As of 2018, there are nearly 17,000 new car franchise dealerships across the United States – so car buying as a service should be commonplace.

But we all know that all car dealerships, just like all car salespeople, are not created equal.  In Southern California, there are 43 Honda car dealerships.  And that doesn’t include San Diego County!  That’s only Los Angeles County, Orange County and the Inland Empire – Riverside and San Bernadino Counties.

And with all the information available to us buyers these days, we can walk into any dealership with an incredible amount of knowledge including the vehicle and price – everything.

So if cars are commodities then why choose one dealership over another?  Service – and honesty, of course.  A simple concept but easier stated than executed.

In this iDriveSoCal Podcast, I’m joined by David Latif of Rock Honda. Click play below to hear how his team treats car buying as a service rather than sales.  And, as part of National Salesperson Day, we acknowledge one of his top ‘service people’ who happens to help a lot of Southern Californians buy cars.

Rock Honda's Albert Suarez and iDSC's Tom Smith pictured as part iDriveSoCal Podcast 153 Car Buying as a Service

***Transcription***

Recorded in Fontana, CA

Service & Honesty

David Latif: People know everything before they get into a dealership, they can buy this car anywhere, so the only thing we’re really selling is service and honesty.

We’re trying to make the process as seamless as we can. You’re only going to them if this customer is happy 100%. Not a fake happy, a happy, happy!

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast. All about mobility from the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. Tom Smith here and I am excited to be out at our good friends, our wonderful partners in the Los Angeles suburb of Fontana California, Rock Honda.

Joining me is Rock Honda’s general manager, Mr David Latif. David, thank you so much for joining me yet again.

“…the only thing we’re really selling is service and honesty.”

David Latif: Thanks again for having me.

Tom Smith: Today’s podcast is… Really, it’s two-fold. One, it’s philosophical.

We’re coming up on a little known day, most people don’t know this holiday. I don’t think it’s soon to be a national holiday by any stretch, but nevertheless, it’s a day where we recognize certain professions. December 14th, 2018 is National Salesperson Day.

David Latif: I’m excited to find out what it is.

Tom Smith: People love getting new cars but the car buying process can be contentious. It’s been that way for many, many years.

But some car dealerships handle that situation far better than hours, even know. Even though it’s a known fact, whatever. You guys at Rock Honda do a phenomenal job, you do a great business.

You do a great business because you have a lot of repeat business, as well as you have a large staff that has very loyal followings. So we are going to announce, someone here at Rock Honda for National Salesperson Day.

You Can Buy Anywhere

But first, let’s talk a little bit about just kind of the philosophy that you share with your team here at Rock Honda as far as the sales cycle goes, the sales process goes.

David Latif: So obviously, I mean, the culture we build here the last seven, eight years is we sell one of the best products in the country.

People know everything before they get into a dealership. So the only thing we’re really selling is service. They can buy this car anywhere, so the only thing we’re really selling is service and honesty.

We have customers that bought 20, 25 cars here the last 15, 16 years. So the culture here, if you’re going to break the laws, and take shortcuts, and mistreat the customer, this is not a place for you to work.

We’re going to be here for a long time, we’ve been here already in Fontana I believe over 35, 40 years, and we’re not planning on going anywhere.

“…the only way this business and today’s market will survive is with your previous customers and word of mouth.”

So the only way this business and today’s market will survive is with your previous customers and word of mouth. That really working out for us. I mean, we got the store from selling 250 cars to 500 to 600 cars [monthly].

Five years in a row we won President Awards, Elite Awards, Masters Circle. All of that, it’s just not me, it’s the team, it’s the whole store. It takes a while to get the whole store to have the same vision and the same culture, and I’ve been lucky enough that we have that going into place.

Tom Smith: We’ve worked together for a long time, and I know people that work here that just like coming here. They put in exponentially more hours than necessary.

Environment of Honesty

I don’t even know if you’re paying them for that time that they’re here, but they like to be here. I mean, it’s a nice environment to come to, if a fun… Honestly, it’s a fun place for me to come and do work.

David Latif: It’s funny you said that the owners say the same thing. We own six stores and this is the store they love to come because the energy and everybody is in a good mood. That’s the energy we like to have in here.

