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As is the case for many successful people, Brad Dumdie, owner of Autoland is passionate about cars. Born and raised in Selby, South Dakota, after graduating from Selby High School, Brad attended Phoenix Institute of Technology in Phoenix, Arizona. (Interesting note: the founder of that school is from Selby, SD.) After graduating with a degree in auto mechanics, he came back the next year and went to work for Harr Motors as a detailer. “Within six months I was working in the shop as a mechanic,” recalls Dumdie. He spent two years as a mechanic and progressed to sales and eventually onto management. From Harr, he went to Lust Chevrolet in Aberdeen as Finance Manager and then to Brookings to work for Paula Motors as General Sales Manager. After leaving Paula Motors, Brad went to work for Billion Motors as Sales Manager. He worked in different capacities as a new and used Sales Manager. In 2001, he made the leap to his lifelong dream; owning his own car dealership business.
Brad’s grandpa owned a garage named Dumdie Garage in Bowdle. It was a mechanic shop and Brad’s father worked there. They also sold new Fords there. His first car was a “classic”; a 1971 Pinto. “The front end had damage and dad bought it for me for working for him at his lumberyard all summer,” says Brad. “I fixed it up and traded it for a ’66 Mustang (which needed a motor). I put in the motor and traded that for a ’78 Trans Am. Dad and I built a small shop behind our house and I did auto mechanic and body work form there all through high school. I restored some Mustangs and pickups and had a nice little business doing auto body work for people around town. Dad used to buy metal doors at the lumberyard that had damage and I would fix them and repaint them and sell them. I would sand them down and paint them with auto body paint so they would last forever. That kept me busy and helped me hone my skills in auto body work.”
Brad always wanted to own his own business. “When I was in sales at Harr, I knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I wanted to sell cars. My dad and grandpa were both business owners. I had been looking at new car stores for quite some time and the lot on Minnesota Avenue became available in August of 2001. I did the math on a new car dealership vs. a used car dealership. It was an ego thing for me in the beginning because I had always worked for a new car franchise. Only offering used cars was somehow not as glamorous but freedom was important. After thinking over my options, I came to the conclusion that with new car franchises you had to sell their products. You have to buy what they are selling. As an independent, I can sell cars that I want to sell that I know will work for the customers. Plus, it drastically lowers your overhead. You are not forced to buy inventory that doesn’t sell.”
In the early days it was just Brad and one salesperson, Jake Mellema. Jake and Brad worked together at Billion Motors. Brad’s wife, Karen, also pitched in at the dealership. Karen is a marketing consultant with KELO TV
Success did not come easy. “Jake and I did all the selling,” says Brad. “I needed a good trustworthy person and Jake was that person.” He worked for Brad for 10 years. “Our first sale on the lot actually came before we even opened the doors. The previous tenant had some consignment cars on the lot. The business was not open and I stopped by to look at the building when a customer came on the lot. He wanted to buy a Ford Taurus we had on the lot. Fortunately, I knew who consigned the vehicle, called them and put a deal together for the customer. He has purchased multiple vehicles from us over the years and even came to work for us a few years later. I put all of the office furniture together, mowed the grass, and, together with Karen, cleaned every weekend. I would do the title work at night. In the beginning, I worked for free. I knew I had to put all profits back into the business. The second year they were in business, there was a major construction project on Minnesota Avenue. It lasted a whole year. The road would be down to one-lane or sometimes even closed. They put maps in their ads to tell people how to get to their lot. “They had to drive behind the building to get to our store. Lucky we had low overhead or we would have been in trouble. I do not want to go through that again. We began to add sales people at the Minnesota location, opened up Autoland East (which is now the budget lot) in 2005 and then Autoland East three years ago.”
