Zeigler Ford of Lowell Selected As Dealership of the Quarter For Q1 2020

Zeigler Automotive Group today announced that it has selected Zeigler Ford of Lowell as its Dealership of the Quarter for Quarter 1, ending in April 2020. The program is part of an initiative that recognizes high performing dealerships within the automotive group family. Dealers are chosen based on a number of factors including employee retention, customer service, community involvement and sales. 

 
Exterior of Zeigler Ford of Lowell

(April 1, 2020) Zeigler Ford of Lowell has been recognized as Zeigler Automotive Group's Dealership of the Quarter for Quarter 1 of 2020. The dealership, which was Zeigler's first location, was originally opened by Harold Zeigler in 1975 and has been in the family ever since. 

The Dealership of the Quarter program is part of an initiative to evaluate and reward the top performing dealerships within the dealer group. Zeigler Ford of Lowell's high performance scores within a number of key markers ultimately lead to the accolade. Among the categories evaluated were employee retention, customer service and satisfaction, community involvement and sales.

"Take care of the little things and the big things will come" - Harold Zeigler
EMPLOYEE RETENTION & SATISFACTION
The dealership currently has a near-zero turnover rate in sales, with only one person leaving in the last 5 years, something that is almost unheard of in automotive industry where sales professionals generally stay on for about a year or less. 

This high retention rate gives Zeigler Ford of Lowell a unique competitive advantage when it comes to placing top talent for new openings within the dealership when other employees move up in rank. It also helps cut down on onboarding costs, so more funds can be allocated towards ongoing employee training programs where team members can get the tools they need to move up within the organization. 

"When you have a good core group that you brought in still with you after 5 or 6 years, it's very easy to take that next big step and promote the people that are best equipped to be in those positions. We also have a mentorship culture, not just here at Zeigler Ford of Lowell, but throughout the organization," said Will Walton, general sales manager. 

Chris Zeppenfeld, the GM of the dealer says he is most proud of seeing employees he hired during his first stint at the dealer, not only still with the company, but in high ranking positions. "I am most proud of some of the employees that I helped develop in our group who are now in General manager positions and other key roles in the group." These employees include  Kevin Galer, G.M. at Kalamazoo and Plainwell, Steve Sobol, GM at Elkhart and Bob Kuehl, VP of Fixed Ops for the entire dealership group.

Along with the strong initiative to promote from within, Zeigler Ford of Lowell, and the entire Zeigler family, also shows appreciation to its team members in a number of ways. 

To Jason Cardis, the dealer's F&I manager who has been with the dealer since January 1995, this goes along a long way. "What I like about working here is there's plenty of room to grow and if you work hard the sky is the limit. I feel like I'm the go-to-guy from being there so long. It makes you feel appreciated" Cardis started at Zeigler Ford of Lowell as a new car salesperson and held various position throughout the years including one in finance for 16 years before formally taking on his current position as business manager.

The dealership holds monthly luncheons -- which the dealer has done for over 20 years -- staff birthday parties, baby showers, and anniversaries. It also regularly recognizes stand out employees through its employee of the month program and its P.R.I.D.E. Award. The Pride Award is given three times a year to the person who exemplifies Zeigler's values and mission through the P.R.I.D.E acronym: Passion, Reputation, Integrity, DriveExecution.
PRIDE AWARD

DIAMOND DROPS

The award is highly coveted because honorees are nominated by peers rather than management so it helps foster a sense of community that supports others being praised for their hard work. Customer reviews on the employee nominated are also taken into consideration. Cardis, himself won the coveted award last year in May.

Diamond Drops are one of the ways managers show appreciation for top performing employees. These are simply hand written notes placed in their work areas, without their knowledge, when they are going above and beyond the call of duty. Although it is a simple idea, managers find that it gives employees the morale boast they need to continue to provide excellent customer service because they ultimately feel valued. 

"The key is the intentionality of it", says Chris Zeppenfeld, GM of Zeigler Ford of Lowell, who also calls Diamond Drops "warm fuzzys". He says managers use them to show appreciation to employees doing a good job especially during a tough time, when they least expect it.

Also part of the Zeigler culture is friendly competition. The dealer group hosts a yearly Walk Around Contest at each of its dealerships where the winner goes on to compete at a "national" level against other Zeigler dealership winners. This Walk Around Contest is essentially a product knowledge contest that challenges sales professionals to sell a car in a knowledgeable, fun and memorable way within 10 minutes. Walton himself represented Zeigler Ford of Lowell from, 2014 to 2018 taking home the national prize in 2016 and 2017 then later coming in, as he describes a "shameful" second in 2018. 

