Serving customers and the community is at the heart of Lally Auto Group’s philosophy.
As Vice President of a thriving and expanding auto dealer group in Southwestern Ontario, Adam Lally says that an emphasis on customer service, staff and supporting the communities you operate in is critical to success.
In an exclusive interview with Autosphere, Adam talks about how he got started in the industry, how Lally Auto Group has grown to more than nine locations and how COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the face of automotive retail.
How did you first get involved with the family business and was it something you wanted to pursue?
Originally it wasn’t something I saw myself doing. Growing up I thought I’d end up doing something other than working in the family business, but when I was in high school, I needed a job and the dealership needed somebody to work on the lot.
The next thing I knew, I had fallen in love with the atmosphere. There were some amazing people that worked at the dealership [Tilbury Ford] and I ended up staying. I just love the business.
How has the Lally Auto Group grown and are there any significant milestones for the business that you would like to share with our readers?
Lally Sales & Service was actually founded in Comber, Ontario by my grandparents. It started out as a BA gas and service station in 1946.
My father added the Ford franchise in 1983 and we moved the business into Tilbury in the 1990s. Since then it has continued to grow. We added a fourth location in Leamington, in 2007, which was around the time when I graduated university and joined the business.
Since that time, we have added Victory Ford and Lally Kia, both of which are located in neighbouring Chatham and also added a Chrysler and Mazda dealership in Chatham after that.
Most recently, we also added a Chevrolet location across the street in Tilbury. We’ve also partnered with Reaume Chevrolet in La Salle. So, with these locations and our used car store we have nine rooftops in total, representing 11 automotive brands in different communities across southwestern Ontario.
Can you tell us a little about how Lally Auto Group is able to deliver a superior customer service in the communities in which it operates?
It’s a bit of a cliché but I would definitely say that our strength lies in our people. It really comes down to the person sitting across from the customer and making sure they have the customer’s best interests at heart because that really shows they care.
What do you feel are some of the fundamentals in operating a successful new and used vehicle retail operation in today’s environment?
When we think of the fundamentals of both new and used vehicle sales, great people are definitely the foundation of that.
Over the last few years and particularly the last 12-14 months, if we have learned anything, it is your ability to deal with change and adapt to different market conditions that is crucial in this business.
I think if there is one thing that retail auto dealers do really well as a group, it is being able to adapt to change and pivot. And, as we look forward to the next few years that’s going to be extremely key to our success.
Right now, we see a lot of turbulence and volatility both in the new and used vehicle markets. Identifying opportunities requires sticking to the fundamentals—namely transparency, honesty, integrity.
If you can be open, clear and sharing with the customer it creates a win-win. When market conditions are the way they are now, you have to be ready and willing to roll the dice.
Can you tell us about new growth opportunities you’ve been able to identify in the markets in which you operate?
Most recently, we have seen a huge opportunity in fixed operations to grow and refine our processes, as well as in F&I. We’ve recently looked to some of our best people in fixed ops and F&I and we are all very excited about that.
We’ve got some changes we’re implementing here to try and help spread some of the knowledge of our top performers within the group, while still being able to leverage our differences too. For us, it’s really important that each store has its own personality and also its own way of doing things.
We’re just going to make sure that we can now get to where we want to go a little bit faster than we would have been able to do otherwise.
What have been some of the changes the group has implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and how has this impacted both sales and service at the group’s dealership locations?
Through the pandemic, the biggest successes have been the small things. We actually trialled a digital retailing platform at one of our stores that launched in the middle of January 2020.
The plan was to see how things went over a few months and establish some best practices and then roll it out.
Those plans changed pretty quick, and we upped our timeline and were able to roll that out successfully in spring last year at all of our stores.
So, would say definitely, digital retailing is a big one, and cross-platform selling is something that we’re also learning more about. Over the last year we’ve really made used cars a bigger focus of our operations and that’s an area where we’re looking to grow going forward as well.
Given that we are living through unusual times, can you tell us about some of the community programs and initiatives you operate to help give back and offer support for those that need it?
This whole pandemic is brought the issue of community into focus right and how important that is to everyone on a personal level but to our businesses as well.
We play a part in our communities and we need to be there to support others. Last year in May, I had an opportunity to be part of something called the May 16 Miracle county-wide food drive that ended up being the biggest single-day food drive in world history—unofficially.
A month after that, myself and a couple of co-workers and some other community members decided to bring the initiative to Windsor-Essex, where we had another Miracle and raised a huge amount of food—over 2 million lbs. of food.
I think you know, we’ve really tried to get creative in how we support local restaurants and that type of thing and connecting with businesses that are in need, as well as trying to support other causes that we normally work with.
How has the impact of COVID-19 on both new and used vehicles affected customer demand in the communities where you operate?
I would say demand hasn’t been the issue, it is the supply. And while I haven’t been around the industry as long as some, I’ve certainly never seen anything like this and just about anybody I’ve talked to hasn’t either.
Currently, we’re dealing with a really unique supply-demand equation for both new and used vehicles. I think that the used vehicle market has certainly been affected by the lack of new vehicles available and we’ve also got the U.S. dollar affecting demand and pricing for vehicles as well.
We’ve seen demand surge for all our brands and all types of vehicles, including used cars and right now the biggest issue is the ability to source inventory. It does seem like the rationality of the market has gone out the window over the last few months, making for an unusual and impressive situation.
Have you seen any particular trends related to certain brands the Lally Auto Group represents?
I think we have a new appreciation for that word trend in this industry because I think over the past year, anything we’ve seen as a trend has quickly been proven wrong. And we’re seeing so much of a flip flop compared with more normal times that we’re very careful about getting too predictive.
And, certainly, in the last year, there have been times when we’ve lost out and where we have continued with normal buying and selling practices and stuck to our processes. I think, however, we’ve also won in certain instances and, you know, certainly, there are people right now that are betting on the market increasing or betting on the bubble breaking.
As for me, I’d rather continue with normal processes and try to manage through the ups or the downs.
As we are now hopefully seeing a light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to COVID, how do you see the automotive retail experience evolving as it relates to both the customer and dealer?
We’ve seen it consistently where customers’ expectations increase and our service levels increase as a dealer body, and the expectations increase to match that and I think those are things that are going to become, instead of extras that one dealer does versus another, things that everybody is doing.
Whoever can figure out cross-platform selling and is able to successfully merge the showroom and digital experiences is going to have a win there. We are going to have to become good at doing business differently for different people.
But I think, overall, the challenge is how do we deliver this increasing service on decreasing margins? And, of course, as a dealer, we always look to volume, but the biggest question really is how we deal with increasing service expectations from customers and increasing pressure on our margins too. I don’t have any big answer to that, but what I do know is that it is important to make the next best decision, the next right move and trust your people and processes.
By doing this, I believe we will all get through this and be better for it.