By Adam Rapp
It was early in March of this year when Olivia Vera dropped off her vehicle at Nissani Brothers Hyundai in Culver City, California after experiencing some engine issues. As her car awaits repair, COVID-19 takes hold, with states nationwide issuing stay at home orders. Only essential businesses are permitted to carry on business as usual, which means Nissani Brothers Hyundai must close up shop, but Vera is never informed about the abrupt closure. Instead, she later found out that her vehicle was impounded and that she now owed thousands of dollars to a towing company.
“It’s shocking,” Vera said. “How could something like this happen?” To make matters worse, Vera now faces another predicament: come up with the thousands of dollars in cash (no credit cards or checks accepted) to pay the towing company or risk her car being sold off in an auction.
Unfortunately, Vera’s experience is not a singular incident. Dozens of other Nissani Hyundai service customers also saw their cars towed to E3 Collision Center, an impound lot in Long Beach, California. When Los Angeles Times journalist David Lazarus reached out to the dealership for comment, an unnamed Nissani Brothers employee claimed there were only five cars towed from the dealership, after several failed attempts to contact the owners. However, newly emerging details reveal Nissani Brothers Hyundai may have been in trouble long before COVID-19 showed up, with the company potentially using the pandemic as their excuse for disappearing off the grid.
The fallout stems from Hooman Nissani, co-owner of the dealership as well several others in Southern California.
“We believe in benefitting and improving the Greater Los Angeles Area, our local communities and the employees of Nissani Brothers,” Nissani wrote in a Medium.com blog post back in 2019. However, many of Nissani’s recent business practices contradict his philosophy. Also in 2019, Nissani was involved in one of California’s largest wage-theft cases over a car wash he owned that allegedly underpaid 64 workers for three years. Hyundai spokesperson Jim Trainor contends that Nissani’s deteriorating relationship with corporate headquarters led to the dealership’s closure.
Trainor also said that before Nissani Brothers shut their doors, they moved the vehicles that had been dropped off for service to an offsite facility so they could vacate the property, but neither Hyundai nor the car owners were informed of the move. It wasn’t until the towing company notified Vera that a lien had been placed (on her 2019 Kona) that everything came to a head.
Thankfully, Hyundai Corporate was soon made aware of this predicament and is now making efforts to help the customers affected. The company was able to move quickly, getting the vehicles out of impound and over to South Bay Hyundai in nearby Torrance, California, where the service was finally completed. Hyundai also announced full reimbursement to any customers who paid for service while impounded at E3. Complicating the issue at South Bay Hyundai, service manager Levit Perez said that records indicated Vera’s engine had been replaced, but found zero evidence of the service having been performed. Perez also said that many of the other cars originally from Nissani Brothers Hyundai arrived torn apart, as if the mechanics stopped halfway through the job, and didn’t even bother to put the car back together.
Nissani Brothers Hyundai is certainly an outlier, but still a worthy example of how not to conduct business at your dealership, and an important reminder to consistently reevaluate your business practices. This remains especially true in the face of this pandemic’s persistent life changing effects on people and the market. In a recent Business Insider interview, Cox Automotive executive publisher Carl Brauer gave his thoughts on the way coronavirus has inspired nuanced marketing concepts that are transforming the dealership industry landscape.
“There was a small rate of adoption before the coronavirus,” said Carl Brauer. “And then, the pandemic hit. Suddenly that wasn’t a bizarre option for dealers.” Staying relevant will ensure that your dealership stays strong and continues to attract customers, even in the midst of COVID-19. Diving deeper, what are some actions that you can take in order to guarantee customer satisfaction?
A responsive team is a must. Your dealership should have a quick response rate to all inquiries from potential customers, whether in store or online. Online sales are especially important right now as the shutdown moves forward in several states. While potential customers might not beat a traditional physical path to your doors these days, consumers still want and need new cars. In order to drive up online sales, your online presence must be strong, versatile, easy to navigate, and prove your value as a resource for both employees and customers.
A good example is Ladin Subaru in Thousand Oaks, California. When consumers first arrive at the website, they are presented with the website’s embedded “chat online” feature. This feature allows potential customers to ask questions with a real time response from a sales employee as they browse the website. The chat feature also allows current customers in need of car repairs the ability to speak with a service agent and schedule a service appointment.
A knowledgeable staff is also key. Your employees must be well versed in all current aspects of the dealership. This will help your employees to provide up-to-date and meaningful answers to potential customers’ questions. Having extensive knowledge of the brand, standard practices, and current disposition of the dealership will also give employees the ability to make more helpful suggestions based on the customer’s needs. This tactic will not only help to move sales along but will also advance your trusted reputation within the community.
As life is ever changing, your employees should be creating strategies that help your dealership become the standard for success in tomorrow’s auto industry. As this pandemic continues to unfold, individuals may be more reluctant to shop in person at the dealership. However, this should never prevent the ability to still make sales. Thinking outside the box, many dealerships including the successful Brown Auto Group of Long Island, New York have taken to bringing the dealership to customers. These dealerships have not only made it possible to purchase from home but will also bring a vehicle out to the potential customer’s residence for a test drive. While this has been standard operating procedure for some over the years, it might be time to make it routine for all.
Taking the steps listed above and implementing them into your dealership will ensure that your business weathers any storm. Most importantly, keep looking for those clues that will help your dealership establish itself as a leader for the new market, even when you’re already going strong.