Fairway Ford’s new attitude includes strong community spirit. The staff supports a variety of local organizations, including schools, chambers of commerce and other nonprofit organizations. The dealership provides free oil changes for police officers, school teachers and firefighters. “They’re the most underappreciated professions,” says Tollers, who even delivered supplies to area flood victims two years ago. “It’s a major responsibility for all businesses to support their local communities. We believe in taking care of our customers.”
The dealership has access to more than 2,000 new and pre-used vehicles including Chevrolet, GMC, Mazda, Volkswagen, Honda and Toyota. “The greatest challenge when I came here was the product mix. We had a lot of trucks, but not many cars,” Tollers says. “Once we got inventory straight, we started to grow.”
The results are impressive. This year, Fairway Ford is selling an average of 86 cars per month, both new and used; six years ago it averaged 46 per month. Although he’s happy about the growth, Tollers isn’t satisfied. “We’re doing OK, but we’re not wildly successful,” he says. “I think we can do even better.”
What really has Tollers’ engine revving is the new product line Ford has been unveiling. There’s the F150, Focus, Fusion, Edge and a redesigned Escape. “The plan, which was put in motion five years ago, is almost complete,” he says. “I think they’re all going to be very successful. I see good times ahead for the auto industry. Customers are smarter with their purchases, they have more money to put down, or they’re paying cash. It’s encouraging.”
Tollers knows that success is about more than just selling cars. Income from servicing vehicles has doubled during his tenure, up from an average of $50,000 to $100,000 a month, and the service department is consistently packed these days. There’s a reward program for loyal customers in which every fifth oil change is free. One local newspaper ranked Fairway Ford the best service repair shop in a recent reader survey.
“There’s a saying in the auto business, ‘We may buy a car from you, but the next one will be because of service,’” Tollers says. “Service has been a huge part of our success. We’ve doubled our number of bays, we’ve sought out the best mechanics and we’ve armed them with the best tools and training. Our goal is to offer the best service around.”
In both sales and service, Tollers and staff seem to be doing something right. Even with 90 new cars on the lot at one time, demand is not always met. Toller has watched customers wait in the parking lot for new cars to be unloaded off the truck. He’s even seen people argue over a particular car. “I’m sometimes amazed,” he says. “In this job, there’s never a boring day.”