In 1953, Paul E. Miller bought a Ford dealership on Main Street in Lexington, Kentucky.
More than 60 years later, that dealership has evolved into the Paul Miller Motor Company: a 27-acre campus with three dealerships, body shops, an upfitting service, an auto glass repair company, dent repair service, and heavy truck service. It is now in its third generation of Miller ownership and leadership.
Many things have changed since 1953, but the core values the company was founded upon remain the same, and have been vital to the dealership’s success, then and now.
Early Days and Founding Values
Paul E. Miller, universally known as Mr. Miller, led his dealership by example, taking time every day to talk to employees and customers alike.
“Mr. Miller was a real customer-focused person,” says Harold Rainey, who has worked at the dealership since its Main Street days. “He would get out in the showroom and meet everyone there.”
Mr. Miller was a forward thinker who did things his own way. When he moved his dealership to a larger location on the east side of Lexington in 1965, Ford Motor Company thought it was a terrible location, assuming customers wouldn’t venture that far outside downtown. Mr. Miller’s legendary response: “That’s tough, because I’ve already bought it.” More than 50 years later, the high-traffic location is thriving, proving Mr. Miller’s intuition correct.
Since the dealership’s inception, Mr. Miller understood that Paul Miller Ford’s success was deeply tied to the community. Mr. Miller brought in Nick Clooney—then a local news anchor—to serve as the Master of Ceremonies at Paul Miller Ford’s “Safety Shindigs,” aimed Lexington’s youth. Today, those Safety Shindigs have been revitalized as the annual Paul Miller Ford Family Safety Day, bringing together dozens of local companies to help keep Lexington’s kids safe.
Paul Miller Ford also established a lasting relationship with University of Kentucky athletics. Adolph Rupp, legendary head coach of the UK men’s basketball team, drove a Ford from Paul Miller, beginning a tradition of UK’s coaches driving cars provided by the dealership.
Beyond UK athletics and dealership events, Paul Miller Ford also supported other local causes, from providing vehicles to daycares to donations to local hospitals and charities. “Mr. Miller did a lot of things people never knew about,” says Lee Beall, Paul Miller Motor Company CFO. “He just went out and did good. That’s the type of person he was.”
That strong commitment to service and doing the right thing was one of the hallmarks of the customer experience at Paul Miller Ford, from the earliest days of the dealership onward. One of the memorable slogans from Mr. Miller’s era, “Sit on hard chairs and save hard cash,” spoke to the straightforward, personal approach customers could expect at the dealership.
“Mr. Miller was all about fairness,” says David Wilson, Paul Miller Motor Company President. “‘Always take care of your customers and your employees,’ he’d say—and we still do.”
“Customer experience has become a buzzword, but we’ve been doing it for a long time,” says JP Miller, Jr., Mr. Miller’s grandson. “If my grandfather and father didn’t get customer experience right, we wouldn’t have been able to keep our doors open. Staying focused on our customers has been a major part of our success.”
Second Generation Success
John Paul Miller, the second generation Miller to lead the company, guided the dealership to even greater prominence in the Lexington community. It was under his leadership that the dealership became known as “Kentucky’s Big One,” a phrase that’s still familiar with locals.
It was during John Paul Miller’s time that Paul Miller Ford’s relationship with the University of Kentucky turned into a formal marketing strategy. The dealership created a special-edition Ford Explorer for Coach Rick Pitino, complete with his signature on the doors, and made the vehicle available for order to customers. At the same time, the dealership began featuring UK coaches in its commercials—a practice that continues today.
Twenty-First Century Tradition and Innovation
JP Miller took over leadership of the company in 2006. Under his guidance, the dealership has evolved to meet the needs and challenges of the auto industry in the twenty-first century, while staying true to its founding values: community involvement, customer service, and taking care of its employees.
In addition to the annual Family Safety Day, Paul Miller Ford hosts and sponsors dozens of community events each year. A new initiative, Paul Miller Gives Back, gives employees a designated number of paid volunteer hours to devote to local causes.
“We’ve stayed very committed to giving back to our community,” says JP Miller. “That’s been a part of our family for a long time, and it’s in the DNA of our company.”
JP Miller has also continued the tradition of supporting the University of Kentucky, bringing the dealership into the Coach Calipari era with multiple Coach Cal Mustangs and commercials and social media videos starring all three UK head coaches. The dealership’s current tagline, “Your True Blue Dealer,” is a nod to its membership in the Big Blue Nation.
The dealership’s commitment to customer service hasn’t changed under JP Miller. Today’s Paul Miller Motor Company is devoted to providing a five-star experience to every customer and continuing to build relationships with every person who walks through the door.
That relationship-building is evident in Paul Miller Motor Company’s referral program. Paul Miller Ford used to follow the typical model—a flat $100 bonus for anyone who referred a new customer, which usually led to a maximum of one or two referrals per customer. JP Miller revamped the program, incentivizing repeat referrals by increasing the bonus as customers referred more friends and family members. Today, some customers are averaging three or four referrals per year.
In addition to re-thinking the traditional referral program, Paul Miller Motor Company is also re-thinking the sales process. Technology is changing the shopping and sales experience, both for customers and for sales professionals. Cold calling is now a thing of the past at Paul Miller thanks to AutoAlert, which allows the dealership to identify customers who are in a good position to upgrade their vehicles.
“We put AutoAlert on our service drive and we saw success really early,” says JP Miller. “It gives us an opportunity to have a different kind of conversation with our customer, and customers are really excited about it.”
High-tech tools like AutoAlert, paired with a sophisticated marketing strategy, have helped Paul Miller Motor Company stay ahead of the digital curve. JP Miller’s advice to dealerships trying to navigate the digital waters of the modern auto industry: “Make sure you have the proper tools and the right people so you can grow and build. It’s about revolution, not just evolution.”
“We’re working together as one Motor Company to support our community and make our employees’ and customers’ lives better,” says Miller.
That commitment to service and community has helped Paul Miller Motor Company achieve more than 60 years of success, and have positioned the company to continue to grow, innovate, and build more relationships in the years and decades ahead.
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