Opinion: Us vs. Them

This op/ed comes to us from veteran MotoringFile contributor and White Roof Radio co-founder, Don Burnside.

Over the years I have had many opportunities to speak directly with those in charge at MINI and MINIUSA. Managers, engineers, marketing folks. All of them are really swell people. All of them also share a goal of customer satisfaction. “Customer” here being the actual purchasers of MINIs (like you and me). It’s what they talk about, what they obsess over. It’s who they are.

This week I had the chance to hang out with some folks who work at the dealership level, and I had a completely different experience. Frankly, I was more than a little shocked. In short, most of them were all about the money. During our entire conversation, not once did I hear any of them mention customer service, or think that one thing or another would be better for the customer. Customers simply didn’t come up. Their only concern was how they were going to sell cars.

When I tried to point out that one particular concern of theirs would actually benefit the customer, they looked at me like I was speaking Martian. They didn’t even come close to getting it. This happened twice. Not a clue.

After these interactions, it’s really no wonder why IQS scores are so low at some dealers. These dealers (some, not all) don’t seem to care. I know there has been training from MINI, and that many of the dealers are taking the training to heart. Those dealers are finally getting it. However, I wonder if it’s too little, too late. Customer experience (which is at the heart of the IQS scores) will never improve until the mentality at the dealer level changes. Sadly, it seems like so many of them are just about “pushing metal.” Talk about doing it wrong.

In contrast, I’ve also had some great conversations with people at the dealer level. People who get it. People who genuinely love the cars they’re selling. I’m talking about parts managers who avidly stock the latest MINI lifestyle accessories just because they’re fun. Motoring Advisors who’ve got a MINI of their own, plus their wife has a MINI, and both of their kids have MINIs. These are dealers who really give a crap, and you know what, they still sell lots of cars. Now I don’t know which is the exception and which is the rule, but the opportunity is there for every MINI dealer to be more than just a place that sells cars. Rather, the dealership can (as many have) become the center of their local MINI community. Build a loyal fan base and the cars sell themselves. Makes sense to me.

  • Mark Rosenthal

    I experienced this myself when I spent about a year of my life selling vehicles at a large Ford dealership. My idea was to ‘change the industry’, and I actually thought that I could provide the knowledge of an auto enthusiast in helping people to choose their next car. This became more and more of a fight when I fought against the same mindset you witnessed from these dealers…money, money, money.

  • gx33

    I am in no way associated with MINI or BMW, but I am a MINI owner.

    The dealerships job is to sell the cars, service them, and as you point out “make the customer happy”.

    So what happens when the dealerships have angry customers who are furious that their brand new car has been in the shop 6x since they bought it. Or that they are 1 month out of warranty and their timing chain gives out and they are stuck with a $7k repair bill. Not caused by random issues or improper usage, but for KNOWN WIDESPREAD issues that MINI HQ just seems to ignore instead of fixing. The dealerships have a tougher job in the whole process than you make it seem like. They are the people who are dealing with all of the MINI’s engineering flaws “face-to-face”.

    • gx33

      My point is, it’s not just the dealerships that need to work on keeping MINI customer’s more satisfied.

      • Wholly cats, I could write a novel with my opinion on this topic. But I’ll keep it brief-ish.

        First, I agree: this goes beyond the dealership. Maintaining a general and pervasive enthusiasm for MINI and ensuring customer (and perspective customer) satisfaction must be systemic. Dealerships need to feel that they’re part of something larger than they are, that they are empowered to to maintain this culture. This is why, at the risk of sounding cliched, this culture must be cultivated from the top down.

        As a customer, it’s clear that MINI does do more than any other car company I can think of to maintain a certain culture – MINI United, MTTS, its marketing and advertising (less and less, imho) – but something “feels” broken at MINI.

        As a owner and fan, I get the feeling that something at MINI has changed. BMW/MINI seems to have slowly shifted away from its early focus – which was palpable – to other priorities, such as growth and the “bottom line” (how many posts here mention MINI’s “long term viability”?).

        MINI has lost a lot of its magic for me for specific reasons directly related to this topic. But BMW/MINI is thriving, so I have to assume I’m in the vast minority.