The Minnesota location was formerly a classic car dealership, selling classic cars, muscle cars, and hot rods. Before that it was a gas station. Vern Eide had their Buick/Mercedes dealership on the corner north of the building. There was a building in front of the current building that Vern Eide later tore down. They leveled it and paved it. “They took the small building we are in now and remodeled it.” Brad leased it from Vern Eide and later purchased the location from them. They followed another Vern Eide property with their Autoland East location, now called the Budget Mart. Business continued to grow and they started to look for another location. Brad had his eye on the Chapel Hill funeral home when his REALTOR®, Brent Antonen, called one day and asked him if he was interested in a funeral home. Brad said, “ironically I just was thinking about that place. I like it.” They struck a deal and in 2008 Autoland East started operation in that location.
Autoland employs 20 people. “We generally do not advertise for positions. Most of the people at Autoland I have had a relationship with over the years. Finance Manager Dick McCoy and I used to dealer trade cars when we were working for new car franchises.” Matt Gross, Manager at the Minnesota location, was one of the first customers at Autoland, buying a Honda Accord from them when he was in high school. “Matt has always been a car nut and he would stop in to visit with us about cars. When we opened the East store, Jake asked him if he wanted to come sell cars and he did. He ended up being the manager. His knowledge and love of cars made it a perfect fit for both of us.” Jack Skiles is the manager of the east store. Jack owned his own place in Rowena. After that he worked for another dealer and Brad got to know him. Jack says, “A mutual friend said I should talk to him. I did and I have been here ever since. Brad is very respectful of his people and his customers. His philosophies trickle down to everyone who works here.”
The interview process at Autoland is simple; the managers interview the candidate and if they like them Brad interviews them. “This works so well because most of the time if the managers like the candidate, I will like them also. We try to create a culture of complete customer satisfaction. Each of our locations has a little different makeup but the end result is we want satisfied customers.”
All of the Autoland employees have a personal relationship with the vendors that they do business with. “That is important because it is how we treat everybody. I wanted to create an environment that whenever and wherever I see my customers they are happy to see me because they had a good buying experience.” One of the ways they keep in touch with their customers is a customer satisfaction survey. They send out a postcard within a month of a client taking delivery of a vehicle from them. The postage paid cards go in a drawing for $50 in free gas to ensure a strong return rate of the cards. “Generally, this gives someone an opportunity to let us have it if they are not satisfied. All of us truly want to know that we completely satisfied our customers. We are extremely proud of our satisfaction rate. I wish we could have a 100% satisfaction but we are real close and the people that aren’t satisfied generally we can make satisfied.”
Brad teaches his sales staff to listen to customers and stay in touch with them. “We help the customers long after the sale is complete. It is the people that separate us from competitors. You are only as good as your people. I am a faith-based person and I push those philosophies in the business. My business philosophies are based on those values.” For example, they only donate to two charities-religion and schools. “Those are the places you should give. Churches take care of families in need and the children are our future.” They donate a car every year to the Christian Center School to auction for their school fundraiser. Last year they started a promotion called charity days, where different organizations come out to grill hot dogs. There is a free will donation and Autoland donates money for every hot dog. Every weekend there would be a different charity. A cornerstone philosophy of Brad’s is to have a day for family. “We have never been open on Sunday and we close on all major holidays. A salesperson can come in if they choose and we will meet a customer any time day or night. You get a better employee if you give them time to enjoy life outside of the car business.” When at Lust Chevrolet, he went to the NADA School of Ethics. “It was a full summer program and I was part of the second graduating program in the US. That taught me how to deal with people in the car business.”
Warranties are available to protect the customer. Autoland belongs to a group that self-insures the warranty. “Autoland pays the claims so we will not end up with a bankrupt warranty company.” They are big enough now that they can do this. The result for the customer is they will never be left hanging with a bankrupt warranty company. “We went through that with a company called Ultimate Warranty that went through bankruptcy four years ago. We stood behind our customer warranties in spite of that. We just paid a claim this year for a customer that purchased a warranty from that company through us.
Autoland also has a complete detail shop, employing five people. They do everything from a detail to pin striping including washing, buffing, and paint sealant. Shop Manager James Dosch has trained a good portion of the detailers in town. They do all of their own cars and also do some for other car dealers, and even banks. They also have a retail business. “We have some customers that have high dollar hot rods that we detail for a show and also construction workers that need their truck power washed so they can remember what color it is. Jimmy has a pretty good following of people that love their cars.”
