Chanteria Sherman, above, of the Union Auto Program, sets up shop at the Kentucky State AFL-CIO conference.
Georgia isn’t a state known for its unions, but that didn’t stop Drew Tutton, general manager of Ed Voyles Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, from jumping at the chance to participate in a buying program directed toward union members.
The Union Auto Program, founded by automotive industry veteran John Perez, familiar to some for his role in trying to bring a pickup made by India’s Mahindra & Mahindra to the U.S., offers benefits including fixed pricing and an extended powertrain warranty. Through a dedicated website, union members looking to buy a vehicle at a set price are referred to a participating dealership.
The program is open to any union member, and their immediate family, while partnering with specific dealerships.
Drew Tutton, Ed Voyles general manager, credits the program with 10 to 15 sales a month.
Getting the word out
The program is available in Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and Alabama. By June, it plans to operate in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Florida and North Carolina. From August, said Perez, “The program will be available to all 17 million union members nationwide, plus their close relatives, for a total union members universe of 42 million working Americans.”
Because the program is open to any union member, it is trying to build awareness with various unions’ leadership. For example, Chanteria Sherman, union relations manager for the Union Auto Program, reached out by setting up a booth at the Kentucky State AFL-CIO conference in November.
Once the union member arrives at Ed Voyles Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, in Marietta, Ga., northwest of Atlanta, Tutton and his team get to work.
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“It was fixed pricing. There was a benefit for the employee and for the union worker. There was benefit for my process in the store, and there was benefit from an extended service contract to protect [the buyer] later on down the road,” Tutton said. He views the program as a way to say thank you to union members for their contributions to the country and the local community.
Signing up for the Union Auto Program dovetails with Tutton’s overall strategy. He emphasizes providing a smooth transaction for the customer and for the employee. Giving customers the opportunity to arrive at the dealership with pricing certainty and a clear intent to buy allows the dealership’s sales team to demonstrate their product knowledge and personally address the needs of that individual buyer.
Initially, the program’s leadership suggested training a few dedicated specialists to handle the Union Auto Program’s referrals. Tutton pushed for a different approach. “I expect the guy wearing the suit to be treated the same as the guy wearing the Levi jeans. So we bring the whole staff in. Every staff member we have on the sales team as well as on the service team understands the sales programs we have,” he said.
Tutton admits there were some challenges at the beginning with getting the pricing structure right for both the union member and the dealership. Once, a price listed online was lower than the price offered through the program.
The dealership made it right, but those early challenges made an impression on Tutton. “We only had one or two of them, but obviously, [those glitches] stand out very sharp for me just because my goal was to give them a killer experience in a good way, and so when that bubble gets burst, I get all bent out of shape,” he said. Those experiences keep him on his toes to ensure that the program is living up to its promise for the customer and the dealership.
Checks the boxes
As far as Tutton is concerned, the program is a win-win. It checks the boxes on the dealership’s sales strategy and marketing goals. For sales, it moves the team closer to the smoothest transaction possible, providing the customer with a transparent pricing experience and allowing both parties to focus on the product and not negotiation.
For marketing, Tutton believes the program is getting more customers in the door and contributes to positive word-of-mouth. He can draw a straight line to 10 to 15 sales a month, sales that otherwise might not have come directly to his store.
“We have seen a lot more activity over the last several months, and I believe that will continue to grow and grow as more people are talking about the website,” he said. “I’m seeing the buying experience get to where it is about the experience and fair pricing versus leaving one dealership to go to another for $100 bucks.”