HER Certified is dedicated to empowering women to make good decisions when purchasing a car or in need of automotive service. HER Certified and HER Academy is designed to enlighten dealerships through education and mentoring; communicating an understanding of “what women want in a car buying experience.”
I asked to interview Wally Henkel, General Manager of Big Two Toyota, to find out his secret to success. His dealership is a model I would like to see more dealerships emulate. The customer experience is what really matters and Big Two Toyota has been doing it right for 50 years.
Big Two Toyota just celebrated 50 Years in Arizona – What’s the Secret?
Her Certified: Fifty years in the Valley of the Sun and you are still at the top of the leaderboards each month. Give me three reasons you feel that happens?
Wally Henkel: Only three? The product and the manufacturer, hands down. Toyota is the finest mass-produced product made. Our people; we employ and retain some of the finest personnel in the auto industry and last but not least, Big Two is family owned and operated, our customer retention is our priority, and we treat customers like family.
HC: We know you haven’t worked here for 50 years Wally, you look too young. How long have you been with Big Two?
WH: I started with Big Two in 1981 and became the General Manager in 1983; yes, that’s right 36 years. I’m also the GM of the Big Two Mitsubishi dealership.
HC: I notice a few Henkel names on the roster, how are they related to you?
WH: I have two sons. My wife and I never encouraged the boys to follow in my footsteps. They worked at the dealerships during high school and college but that was to earn extra money. When they graduated from college and wanted to learn from the business from bottom up, I said “sure.” They did learn every position, from washing cars to overlooking payroll. No one can ever say they were handed a position; they earned it. My son Brett is the assistant manager of Toyota and Mitsubishi and my son Chris is the General Sales Manager of Big Two Toyota. Working with my sons is a wonderful gift.
HC: If you had a daughter would you encourage her to go into the car business?
WH: Absolutely! I feel that women have so many opportunities in the auto business both in corporate positions and in sales. I think women make the best salespeople. I wish we had more women apply for positions.
HC: Why do you feel employing women in sales and service is challenging?
WH: The hours are demanding. Weekends and evenings are when the majority of sales are made, and the traffic in the stores warrants all-hands-on-deck. We have found that women have family commitments, small children, parents to care for, and other obligations that make it difficult to commit to so many hours. For the women that can do it, they can make a lot of money and have a career to last year after year.
HC: You have a unique dealership. It actually looks like a resort. You have a barber, massage therapist, nail tech, hair salon, café, game room and a pirate ship for the kids. Did you do this to attract female customers?
WH: We remodeled our showroom in 2007 and at that time I decided we needed to make the “waiting” experience as nice as the “buying experience.” We give parents a safe place for their children to play while they look at cars, engage in test drives or wait for their cars to be done in service. With a massage, we are helping the computer professional who is leaning over his desk all day. Nails, barber, and wifi are also available, not to mention the café where we serve some amazing meals. Oh, and by the way, the people who work at these amenities are employees of Big Two Toyota.
HC: Are the services FREE to the public? What if I wanted to come weekly to get my nails done or get my bangs trimmed.
WH: Our services are complementary to our past and present customers. If you feel you want to use our operators on a regular basis a nominal fee is charged.
HC: So you didn’t do this because you felt you would have more female customers buy from you or have their vehicles serviced at Big Two?
WH: Actually no, we want all our customers and visitors to be engaged in the process to purchase a car and sometimes it takes a few hours. Why not give our customers a nice experience? Trish Fox manages all our amenities and makes sure we have fresh Cinnabons daily.
HC: As you know, car buying has been compared to a root canal. The business generally has a poor reputation. How do you stand out? What are your standards for employment? Any suggestions for other dealers?
WH: We do use employment services to find key personnel. Candidates will sit down with several department heads while sharing our philosophy. Their past experience and references give us an opportunity to be very selective in the process. We emphasize you are not selling like in the “old days.” We know that there are good dealers and some dealers that deserve the root canal comparison. We work very hard at putting our customers as our number one priority. Unfortunately, perception sometimes has the customer anticipating a bad experience. We feel we can turn their perception around.
HC: Fifty years ago there were no cell phones, no less Yelp, and Social Media. How has advertising changed and what are your thoughts on social media to sell cars?
WH: We continue to advertise with traditional media such as television and radio. Our message remains the same, we have outstanding customer service. We have a family owned and operated business so we are very careful how we represent our company. Social media has its place; content is important, delivered in the form of a TV commercial or live streaming. We feel we balance our outreach.
HC: I believe women are more likely to purchase a vehicle from a dealership that is involved in the community. How do you reach out to nonprofits and your surrounding community?
WH: We fundraise and donate to the ALS. Our family has had a personal loss from the disease and we are dedicated to raising funds for the foundation. We have a diverse portfolio of involvement in the community; as we believe in being a good neighbor. My son Brett sits on the board for a wonderful organization called ICAN, serving the underserved in our community.
Your Favorite Quote – “The road to success is always under construction.” – Arnold Palmer
Your Daily Driver – 2018 Toyota Avalon
Your First Car – 1969 Opal Cadet
If not the auto business what? – A Pilot, a guess it’s never too late.
I was also able to interview and meet some of the employees and customers. I felt like I was at a Ritz Carlton and Disneyland combined. The customer experience was on steroids. It was easy to see how they have maintained their reputation, sales volume and retention of customers for fifty years. If I only had ten more minutes, I would have had my bangs trimmed.