Buick GMC dealership driven to new heightsWritten by Scott McKimmy | | email@example.com
Marianne Ballas holds a morning briefing with her team of managers every day at Ballas Buick GMC. The only woman in Northwest Ohio to be an owner and dealer, she leads a large staff that relies on her for jobs, leadership and purpose.
She didn’t choose that path; however, she could only set a course and aim toward her destination. She became the successor dealer upon the death of George Ballas, her husband, and was named president and dealer in July 2004. She reincorporated to make an asset purchase of the estate during the aftermath of losing her spouse.
”One day you awake, and you find yourself in a crisis. You know what you have to do, and you do it. It becomes a matter of focus,” she said.
”You can’t control the wind, but you can control the sail. I decided that I would control
The process presented a host of challenges in complying with GM standards for all aspects of the dealership. She had to demonstrate her ability to oversee it successfully and work with the automaker to finance the purchase. The Ballas legacy depended on her leadership.
”Had another dealer come in and bought the [dealership], 99 percent of the people would have lost their jobs,” Ballas said. ”They depended on me to keep their pension plans and their health insurance. And they’ve come through for me since then; I guess it was a good thing for both of us.”
Her extensive background in the auto dealer business — from accounting and insurance to operations and employee relations — prepared Ballas for her current role. She ran various departments within the Ballas umbrella and gained ”comprehensive” experience that proved to be essential to her hard-won success.
She also adopted a self-imposed program, concentrating on sound physical and mental health. A regimen of proper diet and exercise, combined with shielding herself from negative influences, helped focus all efforts toward the dealership. No lamenting, no regrets.
”I didn’t watch any depressing or negative things on TV. I tried to listen to positive messages and watch happy programs — educational programs, sports programs — not things that would bring me down,” she said. ”I refused to use any negative terms in my day-to-day life.”
In the past, the car business operated under extremely different circumstances. Dealers haggled and good salesmanship put bread on the tables of many families. Ballas attributed her late husband’s legacy to that very skill.
The information age has altered the climate of car sales. Customers have easy access to dealer prices, and the sales profession has evolved to include the role of a consultant.
”It used to be a business that was more, I guess, hard-sell, and now the car business, is a consulting business,” she said. ”There is so much information for the public to access on the Internet. Anyone can come in here with an invoice in their hand. They know what we pay for the cars.”
Issues that arise for car buyers involve safety features, engine types and resaleability. Most importantly, according to Ballas, the dealership’s job is to set the customer’s mind at ease about providing service after the sale, about being there for a long time to ”take care of their needs.”
”If they have service needs or problems, they need to know that we’re going to be honorable and dependable and live up to our obligations to be their car dealer,” she said.
During the 18 months with Ballas as successor dealer, Todd Hehl had been new car sales manager and previously business manager. He said there was motivation for the dealership to perform well, and his boss had relied on his and every department to improve to meet GM’s approval.
”She was running things early on to prove her ability to eventually own the place,” Hehl said. ”We had to get going and get better at what we did when she was in that transitional stage.”
Since, Ballas Buick GMC has remodeled or built amenities to make the dealership more comfortable and user-friendly. Hehl said the improvements, such as a new fascia, customer lounge with TV, DVD and toys for kids and a covered delivery area for new-car pickup, all address broader needs of today’s variety of customers. Some fulfill GM requirements for dealerships.
”When you look at what Buick is trying to do as a corporation, they’re trying to move their demographics to a younger crowd,” Hehl said. ”What Marianne has done is tried to mesh the two and made that younger crowd that comes in here feel more comfortable.”
The outlook for the company appears bright, according to Ballas. Two generations after her grandmother, who never drove a car, Ballas now owns, in a sense, entire lots full.
Her two sons who have joined her in the company, Tim Robinson and Jeff Robinson, may take over jointly some day, she said, but her ”dynamic” 2-year-old granddaughter also has a dark-horse chance to follow grandma’s footsteps. One never knows.