Loyalty runs deep on “The Rock.”
Over a century ago, Newfoundland businessman Albert E. Hickman’s fishing fleet sailed the Atlantic and Caribbean, selling local fish for salt and coal. One day, Hickman shipped a car back home on one of his schooners. That was in 1905, and soon, “The Rock” had its first car dealership.
Today, the Hickman Automotive Group has grown to a number of motor vehicle brands, including General Motors, Nissan, FCA, and Honda. It is a fourth-generation family business, and employs 385 people–including fleet manager Peter Moore.
“Some of our customers have literally been with us for generations,” says Moore. “And with all the mega projects like Voisey’s Bay, the hydroelectric project at Muskrat Falls, many international companies entered the market. That created opportunities for local companies that we’ve been dealing with for many years. It also meant we had to be proactive and search outside our four walls for business.”
Moore started at Hickman’s Saturn store 22 years ago in sales, moved into finance at the GM store and then into fleet. “I love fleet, I didn’t want to leave,” he chuckles. “It’s the relationships with the customers. And also knowing what your environment is, what your local market needs. You have to be able to supply that information to people who are coming in green.”
As an example, he cites companies who call from the southern United States and ask for vehicles to be equipped for a polar climate. “They look at a map, and see that St. John’s is the most eastern point of North America,” Moore explains. “They also associate it with the Titanic. We have to explain that we’re not in a polar environment, and understand what they really need.”
However, in the winter, the weather can get severe. “The RCMP wanted to put two wheel drive SUVs in Labrador for patrol units,” Moore says. “I talked them out of it.”
Selling vehicles in the unique Newfoundland market has helped to prepare Moore for doing business with international players. “We get a lot of referral business now,” he says. “The relationships we’ve built with our clients, the lines of communication we’ve established, we ask them to give us a bit of notice so that we can satisfy their demand.”
Keeping it local
Loyalty runs deep in Newfoundland, and everyone will go the extra mile to keep business local. “You have to be competitive,” Moore says. “But we work together. We’re on an island, so it’s easier to keep business within the province. In Newfoundland, they say you’re only two people away from a family relation. And often it does work out that way.”
His team in Atlantic Canada and the support staff at General Motors enjoy a close relationship. “They come down and meet my customers a couple of times a year, and my customers can call them any time,” says Moore. “I deal with other dealers in Atlantic, I’ll drop vehicles at their location and they take care of my customers. I do the same for them–it’s a group effort.”
Occasionally, international workers will stay on in Newfoundland after their work term has ended. “They’re attracted to the culture, the slow pace of life, and will buy homes here,” says Moore. “It’s great for us and our economy. A lot of my fleet clients have turned into retail customers.”