On the road, building relationships
Laguna Niguel, Calif.—Mercedes-Benz of Laguna Niguel, which covers 22 acres, has been part a of the seaside community’s landscape for 45 years and has become one the largest Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Southern California. It is also back-to-back winners of the prestigious Best of the Best dealer recognition award.
“To even qualify for this award, a dealership must demonstrate superior performance in various areas including customer satisfaction, new vehicle sales, certified pre-owned sales, leadership and management, and service and parts operation,” Wholesale Parts Manager Rick Larsen said.
Larsen began his parts career at Mercedes-Benz of North America in 1966 where he remained until 1978. He then went to work for a large Newport Beach dealership until 1989 when he moved to the wholesale parts department at Mercedes-Benz of Laguna Niguel.
“I’ve been here nearly 30 years and I consider it home,” Larsen said of the second-generation, family-owned business. “Our entire team, including Parts Manager Joe Hernandez, feels like family. We work hard but we have fun, and we do everything possible to take care of our customers, which is the No. 1 priority in every department.”
On the phone and on the road
Larson said he uses a three-pronged approach to servicing wholesale parts customers, starting with an inside sales team of Mercedes-Benz master certified wholesale parts specialists who regularly call on existing customers and “mine” for new accounts.
“We also have two outside sales reps, Lynne Kahl, who is based in San Diego, and Greg Dixon, who goes all over the place,” he said. “They are both well known in the area.”
The third prong of Larsen’s customer service plan is more personal, and unique. Every month, his Mercedes-Benz parts-certified counter sales representatives make personal visits to their customers’ shops.
“First, we make sure the parts counter is covered, then I send out one or two parts counter reps in a company Mercedes,” he said. “I also go with my outside sales reps three or four times a month, and once a month to long-standing customers. These aren’t sales calls as much as personal calls to see how things are going with the shop owners and their families.”
Larsen said he maintains a $3 million parts inventory, with 60/40 percentage collision/mechanical ratio.
“We have a very competitive price-matching program and we work with CollisionLink, Overall Parts Solutions (OPS), and PartsTrader. We also occasionally work with insurance companies on such things as extended warranty issues.”
The department also sells genuine Mercedes-Benz remanufactured parts at a substantial savings, including engines and transmissions (which Larsen said account for 15 percent of total parts sales), plus power steering assemblies, water pumps, alternators, and command units.
“Engines and long blocks have a limited warranty for 48 months or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first, from date of installation; transmissions limited warranty is 24 months or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first, from date of purchase; and parts have a 24-month/unlimited-mileage limited warranty from date of purchase.”
The parts department uses 11 trucks from a private delivery service and one Sprinter van, which leaves at 6:30 a.m. every day and goes as far east as Coachella Valley, and Victorville, if needed. All parts deliveries are free, except UPS and FEDEX.
“We have three trucks that go to the San Diego area every day, we make two deliveries a day into Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and we have a hot shot driver for a radius of 15 miles.”
In the past two years, wholesale parts department sales have increased about 20 percent, Larsen said, due primarily to the pro-active approach taken with customer retention and new accounts.
“We feel our service is the best in the market. We go after the shops instead of waiting for them to call us. My staff is trained by Mercedes-Benz and we give them all of the tools needed to make their jobs easier, including tech support.”
Customer-centric service department
The service department, headed by Service and Parts Director Chris Erickson, has 10 service writers, 62 bays in the main shop, 38 technicians including apprentices, and takes the same pro-active approach to customer service.
“We send follow-up emails and follow up by phone for every service performed,” he said. “If there are any unresolved issues, appointments are made on the spot and the issue is resolved. Clients also receive emails for recommended service that was declined twice within six weeks of the previous service visit and a service reminder at 11 months for services that are due.”
Erickson said technicians have mandatory training every quarter through Mercedes-Benz – some online and some at the Mercedes-Benz training center in Long Beach.
“We send technicians to be trained as often as needed for new products, engines, transmissions, and technologies,” he said. “And we often upgrade equipment such as alignment machines, balancers, and headlight aiming tools. We constantly need new equipment for the new technologies; cars are not what they used to be.”