I always joke around with my staff. I say, “This is a Vegas. When people come in, we want them to be excited and be happy.”  If your salespeople are happy, your customer is going to be happy.

Tom Smith: That’s so true.

David Latif: So if you come in, and the atmosphere is all dull, and everybody is down, and you know, we all have problems.

“When people come in, we want them to be excited and be happy.”

But you can’t bring it to work. If you do, now the customer feels it. As it is, they’re under pressure, new payment, new car. The last thing they want to run into is a guy with bad attitude and smell like cigarette.

Tom Smith: It’s so true, it so true.

David Latif: Just like you said, a lot of these guys have fun coming in here, it’s very true. I got guys driving from Orange County, it’s an hour and a half.

You know, they can get jobs close by, it’s not like they got the biggest jobs here, they’re salespeople. But just the fact that they feel like a family and we do treat them that way.

When they need something, I’m there for them. Even if it’s wrong, I’m there for them and they do the same thing.

Open Accountability

Tom Smith: One of the things that you mentioned was the awards. If you ever come to Rock Honda, be sure to say hi to David and see if you can pop in his office which is right off the showroom and I hope that’s okay. I say that to…

David Latif: I keep my office locked at all times.

Tom Smith: His office, and it is locked. I mean, but you have to…

David Latif: But I’m in it always.

Tom Smith: You have so many awards and trophies in there and you mentioned the Excellence Presidents…

David Latif: Circle Master. So it’s funny you said that just a month ago we were at Honda meeting in San Francisco, they revealed a new Passport.

Albert Suarez from Rock Honda and Tom Smith from iDriveSoCal stand in front of a black Honda in the Rock Honda showroom

Rock Honda’s Albert Suarez (Who everybody loves!) & iDSC’s Tom Smith

“…customers love him, the employees love him, everybody loves him.”

We’re talking, I was joking with a guy. He says, “Oh, this guy, this year you guys got it again. You’re going to win the President’s awards.” I said, “I don’t want it anymore because we don’t have any more shelves to put these things on.”

Tom Smith: It’s true, it is true David.

David Latif: But we love doing it, we love getting it every year. The guys get a kick out of it. You know Honda kicks in some gifts and stuff for their employees, and we make sure we make a big, old deal enough about it that they know that it’s important to us.

Tom Smith: It is a big deal. The average customer or most customers aren’t even going to realize it. They see something on the wall that says, “Award, whatever, blah, blah, blah.” But it is a very big deal because out of the thousands of Honda stores in the United States, you guys are selected as tops in not only sales but customer satisfaction.

Streamlined Car Buying

David Latif: Sales and service customer satisfaction. It’s very hard in a way because the perception of customers is always it takes three, four hours to buy a car. I say that’s in the past.

A lot of the times, out of three, four hours, half of that is the customer that takes the time as far as choosing a car, a different color, a different this. Yes, we take a while because we want to make sure everything is proper and we don’t want to call the customer back and say, “We made a mistake and come back and redo it.”

But we’re trying to make the process as seamless as we can. We hired more staff as far as delivery and washing stuff, so you don’t have to wait extra. Believe me, if there’s a problem, I know about it. I’m here six days a week and I’m always on the floor. The reason I do that, because I want to touch all the customers. Yes, I trust my guys but if you leave them long enough, I don’t know what happens. So I’m on them.

“…we’re trying to make the process as seamless as we can.”

Tom Smith: But you’re on them in the nicest way. You have the best relationships with all of your guys.

David Latif: You have to make it fun because if they fear you and don’t respect you, then you got a bigger problem on your hand.

When I was a salesman, I always hated that. I was like, “Why these guys don’t get it. If I’m in a bad mood, I can’t sell a car, you got to get me in a good mood.” So the mistakes that the past GMs and managers made, I learn from them and I don’t do that.

A Team of MVPs

There’s an old saying, they say, “Treat everyone like you like to be treated.” That’s my philosophy here.

Tom Smith: So National Salesperson Day, December 14th, 2018. Salesperson that you would like to highlight here at Rock Honda and before saying who it is, what criteria do you want to consider or have you considered in selecting that person?

David Latif: Absolutely. So it has to be an all around, just like a professional, the hockey player, or football player. They got to be able to do everything.

