photo courtesy/JENNY CHATTERTON PHOTOGRAPHY
|After more than 25 years as owner of his own dealership, Jerry Chambers is passing on more of the daily duties of running the business to his two sons, Chad and Cody.|
Jerry Chambers Chevrolet recently received a 181 percent rating in General Motor’s Customer Service Index; this is a combined customer satisfaction rating for both sales and service.
The long-time Bellingham Chevrolet dealership also earned the GM Mark of Excellence among its dealers. Salesman Rick Bruland joined Jerry’s staff in 1973 and observed that all 100 or more employees at Jerry Chambers, from the greeters who first meet a prospective customer to the person who mounts the new license plates after the sale, have one objective: customer satisfaction.
This commitment to customer satisfaction makes Jerry Chambers Chevrolet a Bellingham institution. Chambers observed nearly any automobile dealer can sell the first car to a customer, but it takes a commitment to service and customer satisfaction for them to return.
This commitment to customer satisfaction, or as Chambers says, “Doing whatever it takes to make our customers happy” is a common thread woven into the fabric of successful Bellingham businesses. In a smaller demographic market, customer satisfaction becomes a more crucial component of business success, although Chambers was quick to point out the business tactics and strategies that work in a small community also are sound in a larger market as well.
Chambers, although he has been selling new and used cars and trucks since 1973, has a background in automobile service and maintenance. He became a journeyman mechanic after serving an apprenticeship immediately after high school.
In 1970 Chambers was hired by Roy Robinson in Marysville as a service manager. Chambers and Robinson purchased the Chevrolet dealership in Ferndale in 1971; Chambers became the manager with a one- quarter share.
The dealership became Jerry Chambers Chevrolet in 1973 and in 1988 the dealership moved to its current location on Northwest Avenue. Chambers recalled the land was at that time outside the Bellingham city limits and was a cow pasture.
He also said the move to Bellingham was a difficult one for him. GM had approached him about the need for a Chevrolet presence in Bellingham; Chambers, however, had an allegiance to his faithful Ferndale customers. This loyalty was integral in determining the location of the new dealership, as it is easily accessible from both the north and south.
Since the dealership would serve the Bellingham market, the facilities needed more square footage for display and service. Jerry Chambers Chevrolet will, at any one time, have as many as 275 new and 200 to 225 used cars on the lot.
Chambers decided to sell commercial trucks and offer a commercial repair facility. In a special franchise with GM, the dealership sells medium-duty as well as commercial-duty trucks. He says that the commercial line offers more “consistent business” than the sale of new automobiles. Chambers also purchased the Oldsmobile and Cadillac franchises for Bellingham in 1996. The Cadillac line piqued his interest, and he said of Cadillac’s new models and marketing strategy: “It’s not your grandfather’s Cadillac any more.” Chambers noted that Cadillac is now making inroads with a younger demographic group and cutting into the market share of Mercedes and other European brands.
Chambers also discussed his evolving relationship with General Motors. He said that at first the relationship between the dealers and GM was nearly adversarial.
GM at one time seemed to offer a “franchise on every corner”; now the company is more conscious of and protects each dealer’s “area of concern,” realizing that stability of ownership and location creates longer relationships.
In turn, these long-standing relationships (as Chambers noted, “I have clients from 1973 still coming back and buying vehicles from me”) are more profitable for GM. He has served for years on the Chevrolet National Dealer Council. One notable experience Chambers had with this council, along with fostering a collective dialogue among dealers, was participating in designing an automobile. He observed that communication between dealers and manufacturers is steadily improving.
Chambers emphasized the importance of finding, hiring, and keeping employees who possess a commitment to customer service. He said he tries to foster a “family business with a family feel.”
Chambers noted that, despite being born and raised in Bellingham and dealing with the public for over 30 years, the community has grown to the point he no longer recognizes everyone who enters the dealership. Chambers has not changed his mission statement, however: Provide our customers with the best possible service at every opportunity, create a corporate environment that values customers as well as employees, and make a reasonable profit while achieving the highest level of customer satisfaction.
Benchmark business decisions for Chambers over the years include moving from Ferndale to Bellingham, offering commercial trucks, obtaining the Cadillac franchise, and staffing his business with employees with the same commitment to customer service and quality.
After investing 12 to 16 hour days for a number of years, Chambers has cut his hours back at the dealership, and has delegated many business responsibilities to his sons Chad and Cody. Retirement, however, does not interest him. Chambers recognized his good fortune in being involved in a business that was “fun as well as work.”
He has lived and breathed Chevrolet for years, and while involved in numerous community organizations, recognizes his true passion is selling cars to friends and neighbors.
Edward Chatterton, Jr. is the founder and director of the Chatterton Research Group, which researches and writes family, business, corporate, and civic histories, as well as conducting research for firms. Chatterton has an MA (History) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org