        Oh, and guys like Kevin (commented above) are like canaries in the coal mine. That he has been ignored should be heard like alarm bells. (If only I had prospective employees like Kevin knocking on my door.)

        • The change, the loss of magic, all stem from MINI and MINIUSA chasing IQS scores and not having a long term view IMO. But that is a topic for another day.

          Kevin sounds like a rockstar and should be snatched up ASAP! Too bad his dealer will only call him back when he wants to spend money, which brings us back to the original point of the article.


        • Ftttu

          After 4 MINIs and attending the 50th birthday party at Solverstone Circuit as well as many other MINI sanctioned and private MINI club events, I got out after having negative dealings with MINI USA and their dealers. I just couldn’t take the snobbishness and lack authentic customer satisfaction anymore. I was one of their biggest fans, spending hours a night as a regular in the Owner’s Lounge, NAM as well as my MINI clubs. I loved the cars and the community/culture, but in actuality, MINI left me.

        • Kevin

          Hard to think it’s oversight…I’ve emailed him on 5 separate occasions and introduced myself twice in person. Have applied on the Sonic Automotive website as he advised me to do and have NEVER heard back from him.

          I take that back, I did get feedback from him when I met him in person and he mentioned he preferred people with a lot of automotive sales experience. Brand knowledge and interest does not seem to be a factor, which I think, is a shame. So to the original post, yes they seem to be all about “pushing metal”, at least here in Atlanta.

    • Everyone has angry customers. And I have yet to find any company that manufacturers anything that has a zero percent failure rate on something. If the dealers are going to be in the business of selling cars, then part of that business has to be the support of those cars. There is no work around. And I would expect the same level of service from the service department as I do from sales. If there is an issue, it should be addressed, no matter what.

      But when you say KNOWN WIDESPREAD issues, does that mean a thread on NAM or MA that has 5 pages? Or something that every person that has posted or read that 5 page thread has actually brought to the attention of their service department? It’s import to clarify this because, as MINI owners, we have a sense of entitlement (I have no idea where it comes from) and think that we are due special treatment because we bought into the brand. A warranty is a warranty, and when it’s expired, it’s expired. That’s the rules. But that’s not the point.

      If the dealer did care (in this instance), they would do what they could to resolve the issue. I’ve heard of dealers giving HUGE discounts on out of warranty repairs for items that cost way more than 7 grand to customers that weren’t theirs to begin with. They are out there, they just have to want to do it. The ones that don’t are the ones that have angry customers that have no recourse other than to post to a 5 page thread on NAM or MA.

      Sure, some of the onus needs to fall on MINI for those kinds of things. But, it is the responsibility of the dealer to bring this to the attention of MINI for further resolution. They are, after all, the direct customer of MINI.

      Point this anyway you like, but the dealer sells the cars. The dealer supports the cars. It’s a broken system, but it’s the system that we are stuck with.

      • fishbert

        But when you say KNOWN WIDESPREAD issues, does that mean a thread on NAM or MA that has 5 pages?

        I’d say a good example would be intake port carbon build-up. An issue that’s rather obviously “known” and “widespread” due to the addition of walnut blasting machines in dealership service bays across the country a year or two ago. Walnut blasting machines that, once you hit your warranty limit, will cost an arm and a leg to have used on your engine every 20-30k miles because there remains no real fix.

      • Dr Obnxs

        Don, that’s a little weak. To imply that the list of issues that MINI has had problems and hasn’t addressed head on is only an artifact of self-selection on web posts ignores the very real history that MINI has had in ducking issues. But overall, I agree a lot with the column. I have a “doesn’t get it” dealership close to me that lost sales on two cars beceaus of thier attitude…. An interesting question: Is there a correlation between chain owned dealerships vs independantly owned and a “getting it” factor? Overall, this is a perfect example of short term wins vs long term wins. For the sales person, the profit lies in the sale. For the dealership there is the sale and the service, maybe even future sales. And for the brand, they want to build a lifetime of loyalty. But the longer term the interest in a quality relationship, the more removed from the actual customer relationship! Talk about screwy…. It’s no wonder things are the way they are.