Additionally, the dealer group also has a Presidents Club for both Sales and Service with sales staff averaging over 260 cars a year or about 20 cars or more per month and the top 30 service team members--from Service Technicians to Service Advisors--with the most service hours being honored at Zeigler's company-wide celebration at the end of the year.

Walton has been part of the Presidents Club for three years in a row from 2016 to 2018 before becoming permanent general sales manager last year. In terms of service, Zeigler Ford of Lowell is home the first-ever group-wide winner of the Rising Service Technician Award, celebrating the newest service technician with greatest impact and potential.
In terms of service, Kevin Mangus, the dealer's parts and service director says that Zeigler Ford of Lowell is also home the first-ever group-wide winner of the Rising Service Technician Award, celebrating the newest service technician with greatest impact and potential. This particular service tech, he says, is the future of the dealership and says he sets himself apart by going above and beyond.

"He listens and follows instructions. We give him jobs that you would think are above his level but he proves us wrong time and time again. This, of course, has a lot to do with our shop foreman, Dan D. who is an incredible teacher and without him, he and a lot of the techs wouldn't be where they are today He has been with us for seven years and continues to surprise us with his generosity and professionalism."


Even with the dealer operating in a small community of roughly 4,000 people, Zeigler Ford of Lowell still manages to sell roughly 1,200 cars per year. 

CUSTOMER SERVICE, SATISFACTION & SALES
With the dealership boasting a perfect 5.0 rating on DealerRater, a 4.9 rating on Cars.com --and numerous other high scores on other prominent review sites-- it was clear that having good employee satisfaction lead to better customer service. 

The dealer's GM, Chris Zeppenfeld, who also serves as general manager for Zeigler Ford Grandville, says customer service and satisfaction has always been a core focus for the dealer group since his days as GM and 20% owner of Zeigler Ford Plainwell and Zeigler Chrysler Dodge Jeep. 

Having gone into business with Harold Zeigler, he says he learned that it was possible to have a dealer where employees and customers can both be happy. While at Zeigler Ford Plainwell he recalls a customer buying a new Ford Explorer and coming back with it scratched 2 weeks later. There was no way of determining if it was scratched when she drove off the lot or if she scratched it after the fact and in order to fix the damage, the car had to be professionally painted. 

After asking Harold Zeigler how he should proceed, he was surprised to hear him say to just go ahead and take care of the customer and get the car painted at the dealer's cost. It turns out that this small investment, that many would have seen as a lost, delivered the exceptional customer service that the customer fell in love with. After that positive experience, she came back and bought 4 additional vehicles at the dealer. Mrs. Zeigler was also known for baking fresh cookies for staff members and customers who were waiting to be attended.

Today at Zeigler Ford of Lowell, is still committed to delivering this same level of exceptional service. Even with the dealer operating in a small community of roughly 4,000 people, it still manages to sell roughly 1,200 cars per year. And although some of its sales do come from surrounding cities, Walton believes its the personal connection that dealer's employees have with everyone in town, not just when they stop by, but at all times. 

"Every time we see a customer we pay their tab. Whether it's at a bar, a restaurant, hardware store, anywhere we go, to me and to everyone at Zeigler Ford of Lowell, we still consider them to be our customer regardless of where they are, we will always take care of them," said Walton.

This isn't just true for sales, this is true throughout the dealership. Mangus recalls a time a customer came in on a Saturday and the team stayed for an extra four hours to help them take care of their car. The shop usually closed at 2:00 p.m. but they stayed until 6 p.m. that day to make sure that the customer, who at the time was on vacation--and had his kids in the car--got back on the road safely .
GIVING BACK IS PART OF THE CULTURE
At Zeigler Ford of Lowell giving back is just another way of taking care of its team members and customers.

Even within the confines of the dealership the team is generous to each other. "If there's an older tech that needs to get home to see his sick wife or child, the younger guys will always step in and let me know they'll stay to take over his shift so he can go home early," says Mangus, the dealer's parts and service director.

This culture of giving back has shaped the dealer's long history of supporting local sports teams, organizations and other charitable causes in Lowell and the surrounding communities.



It especially rallies around those causes that affect its team members and their families. When Dan D.'s wife was battling breast cancer, the dealership raised money with the Purple P.R.I.D.E. campaign to offset the costs of the treatments. Now cancer-free, the dealership continues to support her commitment to raise money with 100% of all proceeds going to families struggling with medical costs in Ionia. The entire staff purchases shirts to show its support, plus, the dealer sponsors a family and donates additional aid.

