Joe Serra - World Class Operator
In 2009, the Serra Automotive Group lost eight franchises including the top selling Hummer and Saturn stores in the country when General Motors shuttered the two brands along with Pontiac while getting rid of Saab.
The organization was prepared, though, due to the foresight of company president Joe Serra, who had brought in bankruptcy lawyers to lay the groundwork if things with General Motors went south quickly.
Fortunately, GM survived and today the group, with its 26 dealerships with 41 franchises and 1,600 employees in six states is one of the top 25 dealer groups in the country and could surpass $1 billion in revenue for 2011. In addition, it's Al Serra Automotive Plaza in Grand Blanc, MI, is 11th on the Ward's Dealer 500 list, while its Gold Coast Cadillac dealership in Oakhurst, NJ, is the top selling Cadillac dealership in the country.
There's no argument Serra is one of the best dealer operators in the country. He's one of six dealers to receive GM's Dealer of the Year award every since its inception.
His father Al, who passed away in 2006, began the company with a single point Chevrolet store in 1973 and in five years, the fledgling Al Serra Chevrolet was one of the top five Chevrolet stores in the nation. He quickly began adding dealerships. He hired Joe, his son, at age 22 following his graduation from Albion College with a degree in Economics. By the time Joe was 24, he was running the Chevy store as general manager.
In 1998, the younger Serra went to North Carolina to serve as president of Saturn Retail Enterprises, a group he and Don Hudler put together with the idea of having a 30-Saturn dealership group. Taking the corporate experience he gained, Serra returned to Michigan in 2000 and bought the group from his father and other shareholders.
Today he runs a decentralized operation letting the managers, some of whom have equity, run the dealerships. About half of them operate on a no-haggle pricing strategy, something he's been a proponent of for awhile since becoming familiar with the Saturn sales model in the early nineties.
Letting his general managers set the price means he can pay his sales people on volume instead of gross. It's also part of a philosophy that keeps his employees engaged which leads to them being satisfied. And that results in the most important metric -- happy customers.
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