        • Bob Hayhurst

          It is always surprising to me when two different people go into a dealership, a coffee shop, a restaurant and have such totally different experiences. I realize there’s a difference between a screwed up coffee order and a $800 repair bill that’s in dispute but the difference is twofold. The system in place to handle the dispute and the people that implement it. Things can go south pretty quickly if any one person in the line fails to do what they’re supposed to do. Not making excuses for anyone for sure; but a failed customer interaction translates eventually to bad sales…

        • I’m not saying that MINI is perfect. I am saying that it is the dealers responsibility to address any issues with customers cars. MINI/MINIUSA does not deal directly with the customer. They just don’t.

          Sure the cars aren’t perfect. Sure, carbon build up and death rattles shouldn’t even happen in the first place (or any other of the issues de jour). But, when they do, the first point of contact for those issues is the MINI Dealer, not MINIUSA or MINI. At the end of the day, it is, and always will be, up to the dealer to correct any issues that one of their customers is having with their cars. Work is done by technicians under their employ, within a shop that the dealership has built and paid for (or pays a lease on).

          That’s the way it is. Blame MINI all you want for a problem with the cars, but don’t expect them to fix the problem on a customer’s car. At best, we should expect them to correct that at the production level (like they usually do) and, hopefully, issue bulletins (that they don’t do enough) making it ‘official’.

          The entire system is broken.

  • Sounds like you went to the dealership I bought my mini from. They could care less about me and my car once I drove off the lot. Unless of course I wanted to buy another one or threatened to give them a bad review on my survey. This continues with every service appointment I make, or any complaints about the car I had. Now that I’m out of warranty they care even less if thats possible. I think part of the problem around me is that there is no competition. Only one Mini dealer within 50 miles of me so I’m stuck with them. I thought Mini meant different, but they aren’t.

  • I think its hard to understand where they are coming from until you’ve worked at a dealership. I have friends who work at a BMW dealership from Autonation. They push $50k cars and make maybe $200-$400 on it. How can they care? Until there is some fair deal to these guys who work long long hours and make such low monies (the dealership themselves stuff their pockets), I can’t blame these guys for not caring.

    • piper

      Actually the $200 – $400/car translates into a respectable income when sales people are routinely expected to sell at least 12 vehicles/month. Many are selling 20+/month which translates into a very respectable income. Yes, they do work very long hours and sacrifice a lot of their personal life for their dealerships. I did it for awhile and found myself at odds with the methodology, incivility, and rampant unprofessionalism. Car people have deservedly “earned” an unenviable reputation. Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly enough exceptions to the rule. The business is generally (and regrettably) often ruthless and geared to exploit customers. I would have to thing twice before reconnecting with it despite my ardor for European automobiles.

      • The real money is in dealer-installed accessories and service. This is true for autos, motorcycles, scooters, all of it.

      • As you said, that is respectable if you are pushing those numbers, but not every sales person can and not every dealership is BMW. Guarantee the Chevy or Honda dealership spifs are near $100. (used car is a different story) but the point is that these guys and gals work their asses off and don’t make a ton of money (select due). The only way this can ever be fixed is if the brands build their own store. Basically, you have Best Buy vs. Apple. Day and night difference.

  • We did discuss this in a little more detail during White Roof Radio #444.

  • John McLauchlan

    We are fortunate to have many dealerships in our area. Fortunately they all “get it” and are very supportive, especially the one features in the main article photo 😉

    • I was hoping no one would notice. Eagle eye Mr McLauchlan! And, I know from what you speak and know they are one of the dealers that ‘get it’!

  • GoRixter

    I think when people buy a ‘premium’ car, they expect premium service. From what I’ve read, the experience with dealers is less than ‘premium’. I think you’ve found that yourself. Dealers need to be incented (or compensated) for whatever costs are incured to make things right, otherwise customer complaints will just be viewed as an annoyance. But cost aside, the focus of providing a truly positive customer experience is probably left at the whim of the dealership, with little coaching or followup my MINI themselves.

    At the same time MINI themselves need to be more open and honest when dealing with WIDESPREAD issues, such as the ‘death rattle’. That is a known problem, experienced by many customers, myself included. I had to provide all sorts of material before my dealership would repair it. Other customers, not so fortunate. Even with my repair, the repair work only carried a 1 year warrenty. I’m so afraid that one day the death rattle with re-surface, I will be out of warranty, and facing a huge bill. There’s also issues like the HPFP that MINI knows is a problem, yet simply won’t offer a replacement if requested by the customer.