 



 
Aside from that Zeigler Ford of Lowell helps its local school, Lowell High, raise money for cancer research through the Pink Arrow campaign by purchasing shirts and donating money to the cause.



The dealer also supports Lowell High, Ionia, and Saranac with aid for many youth programs, especially its Athletic Department's football, wrestling, bass clubs and more.





 

MEET THE MANAGERS
Chris Zeppenfeld, General Manager

Chris Zeppenfeld started out in the auto business in 1981 as a parts truck driver and worked his way up, holding different positions within sales, F&I, new car sales management and used car management; until he was promoted to GSM and later general manager.

 

After years as a general manager, he saw an opportunity to buy into Zeigler Plainwell as a minority partner with Harold Zeigler in 1994. This decision to go into business together would eventually lead to the purchase of the dealership next door, Zeigler Chrysler Dodge Jeep, where Chris Zeppenfeld stayed until 2000. 


During his time with Harold Zeigler, Chris learned the value of taking care of the customer and the impact that can have on everything else. Even if it was something as simple as placing a sticker on a car the right way to show pride in your job and how it reflected positively towards the customer. 


After years with Zeigler, Chris took this commitment to customer service when he set out on his own to accomplish his dream of becoming a dealer principal. A dream that he lived for 18 years at Great Lakes Ford in Ludington before eventually deciding to sell and return to the Zeigler family. 


Today he lives in Spring Lake, Michigan with his wife Lori and has 6 children between the ages of 12 and 32 and is the  general manager of the Zeigler Ford of Lowell and Grandville, where he says he is excited and happy to stay until he retires.


Will Walton, General Sales Manager

Seven years before becoming General Sales Manager at Zeigler Ford of Lowell, Will Walton was working two full-time jobs, with one job starting at 9:00 p.m and ending at 3:00 a.m. All that changed when he saw a help wanted ad to sell cars with the possibility making $100,000 a year. At that time, he felt that he could at least work at the dealership on the weekend and still maintain his other sources of income. 


However, despite his best intentions, he couldn't keep up with his schedule and decided to go into selling cars full time in June 2013. It ended up being one of the best decisions he ever made, selling 213 cars his first full year and becoming the top salesperson at Zeigler Ford of Lowell every year, until he was promoted into management in 2019. Before being promoted, Will was also recognized as part of the President's Circle from 2016 through 2018, averaging 250+ cars per year; and won the dealership group wide Walk Around Contest from 2016 to 2017, coming in as a finalist from 2014 to 2018.


Will enjoys hunting, fishing, golfing and spending time at Houghton Lake in a cabin that has been in his family since the 1920's. He also plays various instruments and has traveled the country with different vocal groups. Although he was born in New Jersey, his family, who is originally from Michigan, decided to move back when he was 8. Will then went on to graduate from Charlotte High School and Spring Arbor University.

Jason Cardis, Business Manager

When Jason Cardis came on as a new and used car salesperson at Zeigler Ford of Lowell he knew that sales was where he belonged. Having previously sold vacuum cleaners door to door, he found the competitive open floor at the dealership exhilarating, moving up quickly through various management positions including new car manager, general sales manager and finance manager.


A 1989 graduate of Charlotte High School, Jason was actively involved in his FFA chapter, public speaking, baseball, and chicken raising contests. After attending college for Criminal Justice for a couple of years and leaning towards a career in law enforcement, he decided to venture into sales. 


Today, Jason Cardis has been with Zeigler Ford of Lowell for over 25 years and is the dealer's Business Manager, a position he created for himself about 3 years ago after being the Finance Manager for over 16 years. Jason enjoys fishing, camping and spending time with his wife Holly and his three children.


Kevin Mangus, Service & Parts Director

When Kevin Mangus joined Zeigler Ford of Lowell in 2015 he wasn't originally looking to leave his former employer. As it turns out, he was actually helping his wife with her job hunt when he came across a Parts & Service Director post and decided to send in his resume. 


With 23 years of experience in parts and service --most of which were in management-- he was a perfect fit for the organization, winning Zeigler's coveted P.R.I.D.E. Award the first year there. The new position was also a perfect fit for Kevin who received a great offer and a much shorter commute that went down to just 6 minutes. Kevin says one of the best things about working at Zeigler is the level of trust that management puts in team members to make the best decisions for their customers. He also likes that the dealership has maintained its hometown feel.


When he's not managing the Parts & Service Department, Kevin enjoys playing golf, spending time with his wife Michelle and two kids Abigail and Mangus. He currently lives in Lowell, Michigan and attended Baldwin High School, where he played baseball.