In an inspiring story of determination, focus and overwhelming customer loyalty, Luther Family Ford in Fargo took disappointing news and turned it around for a notable victory that drew 1,400 to 1,500 people to the store in one day.
The store’s “bread and butter” vehicle, the F150, received another ground-up redesign for 2015, but Ford let the Luther store know that it would not be included in the traditional new product test-drive tour.
“Because of logistics, they passed us up,” said General Manager Joel Bechtold. As the number one F-150 outlet in Ford’s Great Lakes market, this left Bechtold “pretty upset.”
The GM then wrote a letter explaining his situation to the highest ranking Ford executive he knew, the company’s vice president of U.S. marketing, who works directly for Ford’s CEO. “I told him about our six Ford President’s Awards and soon to be seven,” he said. And, he mentioned Family Ford’s high dealer loyalty and strong customer turnout at events. A past Fargo test drive event, held during a 2010 blizzard, still managed to draw 200 customers, who made 100 test drives.
Ford responds quickly
By 5:45 the next morning, the VP answered, saying he had asked the regional and brand managers to investigate. Bechtold saw some of the managers that day during a training in the Twin Cities, and heard from one via phone, who was surprised by Bechtold’s bold move.
The GM asked for 10 days to set up a big store event with three new F-150s for test drives and one for the showroom. Showtime was set for Veterans Day.
The store then ordered 700 T-shirts, slap bracelets, sheet cakes and chili. Some 26,000 post cards were sent, and event cards and newspaper ads were ordered. They announced the new aluminum trucks as “tougher than steel,” and placed a Superman image on the text. Salespeople received “aluminum” lettered clothing and email blasts went out.
As the day neared, Ford sent its test drive marketing leader. Then, it summoned an entire team to help out on the big day. The F-150 marketing manager from Michigan would come, as would eight from the regional office to help Bechtold’s entire sales staff.
Calm before the storm
With seven full sheet cakes and boxes upon boxes of shirts, the early morning was quiet before the 10 a.m. start. The time came, and the dealership filled up with people. Customers filled out cards to receive a free shirt. The tees were gone by 1:30 p.m.
“The place was full of people eating chili, cake and people test driving like crazy,” Bechtold said.
The lead test drive marketer, Lisa, had been at Fargo for the blizzard test drive day in 2010, and was pumped up to be back, he explained. Three lines with ropes were there to handle the crowd.
She wanted to beat a 152 test drive goal, but the number would climb much higher. They had 110 by 11:30 a.m. The highest number she had seen was 202 at the Seattle auto show, which she thought was unbeatable. Family Ford reached 259 test drivers, and some tried more than one of the three vehicle versions.
“The people from Ford couldn’t believe how people turn out in Fargo for events,” the GM said. “It turned from getting passed over to putting on the best event they’ve had.” Ford staff members talked to many owners of competing models.
Some attendees drove from as far as two hours away. “We turned lemons into lemonade,” the GM said.
A lot was at stake for the store that sells nearly 1,000 F-150 trucks in a year.