    MINI should also do a better job of conducting post-sales customer survey to find out how happy customers are or aren’t.

    I found MINI to be very arrogant at times when dealing with them.

    • Everything that you say is 100% true. It really is.

      Still, does not change the fact that if a dealer is going to sell a car, they also have to support a car. If the dealer really wants something corrected for a customer, there are ways to make that happen. I know it for a fact.

      If you went directly to MINIUSA, beyond the 800 number (to a regional level manager or better) and still didn’t get resolution, then I would be as angry as you appear to be. That said, there isn’t anything that we can do to help you out here at MF/WRR, but if wishing made it so…

  • bluzeke

    At many Dealers it seems (exceptions acknowledged), the Thrill is Gone. The old faces and ways have given way to those who must, for a variety of motives, answer to the bottom line. It’s somewhat the nature of the beast and the nature of success in the retail world.

    While I certainly wouldn’t say that my dealer is a place where I, as a brand junkie, any longer seek out a periodic and fraternal MINI Fix, thank heavens I still find just about everything I want from the brand anytime I insert the key, fire her up and ‘smile-ingly’ head on down the road.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    Most issues defined as widespread or known generally are the responsibility of the manufacturer. These things are sorted out at the corporate level not at the dealership.

    I took something else away from Don’s article. It wasn’t about any one particular issue or problem with the cars. It was just a friendly elbow to some of the dealerships that sell the MINI brand. They’ve got some work to do to improve the interaction they have with the car buyer or customer in for warranty or service work. Indifference, rudeness, not taking the time required to listen, all of these things contribute to a negative experience. Thats my take on it…

    • Thanks Bob. That’s pretty much it exactly!

      But not just MINI dealers, really. The entire auto dealership world would benefit from a dose of elbow. It really is a broken system that does not favor the customer.

  • Susan D.

    The folks at MINI of Fairfield (Darien, Connecticut) are all about their customers as well as their love of the MINI lineup. I purchased my 2012 Countryman ALL4 from a wonderful sales advisor Fabrizio Reda and he was helpful, knowledgable and very intent on making sure that my sales experience was a good one. The team at MINI of Fairfield love the car and that transfers directly to the customer. Great Team … Great Car!

    • piper

      The team may be great, but the GM is a genuine jerk that spends more time puffing on cancer sticks than responding to customers.

  • Gary

    I just went through a new BTO purchase, and ended up abandoning the dealership to which I’ve been loyal for six years because it became clear during negotiations that my loyalty meant nothing to them. I was treated like a number. I ended up driving an extra hour to an in-state dealership that’s only had its doors open for about two years. It was a great experience from start to finish, they treated me like a human and not a number, great comms, and gave me great value on my trade-in ($3K+ more than the pre-owned manager at the other place was even willing to consider).

    My conclusions:

    1. Being a relatively new dealership, their staff is still populated with the MINI enthusiasts that formed the population from which they drew their original employees…folks who “get it”…and I was able to benefit from that.

    2. They gave me special attention because they know I play a major role in leading the activities and communications of our local club, and they see me as a conduit for potential advertising, referrals, and access to a larger customer base–if they’re able to keep me happy.

    3. Some combination of #1 and #2 above.

  • Kevin

    I’ve been trying for a couple years now to become a salesman at MINI of Atlanta. I’ve emailed the sales manager there many times and have never received a response. I’ve gone in to meet him in person to discuss and he blew me off. I’m currently in software sales and would like to think I’m fairly good at it. To be able to sell a product like the MINI would be a dream come true. (I’m an owner as well as an avid follower of the brand.)

    The only time I have EVER received a response from him was when I emailed him to inquire about the new GP and how to reserve one. (I got a response within 10 minutes).

    I’ve been in MINI of Atlanta several times for service and each time I walk over to the new car sales section, I never feel the same thrill I got when I bought my MINI back in 2004.

    If their dealership weren’t 5 minutes from my office, it would be incredibly likely I would NEVER visit them again.

    Hmmm, maybe the drive to MINI of South Atlanta is worth it….

    • That’s just sad. Sounds to me like you would be a great addition to any MINI sales team. Too bad your guys don’t seem to get that. Their loss.

