Modern Dealership’s Interview with Kristin Dillard, Partner at Team Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac
Salisbury, North Carolina.
Named one of the “40 Under 40 Up-and-Coming Retailers” by Automotive News last year, Kristin Dillard has made huge strides at Team Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac at the young age of 36. Getting her start in the same place her dad did – the detail center – Dillard went on to more than double the dealership’s net profits in just one year. The secret to her success? It’s all about the people.
1. Your dad ran a dealership in Fayetteville when you were a kid. Did you want to follow in his footsteps?
My dad has been in the automotive industry his whole life. At some point as a kid, I learned that if I wanted to spend time with him, I needed to be at the dealership! When I was 7 or 8 years old, he’d bring me in to the store for hot dog day – when we had these big conversion van sales – and me and a couple of other kids would run the hot dog tent, giving away hot dogs. There was so much excitement, and people were in a great mood. I learned very early that the dealership is a really fun place to be.
2. How long have you been at Team Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac?
We just celebrated 26 years, and I’ve been here for 19 of those years. I did finance for a dealership in Maine for about six months right out of college, and then came here. But we bought this dealership when I was 10, and as soon as I could work, I started the same way my dad did: in the detail center. I washed cars, I answered phones. In the summertime in college, I sold cars. I’ve worked every seat, so now when I ask somebody to do something, I know what I’m asking. And if they don’t know how to do it, I’ll sit down and show them! Anyway, I figured out pretty quickly that automotive was what I wanted to do with my life.
3. I’m sure your dad was supportive. And your mom?
You know, my mother is a wonderful woman. She’s always supportive, and she’s a great sounding board. She reminds all of us to lead with love. She puts events together for us, but more than anything, she’s our cheerleader, saying, “You’ve got this. I know you can do it!”
4. You’re dealer principal and general manager, and a mom. With your own family, do you find it hard to create a work-life balance?
No, because I have a great support system at home, and then I have a great support system here. We spend so much time making sure we have the right people in the right seats. I can leave and it’s OK.
With technology where it is now, I don’t have to be that old-school dealer sitting 70 to 80 hours at my desk. I still work those hours, I just leave at 5 or 6 every night to go home and be a good mom to my two girls, then after they go to bed I log back in and finish working. So I get the best of both worlds.
5. Do you work with your dad?
My dad is my mentor. He’s determined that there’s going to be “one leader” – he’s a military man. He really lets me do my thing. I’m so thankful to have him in that role, because I can call him when I need help and he’s always there for me.
When we went through our major culture change about four years ago, we moved everything from traditional to digital. He trusted me do that – didn’t fight me or anything. So it was really nice to have that strength of experience, but still his trusting me enough to take it to a place that maybe we haven’t been before.
6. What were some of the pain points and challenges you had during those changes?
All of them. Pick one – we had it! But it was important enough for us to say, “This is where the industry’s going. If we don’t get on board we’re going to fail.”
We did have a lot of people who wanted to do it the way we’d always done it, but those are really dangerous words: “This is the way we’ve always done it.” So we did change out a couple of managers who weren’t into technology. Everything we do now is metric based, from service and certainly sales and into the BDC. People can get their feelings hurt when they learn those metrics for the first time, but our goal was to introduce them to the metrics and then do everything we can to help them get better and better.
7. Did you see a lot of changes to your team?
We’ve hired a lot of new people to help build the team. Craig Lockerd [CEO of AutoMax Recruiting & Training] really helped us. Our average age of staff went way down – not because we tried to do that, but once we told them how we marketed, etc., it just happened. And about 30 percent of our team now is female. So our sales staff looks more like our customers, which is great because they have somebody they can relate to.
One of the things we did was we focused on people who are compassionate leaders, but also strong leaders who demand performance. We were able to grow our net profits by 156 percent from one year to the next, and also our volume, so it’s been a really fun road. It’s a lot of work!
We are really big on culture here, so if we don’t think you’re going to gel with the team, you probably aren’t the right candidate. Part of that is being loving and compassionate, but also – no courage issues either. We’re really trying to grow our market share, and our volume’s gone up, and all of that comes from these types of people, who are very team-oriented.
We work together, we play together, and we pray together. It’s important to us to have that cohesiveness. We’ve built a real family culture.
8. Does religion play a big part?
It’s a big part of our everyday, but we have people here who aren’t about that, and it doesn’t get pushed in their face. But to me personally it’s important. When we experience tragedies (we lost one of our directors in a motorcycle accident recently), it’s quite often that we want to come together and pray.
9. What is a big goal of yours currently?
I just want to make people’s lives better, from our associates to our customers. The car business gets a bad rap, but it’s changed so many lives. My dad grew up very poor. Just through hard work, you can change your entire life working at a dealership, just like he did.
I want to be able to do that for more people. And we’ve done that for quite a few of our staff. Like we had one employee who started as a cashier and now she’s the office manager at one of our dealerships. Same with technicians – we’ve had a lot of guys start as oil change techs and now they’re master techs and making a great income.
As for clients, they expect a really bad experience. So when they come into a store where it’s all family, they’re like, “Wow, this is so refreshing! And everybody’s working together. I feel like you care for me.” I think that’s really important for them when they’re making such a big decision or trusting us to complete a major repair.
10. How do you connect with the community?
One thing all the dealerships in Salisbury do is get together about twice a year to support United Way. We put funds in a pot, and then we give a car away with those funds, so it helps United Way sell tickets to raise money. I think last year we were able to raise over $1 million all together.
Our dealership, on its own, also supports PCAR: Prevent Child Abuse Rowan. They are funded through the Salisbury Police Department and some other organizations. They help children who have been abused, so rather than sending the child to a hospital for an exam, a psychologist for counseling, the police department for a statement – they bring every child into this one home and take care of them there. Everybody comes to the child. This is a really important one to us.
11. Do you have a passion outside the car world?
I love to cook and to entertain. My girls are my world and we love to spend time on the lake and in the water … we love to jet ski, swim, raft, and hike. Oh, and I do a lot of reading. Right now I’m reading “Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself.” And I love shoot ’em up and kill ’em fiction!