This Genoa car dealership has been exceeding expectations since changing leadership in 2013. Meet the new owner, Phil Harris, and his family-oriented team.
Phil Harris was 19 years old when his fascination for cars turned into more than just a hobby. He began his career as a salesperson at Jack Wolf, in Belvidere, and worked his way up to becoming a partner at their Chrysler-Jeep store. He also was the general manager at Bachrodt on State, for five years, before starting an online marketing company. Almost 20 years later, Harris received an enticing offer in 2013 to buy out Alan Browne Chevrolet, 700 Pearson Dr., Genoa, a Chevy dealership selling both new and used vehicles.
“They contacted me, actually,” Harris says. “Alan Browne has been a staple in the community for most of his adult life – he’s a very good family man. He purchased the dealership from his father-in-law more than 30 years ago and now he’s looking forward to spending more time with his children and grandchildren.”
Harris completed his purchase of Alan Browne Chevrolet in October 2015, and results speak for themselves. In 2012, the company had 12 employees; today there are more than 50. Annual sales were at about 300 cars; now the dealership sells just under 1,000 vehicles per year.
Harris emulates Browne’s management style; nothing is more important to him than customer satisfaction and a high quality of life for employees, he says.
“Any business that wants to grow will always focus on their work-family first,” Harris says. “The only reason why anyone comes to work is, or should be, to improve the quality of life for themselves and their family. It’s realizing that your team as a whole is more important than any single member of top management. Without their support, you’ve got nothing.”
While some dealerships have a competitive nature, Harris is more concerned with meeting a customer’s needs well. It’s common to see a salesman washing a car to be helpful to the service department, or a serviceman pulling a car up to the front to help the sales team.
Staff turnover at Alan Browne Chevrolet is extremely low, says Harris, and many employees were themselves previous customers.
“The staff members work well together as a family,” Harris says. “They are 100 percent the reason that we’re successful. They really just do anything that needs to be done to help one another out. We could have all the cars and marketing in the world, but without this team, we wouldn’t be successful.”
The team’s overall job satisfaction ultimately leads to customer satisfaction, Harris says. Beyond a friendly greeting at the door, a customer at Alan Browne Chevrolet can expect to be treated with respect, whether an experienced vehicle owner or a teenager buying their first car.
As a father of a 16-year-old, Harris knows it’s extremely important to treat every customer as he’d want his daughter, Bridget, to be treated.
“We sell a lot of high school students their first cars, and then they buy with us for many years after that,” Harris says. “We treat every customer as someone who bought 10 cars previously, and that goes for all ages and demographics. People appreciate being treated that way.”
With more than 300 vehicles on site in a $10,000,000 inventory, customers can expect to find a wide selection of products at Alan Browne Chevrolet and Harris and his team take their time when assisting customers.
“We want to know why they’re making a change – if it’s a change in lifestyle, a change in need, or maybe their car has just become a little older and they want an upgrade,” Harris says. “We find out how they’re going to use the vehicle, whether they want a new or used vehicle, what features are most important, whether they be safety issues or they need a third-row seat, or maybe they need the ability to hitch something and pull it. We take that time and find out what’s important to them.”
All new cars at Alan Browne Chevrolet are Chevys, of course, but used vehicles can be anything and range from $1,000 to $60,000, Escorts to Escalades. The wide selection draws customers from Genoa, Kingston, Rockford, Belvidere, DeKalb, Sycamore and even from cities out of state.
Chevy trucks are an especially hot commodity, so Harris makes sure that more than 50 are available at any given time.
Since the dealership has a lower overhead than many of its competitors, it often sells vehicles at a lower price. Harris makes sure to promote this information – branding the company “Chevys4Less” for its “right price” combined with a wide selection.
“Our marketing efforts have worked really well – we really promote the message that we’re the biggest small-town dealer anywhere,” Harris says. “Genoa only has about 5,000 people, so marketing outside of that scope is important. We use online and digital marketing tools, and we always make sure to stay active in the community by sponsoring the dance teams, the football teams, the chamber of commerce, and several other community organizations because community support is a huge part of our success as well.”
Harris is anticipating double-digit growth this year. He’s added staff members to his team, in addition to a commercial department and a business development center.
The service and parts department has been an especially important component in Alan Browne Chevrolet’s overall growth. Having positive people conduct efficient on-site repair work has greatly bolstered the company’s credibility.
“That’s what keeps people coming back,” Harris says. “It’s always fun to buy a new car, but when people need to get their oil changed or other work needs done, we want them to have an excellent experience. When people have a good experience with us, they’re going to go ahead and give us that first opportunity again. We work really hard to make sure things are fixed right the first time, and we try to get the work done on a timely basis. That’s what you have to do – under-promise and over-deliver.”
Harris believes that the staff’s efficiency and positive nature leads to the best marketing available: word of mouth. Alan Browne Chevrolet receives much repeat and referral business, Harris says, all due to previous customers rallying for the company’s success.
Harris feels that the community is largely responsible for the growth that Alan Browne Chevrolet has experienced.
“The biggest thing is definitely our community members – they will continue to support us as long as we continue to support them, and that’s the easiest way to grow your business,” Harris says.
Sponsoring community groups and organizing an annual toy drive for local charities has positively impacted the company’s brand. Good relationships with local banks have allowed customers to get better interest rates and terms on their loans.
“It goes back to the integrity of how we do business,” Harris says. “Banks have faith in the information we’re giving them, and that’s why our working relationship always allows our customers to get the best value.”
Harris looks forward to continuing the legacy Alan Browne has demonstrated for more than 40 years: treating family, community, employees and customers with the respect they deserve. Browne has shared this one important message with Harris: treat everyone better than you’d want to be treated.
As a final piece of advice, Harris reverts to something his grandfather always told him: “Remember to listen twice as much as you talk,” Harris says. “Listen to what your employees and customers are saying about their wants and needs, and do everything you can to accommodate that. Make their experience better than what they ever expected.”