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Giving Back: How One Dealership Walks the Walk

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It’s been a little less than a year since Prime acquired the Subaru store in Norwich, Vermont. And as the saying goes, what a difference a year can make.

At the time of acquisition, the dealership had been around for nearly two decades. Recognizing that change can be challenging, David Rosenberg made sure he had an A-team in place to shepherd everyone through the transition: Rick Bickford, Group Director, and Sean Fitzgerald, who was hired as the general sales manager of the new store.

First up? Changing people’s perception of car dealerships. The store’s previous owner had followed a “here and now” approach to selling cars, meaning once the sale was final, that was it. Rick and Sean wanted to show customers that buying cars can be a pleasant experience from start to finish—and that the experience doesn’t end when the customer drives off the lot.

Of course, the only way this new approach could work was if the entire staff embraced it—a potentially tough goal after an acquisition. But Sean says the team members he inherited were amazing and rose to the challenge.

He recalls, “I walked in, and everyone was all nervous. The first thing I told them was this: ‘I came here in a Subaru, not a bus. We want to keep everyone.’ And it turned out we were able to keep probably 90% of the people. Since then, everyone has adapted to the Prime process. They’re very eager to learn and grow.”

Next, Sean and his team wanted to confront a misperception about the Prime brand. Many people from the tight-knit Vermont community were skeptical of it, viewing Prime as a big, heartless Massachusetts conglomerate that only cared about its bottom line.

Sean recalls, “It was kind of funny because Prime is so not that type of company. Yes, David Rosenberg is from Massachusetts, but it’s David. It’s not some New York-based company with a satellite office. Prime is privately owned. Not to mention that David and all the Rosenbergs are big believers in giving back to the local communities. Giving back is a big part of the overall Prime ethos as well. But the perception from the outside world was so different. So we worked hard to change that perception.”

How’d Sean and his team do it? Through regular grassroots efforts.

With plans to build a new Subaru dealership, Prime bought two spaces: AJ’s (a former restaurant) and the local bowling alley. But instead of simply tearing down the buildings, Sean and his team opted to do something else first.

“All the stuff from AJ’s and the bowling alley was just going to get knocked down and thrown in a dumpster,” Sean says. “So I got together with the Upper Valley Haven, which is a homeless shelter and soup kitchen, and I said that I was going to have a charity yard sale and give them all the proceeds from it. And so not only was it a yard sale where people in the community were able to come out and meet us, but we got to donate over $2,400 to a homeless shelter about three miles from the dealership.”

This past May, the dealership also participated in Vermont’s annual Green Up Day. Sean explains, “Green Up Day has been going on in the state for roughly two decades. Subaru of New England is currently a corporate sponsor, and so every Subaru dealership in Vermont gets a gigantic trash bin for customers to come and throw out their trash, all in an effort to help ‘green up’ Vermont.”

In addition to having the Dumpster on site, Sean and his crew drove around and helped pick up people’s trash. Sean says, “It was great because we were literally cleaning up our own backyard as well as our neighbors’ yards.”

Small acts of random kindness demonstrate Prime’s commitment to the local community. But Sean also believes there’s a place for fun and play as well.

Currently, the dealership is running an entertaining promotion called “Spot the Demo.” Sean says he was tired of seeing other Subaru dealerships’ names and logos on cars during his thirty-minute commute to work. So in an effort to promote his dealership as well as give a shout-out to the local community, he had his company vehicle (the “demo” car, a Subaru Crosstrek) with Prime Subaru Vermont stickers. People who “spot the demo” are encouraged to (safely) snap pics and engage with the dealership on social media for a chance to win prizes.

These aren’t one-hit wonders, either. Sean and his staff have other engaging initiatives planned for the future, including a pet adoption day slated for some time this fall. In October, Sean will be running a half marathon on behalf of Prime and raising money for Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth (CHAD).

Sean says that his employees are the inspiration behind many of these ideas. “There’s a team that we have that’s all from the community and it’s just been great to work with them…everybody’s doing a lot of little things that are making a difference.”