The Sky’s the Limit

Skip Harmon brings about a brand-new day at Allen Samuels Chevrolet.

By: Sarah Tindall  //  Photos by: Edgar de la Garza

Watch out, Coastal Bend: There’s a new kid in town, and he’s making some noise down at the Allen Samuels Chevrolet dealership on Crosstown at 2118 SPID. President and General Manager Skip Harmon arrived in town in November 2013 without a job or knowing a soul in town. He had moved from Dallas/Fort Worth with his wife, as she had decided to move to Ingleside to take care of her three children who lived there because she found it difficult to uproot them from their schools and friends.

“It was the toughest decision I’ve ever made,” he says. “A catch 22: move away from my career and resent my family for it, or commute from D/FW on weekends and live apart from my wife all week.” He picked family over career – and the story goes like this.

Harmon spent the last 15 years in D/FW working at and later managing Ford dealerships and had just recently completed Dealer Academy, where promising managers are sent to learn the ins and outs of the business so they are ready to become general managers. He wasted no time, and then, after moving here (as soon as the boxes were off the moving truck and before he even changed his scruffy clothes), he began touring dealerships incognito. The mission was to find a store where his particular expertise would be needed. Harmon’s specialty is turning around stores in trouble – stores with low sales that need a serious change in culture and management to become ultimately successful.

After posing as a customer, talking to sales staff and observing the workings of several local dealerships, Harmon stepped into the Allen Samuels Chevrolet dealership and knew within a couple of minutes that it was the right place. The dealership has been serving the Coastal Bend for more than 20 years, but when Harmon walked in that fateful day last November, it had seen better times.

The dealership itself was gorgeous, and it had recently been remodeled and looked fantastic, but “it was a morgue,” Harmon says. The salesman spilled the beans, even though he thought Harmon was a potential customer: He had only sold two cars the month before, he hated his manager, he was unhappy and he was thinking about moving onto something else.

“I knew I had found my home,” says Harmon, who emailed in his job application and got an email back 20 seconds later. Next came a call from the general manager, and after two days of interviews, he became the new general sales manager.

The rest is legendary. Harmon started Dec. 2, and his first mission on the job was to change the culture at the dealership immediately. “When I walked into my first sales meeting, they thought I was crazy. I asked how many vehicles they had sold the month before, and then told them we weren’t going to spend a dime on advertising, but we were going to double our sales that month.” Harmon continues with a smile: “We didn’t double sales that month. We increased by two-and-a-half times. It was the best month the store had had in almost 10 years.”

The final numbers came out Jan. 7, and Harmon came back from lunch that day as president and general manager of Allen Samuels Chevrolet. Steve Hindman, marketing manager for the dealership, sums it up succinctly: “When they announced Skip was the new G.M., the attitude in the store immediately went through the roof. Everyone was excited about what was happening.”

The staff members at Allen Samuels were not the only ones excited about the opportunities opening up at the dealership. When the announcement was made, Harmon’s phone immediately starting ringing – folks he had worked with in D/FW wanted in. The first call was from Austin Bitner, now the new car director at Allen Samuels; he had worked with Harmon in the past, he saw those December numbers and he was ready to pack up and come down to Corpus Christi.

Then Bitner’s phone started ringing; more former coworkers had heard about what was going on and were ready to sign up. All in all, 11 people from D/FW and other areas gleefully packed up themselves and their families and, with complete trust and loyalty, joined the Allen Samuels family, ready to be part of the excitement of turning an underperforming dealership into a top producer. “Those of us who were already here were just thrilled with the opportunity,” Hindman says, “and this year has proved that our trust wasn’t misplaced.”

The numbers for the first half of the year are in, and it’s official: The dealership has moved from last to first. “In our chain of nine stores, we closed last year eighth after our record sales in December, and so far, for the first half of this year, we’re first,” Harmon says. “The car business is a people business. It doesn’t matter what you sell. It’s about how you take care of the people that work for you and, in turn, how they serve our customers. It’s a wonderful and very rewarding cycle for our employees and our customers. The key to success has been a combination of a sales staff with a winning attitude and a change in policy. That way, we are best serving our customers, and we’re making sure our sales staff can make money, too.”

The focus on volume has also ensured that cars are moving off the lot, and as a result, Allen Samuels Chevrolet boasts the largest Chevy inventory in the Coastal Bend, along with great deals for customers on cars, trucks and SUVs.

All of this is not new for Harmon, who did the same thing for his last two stores in D/FW. “My last store was in Grapevine, and it was essentially about to be closed when we arrived,” he says. “Four years later, we had made it one of the most successful stores in the U.S. The exciting thing about this store is that it is accelerating faster than that one did. The sky is the limit on what this store can be; the growth just becomes exponential.”

With 810 vehicles available, including the Silverado (2014 North American truck of the year) and the Corvette (2014 North American car of the year), and happy customers leaving the store every day, that promise of growth looks like it will become a reality. “We sell more Corvettes than anyone else in the Coastal Bend,” Harmon says, “so we have the biggest inventory.”

With record sales also comes the opportunity to make an impact in the community. “He’s young, aggressive and understands the idea of spending money to make money, so we’ve supported the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, United Way, Universal Little League and the Rise School, among others, already this year,” Hindman says. “Our biggest impact was again at the Nueces County Junior Livestock Show and San Patricio and Aransas Counties Agricultural & Homemakers Show.”

Harmon and Hindman met Allen Samuels at the San Patricio & Aransas Counties Agricultural and Homemakers Show; the dealership had supported it before, but this year, they went all out. “We’ve never supported it at that level before,” Hindman says. “We’ve got stacks of letters from kids thanking us for making great things possible for them through our support.”

“It was a surreal experience for me,” Harmon adds. “I had only been G.M. for a few days, and they tell me we have to go buy cows. The day before, they had introduced me as G.M. at the Coastal Bend Chevy Dealers Association, and then we end up at the show buying farm animals. But it was so rewarding to see what an impact we had on the kids participating in that program.”

Harmon’s favorite part of the job is juggling all the different facets of the business. Because Allen Samuels is a one-stop shop for new and used vehicles and parts and service that also has a body shop; offers prime and subprime financing; and manages an in-house accounting and advertising department, keeping all those different cogs moving forward simultaneously is challenging, but enjoyable. Harmon began meeting with all of the managers on Tuesday mornings to facilitate keeping the communication lines open so everyone can stay on track and on task.

“It’s a brand-new day at Allen Samuels Chevrolet,” Harmon says, “so now’s a great time to go meet ‘your new friends in the car business.’”

To find out more, visit www.allensamuelscc.com, stop by the store at 2118 South Padre Island Drive or call 361-884-5234.

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