Dodge wants dealerships to embody gearhead persona

Marketing

DETROIT — It’s no secret what Dodge is about these days.

The brand spent the last eight years recasting itself as a youthful purveyor of American muscle, led by its powerful Hellcats and edgy advertising. Focusing on the high-octane realm has supercharged its base of enthusiasts and sparked an active following of millions online.

Now, brand CEO Tim Kuniskis wants to build a bridge that better connects dealership showrooms to the excitement generated by its irreverent ads, social media outreach and experiential events. The last thing Kuniskis wants is for a fan who was pulled in by Dodge’s gearhead persona to be greeted at a dealership by an unengaged salesperson who isn’t in tune with the “Brotherhood of Muscle.”

Building that consistency for customers throughout the journey is one of the key elements behind the new Power Brokers dealership network. The stores will serve as hubs for performance parts and have trained specialists in various departments who are muscle car fanatics themselves.

The program’s core philosophy stems from a lesson Kuniskis learned 30 years ago as a young salesman about differentiating oneself from the competition. A manager told Kuniskis he had to sell more than a car; he had to sell the store.

“There’s over 40 brands in the mainstream market. There’s over 300 nameplates. There’s massive overlap,” Kuniskis told Automotive News. “So if you don’t have an identity … you’re just going to keep recycling the same people that are within the brand and like the brand, and you’re never, ever, ever going to grow, and you’re never going to be able to change the positioning of the brand.”

The Power Brokers network, which launched in March with nearly 100 stores in 34 states, is made up of dealerships that Dodge considers to have the highest customer service standards. It offers promising revenue streams, as the sole source for the brand’s new Direct Connection lineup of factory-backed parts that can be installed without affecting vehicle warranties.

Kuniskis said Dodge picked its initial Power Brokers dealerships based on the penetration rate of its high-performance vehicles in those markets.

Helfman Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram-Fiat in Houston was among the stores Dodge contacted last year to gauge interest in the program. The staff was ready.

“We were fortunate,” said Sam Debner, the dealership’s parts director. “We have some gearheads that work on the sales side, we have some gearheads that work in service and then some work in parts. We just picked those people that we felt like are going to be more up to speed with performance-related items and they would be excited about it.”

Becoming a Power Brokers expert requires taking comprehensive training courses that cover topics such as sales, parts, heritage and modern Mopar performance. The program also demands high-level certification for Power Brokers technicians in order to handle Direct Connection parts installations.

“That is the elite technician inside the shop that is absolutely passionate and bleeds grease,” said Daryl Eggen, the master Power Brokers technician at LaFontaine Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram of Fenton in Michigan.

They learn “everything and anything under the sun to be able to modify these vehicles to create the most exponential experience for our customer possible.”

Michael Smith, a Power Brokers sales expert at Daytona Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram in Florida, said his training lasted several weeks. The courses were more challenging than Smith expected, and the final exam had more than 200 questions. Smith recalled needing to answer at least 90 percent of them correctly to pass.

Training for other Stellantis brands and products over the years hasn’t been as strenuous, Smith said, because courses were based largely on what he already knew.

“This was like a blank slate of just starting from the beginning,” Smith said, “and really having to dig in deep and learn the product and learn the direction that Dodge is trying to go with this program.”

The program doesn’t require investments in new showrooms, signage or buildings, which Kuniskis admits would be a tough ask given Dodge’s small size relative to the other brands U.S. Stellantis dealerships sell. However, some dealers are voluntarily considering converting buildings on their properties into dedicated spots for Power Brokers- and Direct Connection-related business.

“The more I handcuff them, the harder it’s going to be for me,” Kuniskis said. “If I say to the dealer, ‘You’ve got to have this piece of carpet on the floor, you’ve got to have that sign on the wall, that sign up there,’ and all of a sudden it doesn’t feel like the program’s adding value, guess whose fault it is? It’s mine.”

Part of the value component for Power Brokers dealerships will come from Dodge’s marketing already underway.

For instance, the Charger SRT Hellcat that won the National Hot Rod Association Gatornationals Funny Car race in March was emblazoned with “Dodge Power Brokers” and “Direct Connection” logos. The brand also is sponsoring the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals this summer.

“I’m going to turn my marketing lens, which is hundreds of millions of dollars and 3 million people a month coming to the website, I’m going to turn that lens on you,” Kuniskis said of the Power Brokers dealers. “And I’m going to say to those 3 million people a month that are coming to my website, I’m going to tell them to come and see you.”

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