It’s no secret that for many people car shopping ranks right up there with getting a root canal, trying on swimsuits and doing taxes.
Many dealerships have tried to make it less painful, with either hyper friendly and eager sales personnel or a near-completely virtual transaction, Auto House aims to accomplish this with a hybrid of the two models, bridging old school and modern methods.
The family-run business has made adjustments that most other dealerships failed to do over the years since opening in 2005, general manager Jon Parske said.
“The family spent decades in the car business. It changed while most other businesses remained the same,” Parske said. “You should be able to enjoy buying a vehicle and not dread the process.”
Chris Finn was the original and sole founder of the business. The Finn family is still involved.
The formula seems simple enough: Have customers deal with only one employee throughout the process; greet guests with water but allow them to browse without stalking; and use local networks and connections to give customers the best deals.
However, Parske explained the Finns knew that was not the norm. This led to a model that now resembles a fusion of the traditional style of car sales and the contemporary online-heavy approach.
“They were tired of hearing about the predatory tactics used by other dealerships,” Parske said. “(But) most consumers do want to have an interaction. They need to be able to use somebody’s experience to guide them to the right vehicle for the right situation in their lives.”
Parske’s assessment appears accurate. According to data from technology driven cultural insights agency ThinkNow, while there is a significant increase in online shopping for vehicles, 81% of buyers prefer in-person purchases.
How business has grown
When Finn first started the dealership, it was fueled by repeat referral business. He built relationships with credit unions, which would refer their members to Auto House instead of big box shops. This, Parske said, created a solid base for the growth that followed.
Today, Auto House has locations in Scottsdale, Peoria and Tempe — which boasts a brand-new $7.5 million 100,000-square foot indoor showroom. It’s the largest in the nation. It also became the sole dealership to sell the luxury electric vehicle Karma at its Scottsdale location.
Auto House is part of a U.S. auto industry that sold 41 million new and used light truck and passenger cars in 2019, according to Statista.
All locations are indoors, giving customers a comfortable, climate-controlled experience.
The business averages 150 new sales each month, with a 50% growth year over year in the last five years, Parske said.
The idea was to change the mindset of how the industry worked: Make transactions relationship-based rather than financially based.
Parske talked about a customer looking for a new truck. He had gone to another dealer and sat there for five hours before leaving with nothing. The next morning, Parske made a call to his connections and was able to get the exact truck the customer wanted for $2,000 less than the price quoted at the other dealership. No five-hour wait was required.
In fact, customers who purchase a vehicle from Auto House are in and out in an hour, Parske said.
“Other places have a goal to hold you there as long as they can until you say ‘yes.’ There is no reason to have to be there that long. No reason to have them get to the point where they are so frustrated they want to walk away,” Parske said.
Auto House sells new and used vehicles. It also works trade-ins, leasing and purchases vehicles from those wishing to sell. In this last scenario, Parske said they will often cut a check on the spot. Little margin usually means they can also pay more for those cars.
Because each customer deals with only one person rather than getting handed off to multiple people, staff is smaller than large dealerships and that savings also is passed on to customers. It helps keep the transaction transparent, too, Parske said.
After clients come through any of their facilities, Parske said the common reaction is so positive that they wonder why they didn’t come by sooner.
“We try to treat everyone like family. Dealing with one person through the whole process creates the memorable no-pressure experience. It makes the consumer much more comfortable. Everything is transparent, we’re showing them all the numbers (and) not hiding behind a monthly payment,” Parske said.
Word of mouth brings new customers
Robynn Lee bought her 2016 Chevy Tahoe from Auto House’s Tempe location nearly three years ago and loves not only her SUV but still remembers the customer service she received in the process.
Since then, Auto House has sponsored the softball team Lee coaches. Lee has referred dozens of friends and family members seeking a new car to the dealership and said the majority of them end up buying from Auto House and are also pleased with the service.
“Whomever I send, I know they’re going to be taken care of and happy, long-term wise,” said Lee, who lives in Goodyear. “They have been really amazing within the softball community. They are not going to push you into being upside down.”
Lee recalled how Auto House worked through every car buying option with her nephew to help him avoid a situation where he’d have regrets about his purchase.
“I find that very refreshing rather than other car dealers that are going to use you for any type of sale,” Lee said.
This kind of service has created a customer base that thrives on word-of-mouth even within families.
Parske encounters multigenerational customers. They return because they want to make such a big and important purchase from someone they trust.
“There’s that joy of the business, when you sell a young couple a car and 16 years later you’re helping them buy their son or daughter their first car,” Parske said. “When you give clients that experience you develop a friendship that’s long standing. And who doesn’t want a friend in the car business?”
What: Auto House
Where: Scottsdale, Tempe, Peoria
Factoid: In 2020, 14 million new passenger car and light truck sales in the United States, according to Statista.