“We sell anything from a $500 car to a $50,000 car. We work with all of the major lenders in and out of the area so we are competitive with other used and new car dealers. We also offer subprime loans to people that are credit challenged. Our budget center gives customers a chance to buy a car for cash. Our prices are very affordable there. Most of those vehicles are trade-ins from our other lots. We rarely wholesale a car. We want to sell our vehicles to the public. The only cars we wholesale are not road worthy and they generally go to a salvage yard. Our philosophy on wholesaling cars is if the car is here too long, the price will come down. I would rather sell to a retail customer and gain a new customer rather than wholesale it at auction. All of our trades stay on the lot where they were traded in. Because the sales people who took the trade know the car and we can give knowledgeable advice to our customers. Additionally, our cars do not stay on our lot very long. We generally like to move our vehicles before 90 days. Keeping fresh inventory is important.”
Most of the cars are from auctions or other dealers. Because of Brad’s relationship with other dealers, they buy trade-ins from other new car dealers. The bulk of our vehicles are off lease vehicles but they are getting harder to come by. “We are getting more and more import vehicles because they have continued to lease vehicles whereas GM and Chrysler have gotten away from leases. My relationships with other dealers really help us stock a good inventory of vehicles. All vehicles with fewer than 100,000 miles come with a 3 month 3,000 mile warranty. We stand behind our cars because I know how they should run. We always stand behind our cars and make the customer happy with their purchase.”
There are many stories about how they have helped people find cars. One time a customer was looking for a diesel pickup. They did not have any in stock so Jake helped the customer find one online. He appreciated the extra effort and he sent in five other people who purchased vehicles. Repeat business is a key to their success. That has really helped them grow their total units sold. They have had families that have purchased over eight vehicles in their 10 years of business. In 2009, their ninth year in business, sales almost doubled. “That tells me we are doing something right. If we can’t sell to repeat people, you soon run out of customers. Currently they sell over 1,200 units annually with sales for the last fiscal year coming in just under $10,000,000. “Not bad for a 10 year old business. I remember when it hit $1,000,000, I was pretty happy.”
There are many stories about how they have helped people find cars. One time a customer was looking for a diesel pickup. They did not have any in stock so Jake helped the customer find one online. He appreciated the extra effort and he sent in five other people who purchased vehicles. Repeat business is a key to their success. That has really helped them grow their total units sold. They have had families that have purchased over eight vehicles in their 10 years of business. In 2009, their ninth year in business, sales almost doubled. “That tells me we are doing something right. If we can’t sell to repeat people, you soon run out of customers. Currently they sell over 1,200 units annually with sales for the last fiscal year coming in just under $10,000,000. “Not bad for a 10 year old business. I remember when it hit $1,000,000, I was pretty happy." It was important to have a landmark that people can identify with. The idea stuck and now we are known for the little red car. People recognize the car.”
Brad has been in the business for 25 years and has experience in all aspects of the business. “My background has given me a good foundation for the business. I do more stuff for my cars because I have been under the hood and I know what needs to be fixed to make it right, not just run. That has really helped me identify problems and take care of them. As a result of this our customer satisfaction is very good. Our customers get a better quality car.”
He meets every week with his managers and tallies up the mix of all vehicles. “We try to keep the same mix of products. We want the small town atmosphere in a larger city. We watch the inventory mix. Our inventory will provide something for everybody at all times during the year but we will load up a little more for the seasons…4x4’s in the winter and sports cars in the summer. Our prices are as good as a one-price store yet we will allow you a good trade-in value.”
Continued growth is the goal of Autoland. Brad’s business plan is having multiple lots in Sioux Falls that hold 50-60 cars giving a small town feel with big dealer inventories. Eventually he wants to expand out to outlying areas surrounding Sioux Falls. His philosophy of friendly people…friendly prices…big store selection will continue to be his building block to success.