Innovative Texas Auto Dealer Ditches Sales Commissions in Favor of "Solutions"


  • McKaig Chevrolet Buick Picture

    McKaig Chevrolet Buick Picture

    A free-thinking East Texas auto dealer changes its business model, moving away from commissioned sales in order to adopt a genuinely customer-driven management strategy. | January 24, 2014

Just the Facts:
  • McKaig Chevrolet Buick auto dealership does away with commissioned sales.
  • The dealer hires salespeople with no prior automotive sales experience.
  • Customer service extends to posting how-to videos on the dealership Web site.

GLADEWATER, Texas — One-hundred twenty miles east of Dallas here, McKaig Chevrolet Buick is on a mission to upgrade consumers' car-buying experience. The dealership has adopted a transformational management strategy that includes a radical concept: Its salespeople are no longer paid on a commission basis.

Non-commissioned selling isn't unheard of in auto retailing, but at McKaig the concept is the foundation for the larger goal of creating a low-stress atmosphere that focuses on customers' needs rather than the priorities of the sales staff, a philosophy spelled out in plain speech by General Manager Kent Abernathy's dealership promise.

It's certainly no secret that car shopping can be stressful. Not at McKaig: Kent Abernathy and his brother Mark, the dealership's marketing manager, both agreed the traditional car sales approach wasn't in the best interest of McKaig — or its customers.

Mark, who started at McKaig in 2008 with no previous background in auto retailing, had particular distaste for the old-school car-shopping experience and was convinced his perspective closely resembled that of most typical customers. He believed if he "didn't like the process, it was likely shoppers didn't either."

So the Abernathy brothers began the store's transition in 2011. But the makeover encompassed more than simply changing the pay plan. They were out to reshape the way shoppers were treated. One of the first things to change: dealership terminology. Shoppers were no longer to be referred to as customers, but as "guests."

"A guest is somebody you're eager to please, somebody you are happy to have spend time with you," Mark Abernathy says. "Guests are treated with respect, and catered to. That's the service our clients deserve."

Next up was a change for the sales staff. McKaig calls its salespeople "solution specialists," to more accurately describe the sales staff's expected role. Sales personnel at McKaig Chevrolet Buick are trained to focus on finding the solution for each guest's transportation need rather than hammer at customers to earn a commission.

And yes, there's no traditional commission structure. McKaig's solution specialists are paid a salary as well as an additional fixed amount per vehicle sold, regardless of the price of the vehicle. "Whether it is the most or least expensive product, (the per-vehicle pay) is the same for the solution specialist. The important thing is to get the guest the vehicle that is best for the guest's needs," Mark insists.

There were bumps along the way, including losing some of the staff that wasn't on board with the dealership's new direction — particularly when it came to the matter of commissions.

Now, no solution specialist on the McKaig team has sold vehicles before. Management at McKaig decided it was easier and more effective to hire employees in which they saw potential and train them in the "McKaig way," rather than trying to convert salespeople from other dealerships.

And McKaig Chevrolet Buick extends the customer service experience beyond the showroom floor. The dealership takes pains to fill its Web site with all manner of useful information, from links to free credit reports and credit-maintaining strategies for guests looking to improve their credit standing to how-to videos offering instruction on completing sometimes daunting tasks such as pairing a new vehicle with a Bluetooth-enabled phone or removing the backseats from a Tahoe. The videos also serve as an introduction to the many of McKaig's solution specialists.

All of McKaig's efforts are taken to make the shopping and purchase process easier and more enjoyable, said Mark Abernathy, adding, "Folks should be able to enjoy buying a car and not feel like cattle."

Edmunds says: Maybe one of the first steps to improve the car shopping experience is to have dealers like McKaig who acknowledge that the experience can be improved.

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