By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
John Londoff Jr. likes to take care of customers, so much so that he often plops down in the Johnny Londoff Chevrolet waiting room to talk to people waiting for their cars. He has an open-door policy for any customer or employee who wants to talk to him.
In the 1980s, the service department asked Londoff to talk to an angry woman who had brought her new conversion van in for service three times in the few weeks she’d had it. “The service department manager wasn’t sure I would want to talk to her,” Londoff said, and when she came in, she told him that she knew that the manager had told him she was angry.
“I’m here to help you,” Londoff recalls telling the woman. After hearing her complaints, he reached in his pocket and offered her the keys to his Suburban, taking a moment to remove his house key. He told her to drive the car home while the dealership tried to fix the van.
The next day, the woman called and said, “You’re good.” When he asked what she meant, she told him she wanted to get the Suburban instead of the van. So he made her a deal, and the woman became a personal friend who has referred many family members to the dealership.
Londoff said he learned to confront problems directly from his father, who founded the North County Chevrolet dealer in 1957, originally in Wellston. Before that, his father and grandfather had owned another dealership selling Chrysler Plymouth and Edsel, and before that, Kaisers and Frasiers, starting in 1940. The company moved to its current location on Dunn Road just north of Interstate 270 in 1960.
Londoff believes in returning all phone calls personally, if possible. “If I don’t return a phone call, someone on my staff will,” Londoff said. That goes for texts and emails, too.
He said setting an example and continual preaching on the value of good service is the best way to get employees to provide it. He advises them to use a notebook and pen to write down each problem and address them one at a time.
Employees all undergo extensive customer service training in a program through Maritz as well as an automotive compliance program, which covers workplace ethics, understanding of harassment and discrimination, OSHA safety and identity theft prevention. They need to score 100 percent on the compliance test. Technicians and service writers all do extensive training with General Motors, Chevrolet and certifications with Missouri. Londoff offers bonuses based on various phases of training.
The technology used in new cars makes all the training imperative for Londoff employees. But it’s also a challenge for car buyers. Londoff provides videos to help familiarize owners with their new cars as well as a video that explains how the service department works.
“It all starts with the sale, but the way to keep the customer is service,” Londoff said. Despite being a second-generation owner, he worked his way through every job at the dealership. His first love was service, where he worked happily until his father insisted that he start working in sales at age 17.
In recent years, Londoff bought adjacent properties, including the former Our Lady of Fatima Catholic church. The dealership will expand its service department using some of that land, but it sold the buildings to Lindenwood University. The dealership sells used as well as new cars, and it has its own car rental business, started after customers complained of long waits for a vendor to deliver rental cars.
Londoff has made other changes to meet customer demand, such as offering Saturday service hours and pickup and delivery of vehicles for service. The dealership also offers loaner cars and shuttle service, and its detail shop washes serviced vehicles as a courtesy to customers. A new business development office focuses on online sales, which are an increasing part of the automobile business.
Although its location is north St. Louis County, Londoff draws customers from throughout the area and beyond. One customer came from England to buy a truck here because he was moving to North Dakota.
Londoff also has a long tradition of supporting area charities. John Londoff Sr., who died five years ago, was a major supporter of Variety, the Children’s Charity, a BBB Accredited Charity. The dealership recently gave away a Camaro as a prize in a hole-in-one contest for St. Louis ARC, also a BBB Accredited Charity.
The elder Londoff started a scholarship program 53 years ago because of a firm belief in education, though he never went to college. The dealership recently awarded 12 scholarships to North County high school graduates. More than 700 have been awarded through the years.
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.