Kia dealership raises quality, character

Changing mindset: Kias penetrate upscale market



ROSWELL, Ga. – Richard Lewis has been tasked with raising awareness of his car dealership while turning around a car brand that many motorists have associated with a “throw away” car.

In August, Lewis was named general manager and asked to steer the North Fulton Kia dealership, 1400 Upper Hembree Road in Roswell, into success.

So far, the upbeat Lewis, 37, has reached all his company goals.

“He’s professional, positive and always finds ways to fix problems,” said Walter Mercedes, a certified premium specialist at North Fulton Kia. “He’s very fair, and in addition to being a boss, he’s a friend.”

Lewis comes to North Fulton Kia with previous dealership experience in Dallas, Texas and Panama City Beach, Fla.

What do you think are people’s perceptions of Kia today?

Lewis: Originally, Kia was considered a throw away vehicle and they were very inexpensive. They primarily went after the subprime market. But now they are a competitor in the high-end marketplace. We’re the underdog because people don’t know us.

Tell me about the dealership’s new owner?

Lewis: We are a family-owned business. Our owner is Greg Shottenkirk. He’s 47 years old and has obtained 10 dealerships in 26 years, two in Georgia. I also manage our Honda of Conyers location.

What are some of your business challenges?

Lewis: I’ve given myself a challenge of turning this dealership around. Not only are we trying to change the reputation of the previous ownership, but we’re also trying to change awareness and reputation of the Kia brand, which is a fantastic brand and a very competitive brand. Kia has a fantastic product and in the last few years, they’ve become a more desired product in reliability, design and overall class.

How have you been able to turn this car dealership into a profitable business?

Lewis: I’ve put procedures in place to maximize the customer and employee experience. Our employees are as important to us as our customers, because they are the ones dealing with customers on a day-to-day basis. We have good, quality individuals who understand customer satisfaction.

What makes a successful business?

Lewis: Being more than just a business partner, but a community partner makes a successful business. The accountability we hold to our staff and our facility. We meet daily. We hold a conference call each morning with both of our dealerships. We discuss opportunities and community awareness and community involvement opportunities that allow us a strong stature in the community. 

What are some of the challenges you encounter day-to-day?

Lewis: The biggest challenge is overall awareness; let people know where we are at and who we are. The size of our facility is also a challenge. Our goal is to build a facility that is much better for our staff and our customers. We are looking for a 6-acre facility in Roswell, and that is going to allow us to take better care of our customers and store all of our cars on the lot. We currently have to lease a separate property 10 miles away, which houses over half of our inventory. This makes it very difficult for our day-to-day operations. 

What would you say is a difficult part of your job?

Lewis: It’s not that difficult. The challenge is motivating the staff and maintaining the consistency around the store to make this a place a pleasure to come and work for.

Do you have a good rapport with other car dealerships?

Lewis: Absolutely. We have what is called dealer trading. You have so many packages that are available on inventory, so you’re forced to have a good rapport with one another to get the available inventory. When a customer comes in and they want the SXL Sorento and they want it in white and all we have is black and gray, we dealer trade. Probably half of cars sold are dealer-to-dealer, so you have to maintain a positive relationship.

How is the economy impacting your business?

Lewis: Business is coming back around. There’s a lot of pent up demand for car sales and people are starting to trade their vehicles in that they have been holding on to for a long time.

How has the Internet affected business?

Lewis: It’s very good. About 95 percent of all the business that we encounter on a day-to-day basis starts on the Internet. Before they even come to the car showroom floor, they’ve gone online, researched and narrowed it down. Normally, what they are doing when they come here, is making sure we’re the ones they want to give their money to and to make sure they like how the product drives because that’s about the only thing they can’t do on the Internet. What I let my staff know is that the customer still wants that buying experience.

What’s something you’re excited about?

Lewis: We have a brand new product that is being released this month. The Kia K900 is going to be the new luxury Kia, and it’s comparable to the high line BMW 750i and the S550 Mercedes-Benz. It’s a full-size luxury sedan offering all the technology available in its class with all the unbelievable options available. It’s a great car for this market.

What’s your top seller?

Lewis: The Kia Optima is one of the best sellers. It has great body lines and payments in the $300s. The second best seller is the family-friendly Sorento, a seven passenger sport utility vehicle.

What is something that will surprise readers about Kia?

Lewis: Both Optima and Sorento are made locally here in Georgia. Many residents trade-in or buy the car for that purpose and to help local jobs. Their plant is located in West Point, near LaGrange, and about 80 percent of the car is manufactured here. We’ve had some of our local residents trade their Mercedes and BMW to the Kia product.

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