Still Learning: Mike Cimino's Rules of the Road
Mike Cimino, Vice President and Partner of Phil Long Dealerships in Colorado and New Mexico, has one rule of thumb about running his business. "I don't want to be right all the time," says Cimino. "What do you learn from that?"
Learning from mistakes is how the University of Denver graduate learned to sell starting out on the showroom floor at Earnhardt Ford in Tempe, Arizona, in 1988. Cimino would work with a customer and then write down what he did, for better or worse, and review it with his manager. "I got better at sales," he says. "You should always keep stretching your abilities."
It's this attitude that he asks his more than 900 employees to bring to work every day. "I want to put the challenge out to our people... learn from each experience. Most people don't. Good or bad, it puts you ahead of the game."
Keeping a "student mindset," as he describes it, has helped build Phil Long Dealerships into one of Colorado's largest privately held auto dealership groups and one of the top groups in the U.S. - #118 in new-vehicle sales and #66 in used-vehicle sales in 2013, according to Automotive News, and ranked #81 overall in the 2014 Wards Mega Dealer top 100 Dealers. Cimino expects Phil Long Dealerships to sell more than 19,000 new and used vehicles by the end of 2014, not including fleet sales.
Cimino faced an unprecedented event following the 2008 automotive industry crisis, when a global financial downturn and poor business practices forced Chrysler and General Motors into bankruptcy.
"We looked at every part of the dealership group," says Cimino. "Things we took for granted, we zeroed in on." The dealership climbed out of the recession by examining all aspects of is business, asking three questions: Does this sell cars? Does it serve customers? Does it help retain a customer? "If the answer was no or maybe, we cut it," Cimino says. "If the answer was yes, we kept it. We started doing more with less." For example, a big inventory of pre-owned autos gave way to a system that shifted inventory among Phil Long dealerships and auctioned off vehicles that did not sell after 60 days. The learning continues. Cimino is proud of the company's transparency. He meets with managers every Monday morning, linked via technology, to "circle the wagons," sharing best practices and reviewing sales performance. He visits his stores for one-on-one meetings with his sales team every week.
Each salesperson sets his or her own monthly sales goals and, along with the manager, signs a contract spelling out the daily performance measures. "We commit to each other to being successful," says Cimino. "If they're behind a bit, I want to know so I ask them how do I help you spring forward."
Cimino remains unafraid to upend his own business practices and chart a new course. Prompted in part by input from his team, Cimino recently cut his dealership's entire investment in "third-party leads," companies that funnel car buyers to dealerships, for a price. Instead, the company will use search engine marketing and its own "organic sweat equity" to build online sales via Phil Long's 15 websites.
"Hey, I'm an old guy. I watch old guy stuff," says Cimino. "But we can't advertise where I think we'll be seen. We have to change, stay on the cutting edge of technology and reach customers where they are."