SCHALLER AUTO WORLD PUTS PEOPLE FIRST
CAROL RIORDAN SPECIAL TO THE HARTFORD BUSINESS JOURNAL
Ask Art Schaller Jr. about recent business accomplishments, and his answer may surprise you.
"We had our highest attendance ever at the annual Christmas party," he said. It's clear that people are a priority at Schaller Auto World when it comes to clients and staff.
Marketing Director Joanne Pescosolido started out as a greeter at the company 29 years ago. She has worked in sales and finance and can even cover the IT department in a pinch.
"We all help each other when needed," she said.
When Pescosolido first started managing the company's advertising, she had young children and arrangements were made for her to work from home three days a week. Recently, a group of staff members covered for an appointment coordinator whose husband was diagnosed with cancer.
"She was able to go with him to chemo treatments. We just learned that he is cancer free," Pescosolido said.
Schaller credits his father, Art Sr., for developing his people skills.
"Early on, I'd call him after every sales experience and say, 'Here's what I did, what do you think?' " Schaller said. Dealership employees take the same approach and view every customer interaction as a training opportunity. Sometimes, that means keeping cool when an interaction starts to get heated.
"Buying a car is a high-stakes purchase," Schaller said. "My father said, 'Don't ever get mad about what a customer says. Just find a way to turn it around.' "
The staff takes time to get to know their customers and listens to them attentively. They ask for details on why a customer is changing cars and get a read on their personality and lifestyle. Then they can make the best match between customer and car.
"Customers may come in with a pre-conceived notion of what they want, not realizing they can find those same features in another vehicle," Schaller said.
Some leading local figures got their start at Schaller Auto World. Tim Stewart, former New Britain mayor, and both of his brothers worked there in high school.
"Tim's brother Jim was my first boss in the detail center," said Schaller.
Local charities such as Klingberg Family Centers rely on the dealership, and the Schaller family established a fund at the Community Foundation of New Britain when the business celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Art Sr. and Jr. both grew up working in the family business. The family lived three miles from the dealership, which was started in 1953 by Art Sr.'s father, Gustave Schaller. They sold 200 Oldsmobiles in their first year with a staff of eight. Honda was added in the spring of 1977, Subaru was added in 1982 and in 1986 the company became the first Acura dealer in Connecticut. They started selling Mitsubishis in 1991 and the original Oldsmobile facility was renovated as a state-of-the-art body shop in 2011.
"My family has been in the collision-repair business as long as we've been in the car business," said Schaller. The shop has $500,000 of parts on the premises so vehicles can be turned around quickly. Schaller Auto World was one of the first dealerships to add an in-house insurance agency in 2014.
"Allstate offers service contracts, GAP insurance, paint and fabric protection, and road hazard insurance," Schaller said.
He describes the hours as intense, but said that's what it takes to run a successful dealership. During busy times of the year, a salesperson might be scheduled to work an 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift, but leave much later. "Sometimes they don't leave until 11 p.m. because we don't stop until the last customer is taken care of," Schaller said.
Schaller leads by example and is accessible to clients and staff at all times. He said that having an open-door policy means that his door is open all day. Emails sent through the company website link "Tell It To Art" go directly to him.
"When you call our dealership and punch my name into the system, you get my desk," he said.
This personal touch is what has made the business so successful, Schaller said.
"We try to run the business like it's still the same small eight-person operation that my grandfather started in 1953," he said.