Keith McCluskey was fourteen years old in 1973 when his father Daniel first opened the doors of a dealership that would redefine what it meant to buy a vehicle in-and-around the Cincinnati area. A celebrated presence in both the General Motors community and the automotive landscape as a whole, Daniel McCluskey had become indistinguishable from his reputations as both a charitable and service-minded member of each community that he was a part of. Needless to say, he had cast an impressive mold; a template of service-minded commitment that is still in use five years after his passing. Serving as the foundation upon which his son, Keith, has conceived the next-generation of dealerships – and the manner in which Keith chooses to occupy each community that he, himself, is a part of.
McCluskey Chevrolet At-a-Glance
“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”
This gem was offered long before meme culture made inspirational, empowering quotes the tool and trade of every bored social media user. It came from Jerry Gregoire, former CIO of Dell Computers, one of the pioneering retailers to embrace a truly customer-centric online business model well-before the boon of the connective service-minded approach.
Judging Keith McCluskey on the culture which he has created in Cincinnati, and the success it has yielded, one might assume that he had been cut from the same cloth. Recognizing the potential for success by creating an unparalleled customer experience, McCluskey has invested in multi-million dollar upgrades to reshape expectations by revitalizing the buying environment and implementing a truly unique Guest Relations Center.
But the visionary approach taken by Keith McCluskey, and his team, extend well beyond the curation of thoughtful cosmetics and creation of a customer-centric buying experience. Such choices, of course, are part of a larger strategy – one to generate further sales opportunities. Now, some might consider the discussion of growth and profitability to be taboo in this ‘era of woke’ but (for the sake of anyone actually interested in the way the world works) let’s take a look at the power of thoughtful, strategic growth.
The Numbers Speak for Themselves
Looking back to December 2008, McCluskey Chevrolet had reported a monthly total of 96 new and used vehicles. Fast-forward just over a decade and, in March of 2019, monthly sales had ascended to a mind-bending 816 vehicles. And while that increase can certainly be attributed in-part to culture, it would be hard to discredit Keith McCluskey’s well-publicized leveraging of the internet and thoughtful integration of digital marketing strategies.
And based on the dealership’s reputation for being open nearly around the clock (seven days a week, with their service center open until 3 AM for the wider convenience of customers) an aggressive online strategy makes perfect sense. Just as they don’t want their customers to feel rushed, confined to the rigors of an 8 AM-6 PM timetable, they understand that today’s consumerism is best supported by respecting the convenience of the consumer. For a dealership, this means embracing the power and possibilities of an effective online presence to deliver more prospective clients to the dealership doorstep.
Out of respect for the success enjoyed by the McCluskey team, we would never be so bold as to inquire as to their secrets; but such quantifiable growth speaks volumes as to the potential of digital marketing and SEO within the automotive landscape. In other words, take note if your dealership isn’t seeing the same kind of growth. Granted, the possibilities across diverse geographies will inevitably differ, but the potential for greater success is there.
But if there’s one thing we could all learn from Keith McCluskey, it’s that those possibilities need to be cultivated both online and IRL.
The McCluskey Experience
For any dealers looking to explore how to do it right, all it takes is one trip to Kings Road Automall in Cincinnati. It’s not unusual for a dealership to invest in renovations, or in the incorporation of complimentary amenities designed to attract and retain a wider clientele. But McCluskey has taken that near-universal idea and accelerated it to the nth degree.
More than just thoroughly commendable brand-building, with individually stylized rooms reflecting an upbeat and contemporary vibe, they’ve somehow managed to curate a destination environment.
Likening it (in some ways) to an Apple Store, the showroom is overlooked by a glass mezzanine, creating a very open-air feel. Presentation stations permeate the floor, offering device charging, and welcome distractions. Refreshment comes in the form of Starbucks products and a selection of over 100 beverages, while there is an equally expansive selection of food products for replenishment. The environment is meant to feel both welcoming and supportive, going as far as to transport interested visitors around the lot in golf carts to make the experience less taxing.
But the environment is designed to benefit more than just the customer. Of course, sales and service are king at McCluskey (they are, after all, a successful business). However, Keith McCluskey takes great pride in having built a working environment built on mutual support and a shared vision of success. This means a team of well-informed specialists, knowledgable in their own areas of expertise, but always respectful of the correlation between their own roles and those of their fellow team members. Not only does this create a more positive ‘office culture’ but it furthers a desire for a seamless customer experience. After all, each and every facet of McCluskey is part of a bigger whole, leaving no room for the kind of disruptive and harmful self-service that some might equate with the industry, as a whole.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the inclusion of a 10-bay solar charging station. One of the pioneering dealerships to win a ‘Green Dealer’ award from General Motors, McCluskey is clearly ahead of the game when it comes to the ever-increasing importance of sustainability within the automotive industry.
The result, as one might expect, is a positive one. Praise has come from established customers, prospective buyers, and employees alike. And if it manages to sell a few more cars, trucks, and SUVs (insert sarcasm regarding use of the word ‘few’ here) well, it’s safe to say that everyone wins.
Ultimately, it speaks to a desire to ascend beyond the dated stereotypes of dealerships, and making it more about ‘car-buying’ than ‘car-selling.’ The creation of a customer-centric environment and practice of respectful sales and service philosophies makes it easy to see why so many are drawn to McCluskey. It’s also easy to see why they are inspiring so many other dealers to embrace a more aspirational approach in reshaping the culture that they offer.
Always Looking Forward
Never one to rest on their laurels, the possibilities are endless for the team at McCluskey. Should we expect further evolution in Cincinnati? Inevitably. But with the kind of momentum they’ve been so successful in establishing, and with the possibility of another generation of leaders moving into leadership roles within the McCluskey family empire, it’s easy to see how the original vision of Daniel McCluskey knows no bounds. Who knows just how far it could reach.