      • Kevin

        Thanks for the comment, I feel the same way! 😉

        What really amazes me is that the one time I went in to introduce myself, the sales manager treated me like I was coming in and asking for a handout. I was, and still am, fully employed in a very technical field, have my undergrad from GaTech (not an easy school) as well as my MBA from UGA. While I have no experience in automotive sales, I’m 99% certain I could learn and learn quickly. Did I mention I LOVE the MINI brand?

        Meanwhile, my just ordered a brand new Countryman (not from this dealer luckily) but test drove one here and the salesperson couldn’t seem to care less. He showed ZERO enthusiasm. Essentially just handed us the keys, showed us to the car and that was that. (I guess some people like it that way, but I don’t think many typical MINI customers do?)

        • MINI of South Atlanta is an excellent dealership, from an attitude point of view. I just made my second purchase there and was very pleased start to finish. Less ‘tude, more customer focus.

  • VanMINI

    My home dealership ( MINI Yaletown) in Vancouver closed early yesterday as MINI Canada roled out a 10 point customer brand promise workshop to ALL dealer staff (yes, even the lot boy!) great to see.

    With three MINI dealerships in the Lower Mainland to choose from, it comes down to customer service and expereince as a diferentiator. the one that delivers this the best gets the business.

  • ClubvanLover

    I work at a MINI dealer in the UK. I love the brand and everything it represents, one of the things it represents is the customer. We do make a conscious effort to give the customer an unrivaled buying experience. For instance I recently took my demonstrator to a customers house in the middle of nowhere for them to test drive on the roads that they use every day to see if the car could cope. As expected the Countryman Cooper D ALL4 exceeded their expectations and they have ordered one. Just to add this was in my own time after work.

    • Thanks for reporting in from across the pond! Appreciate your point of view! Also appreciate you ‘doing it right’. Nicely done!

  • Kurtster

    Sadly, I think a lot of car dealerships are like this and it’s not exclusive to MINI. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a spectacular MINI dealership where I live, but it isn’t always that way. One of my coworkers was car shopping and the sales guy kept bugging her with the phrase, “don’t you want to make your husband happy?” in an effort to get them to buy that day. Frankly, that was really creepy. I had a blatantly offensive experience with a dealer once myself. I just don’t know how some people think the best way to sell a car is to be offensive, pushy or creepy.

  • MiniMonger

    This crappy dealership you are speaking about must be Patrick in Schaumburg, IL. I wouldn’t even buy a tricycle from them let alone a car.

    • Hemisedan

      Patricks? Now I’ve never had to deal with their service department, but Maria was fantastick with my 2011 JCW two years ago. I couldn’t ask for any more, and she had four deliveries that day. Now their Finance Department, that could stand a little help, in my esatimation.

  • I had wanted a MINI for quite sometime (right after I saw the Italian Job) and had been looking for one for a long time. I finally found a nice used 2007 Cooper S about 4 hours from my home. It was from a non-MINI dealership, but the salesman really recognized how the car should go to someone who really appreciated MINIs. That was me. I bought an extended warranty and had to use it pretty quickly. As the selling dealership was not a MINI and so far away, using them for service was unpractical. I ultimately had to go to Roadshow Mini in Covington, TN (Memphis). They were great! They fixed my car and got the warranty company to step up to the plate. Their service department is top notch. However, I don’t get the same vibe from their sales department. I didn’t fully interact with them, but they did seem lackadaisical attitude. I could be wrong, but it’s the vibe that was given off. But, again, 3 cheers to Roadshow Mini’s Service Department! Plus they are open alld ay on Saturdays! This is great because I live 2 hours from there.


    Motoring File has finally run out of articles worth reading. They have now resorted to complaining about dealerships. How original. If I wanted to read an article of negativity I could go to any local MINI Club site and have my fill of dealership hate posts. Cheers!

  • MOSA

    Kevin. Give us a call at MINI of South Atlanta. Ask for David. He would love to talk with you.

