WALLED LAKE, MI – Bob Shuman tongue-in-cheek calls his dealership “the biggest Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram store in Walled Lake.”

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Ads and a banner across the front of his namesake store proclaim that. The punch line: It’s the only Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership in Walled Lake. In fact, it is the only dealership in the northern Detroit suburb.

Shuman likes the gag, but he isn’t trying to pull a fast one. In fact, his reputation as a straight shooter has won him an honor he takes seriously. DealerRater, an online review website, named him its dealer of the year for various reasons, including consistent 5-star accolades customers give to Shuman Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram.

“Most people are extremely happy customers and are happy to give us good reviews, when asked,” says Shuman, who was a member of a law firm before becoming president of the 58-year-old family business.

 

The DealerRater award originated from a concerted effort to get customers to rate the store. Ironically, the effort began after the dealership got a couple of lousy reviews.

“In 2011, we stunk at reputation management,” he says during a presentation at the Automotive Social Media Summit in Los Angeles. “We had two reviews on Google and they were both horrible.”

Adopting what Shuman calls “a review culture” begins with a top-down message. Weekly staff meetings cover the importance of reviews on third-party websites. Employee expectations are set and positive results lauded. 

Benefits of good reviews include not only more sales but higher worker morale as well. “A strong online brand attracts and retains employees,” Shuman says. 

His primary market, extending well beyond Walled Lake’s city limits, is a study in contrasts, consisting of consumers with incomes ranging from high to low. “Some people can’t get financed and some are buying a Dodge Charger ST for their 16-year-old,” he says. 

The dealership sold more than 2,000 vehicles last year, about 75% of them new. The service department has 60 to 70 repair orders a day.

Shuman worked at the store as a young man, left to practice law and succeed his father as dealer principal in 1997. His father, 86, runs the place when his son is away on business trips, particularly those related to his position as chairman of the North American International Auto Show.

At the dealership, Bob Shuman talks with WardsAuto about his store, the Detroit market, what’s it like as a Chrysler dealer these days and more. Here is an edited version of that interview.   

WardsAuto: You bill yourself as the largest Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealership in Walled Lake. Do people appreciate the punch line that you are the only dealer in Walled Lake?

Shuman: In advertising, we wanted to make ourselves different from other car dealers saying the same things about lowest price and blah, blah, blah.

So we thought, “Well, we’re the biggest in Walled Lake because we are the only one in Walled Lake.” We did ads in the style of David Letterman’s Top Ten list. It was: “Why not buy a car from Shuman’s?” It resonated with people. I did it rather than have a voiceover. Some people hate it. Most people like it. Virtually everyone remembers it.

WardsAuto: What is the history of the dealership?

Shuman: My grandfather came to Detroit from Indiana in the 1920s. He fudged his way into a Model T dealership by saying, “Yeah, sure I can fix Model Ts.” He became the service manager, then general manager. Then he managed a Chevy dealership.

My dad went to Lawrence Tech (Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI) for engineering but ended up back selling cars. (He and my grandfather) bought an existing Ford store here in Walled Lake in 1955. They grew with Ford. In 1979 I was a freshman at Michigan State University when I got a phone call from my dad who said, “I’ve got news.”

In my family, when someone says that, you listen up. He said he was closing the dealership, which was a body blow. As a kid, I’d punch people for saying bad things aboutFord. He had a little dispute with Ford and closed the dealership for three years. This was the early 1980s, which wasn’t the best time to be selling cars anyway. Lee Iaccoca had moved from Ford to Chrysler. My dad knew him and hooked up with Chrysler in 1982, selling K cars and minivans. Now, we are one of the largest multi-brand Chrysler dealerships in the country.

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