I always joke around with them, I’m like, “There’s like juggling four or five balls at the same time and if you can’t, you’re not the guy for the job.” These guys are all capable of doing that. You know, it’s hard for me to pick one guy because I have a handful of guys that…

“Treat everyone like you like to be treated.”

Tom Smith: Great problem to have.

David Latif: Exactly. That really fit in on those top salesman of the year and stuff. But I got a couple of guys that you know like you said, they like being in here but these guys like it way too much I think. Very soon I’m going to start charging them rent, they don’t go home.

I got a guy, his name is Albert Suarez, been with me for a long time. This guy has been a top salesman the last four, five years. He might miss a month here and there but the customers love him, the employees love him, everybody loves him.

Tom Smith: The most successful car salespeople that I’ve experienced have always driven their business on referrals because people are so happy…

David Latif: Absolutely.

Tom Smith: With having worked with that person that business just comes to them.

Happy Buyers

David Latif: It’s just common sense. When somebody buys a new or a pre-owned car, they tell everybody, their friends, their co-worker, their family.

All these people you talk to, there’s one or two that’s always looking for a car. So it’s very important that that customer that leaves here is happy. It’s just like the pyramid deal in old days. You get one guy and the guy gets two guys, and four guys.

Tom Smith: That’s right. Right.

David Latif: So that’s what I try to explain to them. That one customer that you just sold the car to, you just opened the relationship with him. It didn’t just end because you sold him a car, you just started another branch. You know, how many customers does this person know that’s in the market?

“…only… if this customer is happy 100%. Not a fake happy, a happy, happy.”

But you’re only going to them if this customer is happy 100%. Not a fake happy, a happy, happy.

We have a lot of them. Once in a while, if I have a bad one, believe me, I’m all over it. We’ll get the customer in, I’ll handle it myself personally and we’ll take care of the issue.

Tom Smith: Folks, that is no joke. David is very accessible, he’s always available to meet, greet, get involved, and he’s happy to meet people.

True story, I’ve been here waiting for David to be available to record this podcast for a number of hours because he as so busy attending to everything that he does as a very hands-on manager. But that hands-on is such a wonderful, velvet touch that everybody loves here.

Not only customers but sales and all of our employees alike. Because sales is just a small part, you guys have a ton of service people.

Happy Team Members

David Latif: We have over 200 employees and I don’t think you’ll find one unhappy one.

Tom Smith: No, you won’t. You won’t.

David Latif: Because I won’t let them be unhappy.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

David Latif: So call them in my office, we’ll talk about it, and I’ll make when they leave my office they’re a different person. So if you need therapy, come and see me.

Tom Smith: I do from time to time everybody, I do. I call up David, “Hey man, so this is going on.” No. But so, we’ve danced around the topic of National Salesperson Day, your National Salesperson Day appointee again is…

David Latif: Albert Suarez.

Tom Smith: Albert Suarez. So what we’re going to do… And Albert is actually busy with customers right now.

David Latif: Yes, three times we went to get the guy. We wanted to get another guy and he said he’s busy also.

Tom Smith: So what we’re going to do is we’re going to post Albert’s contact information on iDriveSoCal.com on this post.

Albert Suarez from Rock Honda

Albert Suarez from Rock Honda

Abert Suarez
cell: 951-966-4322
asuarez [at] rockhonda.com

If you, Mister and Missus podcast listener are interested in Honda, you obviously, of course, have to go to Rock Honda. Come to Rock Honda where I am right now, where David and I are recording this. You can contact Albert directly.

David Latif: Absolutely.

Tom Smith: His contact information will be right on this post. So David, thank you so much. Unless you have anything else you’d like to add?

David Latif: The only thing I was going to add, the only reason you’re hanging around because you like this place also.

We Like Being There Too

Tom Smith: I do, I do.

David Latif: No, thank you. I enjoy talking to you. Thanks for coming and thanks for waiting. Like you said, you’ve been waiting a while, and hopefully, we’ll see some customers.

Tom Smith: Absolutely. All right. David, thank you again, thank you for Rock Honda partnership. We love you guys.

David Latif: Thank you, Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

Tom Smith: Happy holidays, Merry Christmas to you as well my friend. Thank you very much for listening. For iDriveSoCal, I am Tom Smith. We will talk to you very soon.