    • Kevin

      Thanks! I sure will! (I just saw this message, otherwise would have responded sooner)

  • frogberg

    Based on my experience, this doesn’t surprise me at all. I bought mine 2005 at a small, boutique store and moved in 2006 near a big BMW/MINI combined dealership. The difference in attitude between the two dealerships was as stark as the difference in size. This attitude extended from sales to service. The massive combined dealership didn’t even have a MINI service manager until recently! The online shopping and brand experiences and attitudes at the small dealership were so buttoned-up and enthusiastic that the attitude at larger one was a real let-down. So much so that I don’t go to them anymore. And if my independent MINI guy needs parts, I request that he doesn’t get them from the big guys.

  • lilcoopr

    THANK-YOU DB!! This sums up EXACTLY why I don’t work at MINI anymore after 5 years of trying to get them to embrace the MINI Culture. It is with sadness and regret that I’ve left the automotive industry completely and occasionally dream about returning and remember that I can’t be the one to save the day (at least without any local support).

    Happy Motoring to those who get it. At MTTS 2010, MOGR (MINI of Grand Rapids) put on quite a show and welcomed some visiting Canadians with open arms (thanks again for the memories!). This is just one example of success when you’re doing it with love.


  • Don Hopings

    In general, my experience with new car dealers has been not so good, with the except of the guy I dealt with at our MINI place. Including the MINI, this spans 7 cars and 1 truck from 1972. Being a mechanical engineer and an avid Car Guy, I would diligently do my homework on the model in which I was interested. Invariably what I found is that I knew more about the vehicle than the sales people did. A couple that stand out was the VW guy showing me a new Quantum in ’84. He accidently tripped the childproof in the back and my wife couldn’t get out. However, I had no idea of what he had done. He also couldn’t put the crossbows in for the roof rack as it was a station wagon. A couple of months ago, a Fiat guy opened the hood of an Abarth and showed me that the Sway Bar had been installed, but what he really meant was Upper Stress Bar or Strut Tower Brace.

    In contrast, the guy I worked with at out MINI dealership was really quite good. I call him every now and then and he is always helpful. He is also a MINI owner. I’ve also had occasion to be at Hendrick MINI in Charlotte for some service work. I test drove a Countryman, mostly out of curiosity, and the sales guy there was pretty good and definitely a car guy.

    And, I think that is the difference. You really need to be a car guy or gal to effectively sell these cars. That’s what will keep you interested and that feeling when you drive a MINI is what you have to convey to potential owners. If you don’t have this, you may as well be selling refridgerators…

    • Hemisedan

      What you say about your experiences at car dealers, well I run into much the same here in Iowa too. Only the dealer that I bought my Mini JCW from at Patricks in Schaumburg, and our dealer here in Des Moines. They both exceeded themselves and that is why I will only deal with one or the other next. Many of these Mini, or others, should wake up they are missing business. A walk in customer shouldn’t be more knowledgeable about YOUR product than you are. By the way, the Lithia people are the worst at customer service, out in the show room, or in the service department.

  • Robert

    This post nailed it. I wish my license plate bracket said: “Let’s Motor. Let’s avoid Cincinnati MINI at all costs.”

  • brt356

    I have bought Mini’s from the same dealership since 2003 and have no complaints. My concern is that Mini will not maintain its customer focus at a time when the brand is peaking in sales. I have seen great marques falter when they focussed so much on sales that they lost sight of who got them those favorable sales numbers in the first place. It’s ironic really that a dealership would forsake its customer, but I have seen it happen to the best of marques and dealerships. It’s only when the economy or car market takes a dip that they realize, sometimes too late, that repeat business and favorable word of mouth goes a long way to keep things solvent during the lean years. Building the bottom line starts with provide the best possible customers sales experience and post sale service experience, one customer at a time. it takes a commitment from the business partners and dealership management to ensure everyone at the dealership is on board.

  • Hemisedan

    I have had a situation come up this past week that could have been handled much differently than they are doing. I lost my SAT on my radio. No, not the Sirius connecting, but the entire SAT from my radio. My car is a 2011 JCW that had the SAT, or Sirius from the factory and lost the area when you select on MODE the SAT, well it disappeared, can’t get to it. Well, I had my dealer look at it, and when they got back to me they told me that they would have to replace the entire head unit. No problem, they said, it will be here next week and we will install it then, but will have to have the car all day and would I like a demo, no charge. That’s what I mean, they could have charged me, but didn’t, sent my car to radio shops in the are, but elected to just replace it. Mini of Des Moines are one of the good guys.