Bridging the Gap with Brian Singh

August 22, 2022
Parts guy. Service Advisor. Parts and Service Director. Fixed Ops Director. General Manager. These are all parts of Brian Singh’s retail automotive experience. He’s used all that knowledge to bridge the gap between different departments and help them overcome their pain points. Now, he leads evrdrive, a customer experience that he hopes will change the way people buy cars.
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What we talk about in this episode:


0:00
Intro with Michael Cirillo, Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier.

3:23 Brian traces his journey from a parts guy to General Manager.

10:55 As Brian got promoted, he started bridging the gap of Fixed Ops vs. Variable Ops. Because it’s not about picking sides as a boss, it’s about the customer.

“And so I think it's realizing it's not about picking sides, there's no enemy or hero in this. It's all about the customer. And it's all about those pain points that exist within that, if we can drop the ego out of the way, and not think that our particular job is more important than anyone else's and realize that there's a customer on the other end of it. I think when you're able to continually remind your employees and folks of that, they start to realize, okay, let me pump the brakes a little bit.”

19:05 evrdrive is a new initiative that Brian leads. It’s all about creating customer experience centers that look different from the traditional showroom.

23:55 In the end, Brian is all about making the automotive retail experience as normal as any other shopping experience.

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SPEAKERS

Brian Singh, Kyle Mountsier, Paul, Paul Daly, Michael Cirillo


Kyle Mountsier  00:00

I've been following Brian Singh on LinkedIn for quite some time.


00:11

This is Auto Collabs.


Kyle Mountsier  00:14

And what I knew early on was his insight, specifically as a Fixed Ops Director were very, very poignant and an asset and had a big impact on our industry. And it was necessary to understand his perspective. And I think that that's what we need more in the entirety of the industry is a perspective that doesn't just come from the sales environment, because the majority of our leaders, the majority of the trainers, or the corporate leaders even actually come from the variable and or marketing side of the business. And what I love about Brian is he's someone that's gone from fixed ops, to General Manager to now running a national sales organization that starting up and so I'm really interested to see how he kind of perceives and portrays that journey from a fixed ops perspective, because I think our industry needs more of that.


Paul Daly  01:16

I mean, you hear it all the time, folks saying, just highlighting the amount of opportunities, you have to deliver good customer experience in the service lane. And it is exponentially greater then what seems like very few of your opportunities you have in the sales in the sales arena. So I agree, like thinking bringing some more that fixed operations experience into the forefront saying, hey, this actually could be more of the front door than the sales department. So I also am intrigued just by I just haven't seen that before. I haven't seen somebody. GM.


Michael Cirillo  01:52

Yeah, exactly. It's very rare. I can't think of many that I've seen, climb that ladder specifically from that perspective. But you know, we've talked about it on past episodes, kind of this parallel to that TV show Undercover Boss, where it's like he has that, like you both have said he has that unique perspective that so few will understand especially those coming into it. Maybe they just buy a store. And they they tend to focus right, the emphasis is always on variable. So to be able to bridge that gap. I think we'll be interesting to learn about in this episode with Brian Singh.


Kyle Mountsier  02:38

So there's a joke in here somewhere because there's a fixed ops guy that turned into a national retailer for an online business. And I don't know where the bar comes in. But it's somewhere between Brian and Singh and that's his full name. Brian, welcome to the podcast today, man. Thank


Brian Singh  02:54

you. Thank you guys. Appreciate you having me. Yeah, definitely,


Kyle Mountsier  02:57

man. Well, now the I think technical title president of Evrdrive which is a new and up and coming and about to be launched online retailer of vehicles. But you have a quite the history on the retail side of the automotive industry. And I'd love to just kind of let you let you pull back the curtain on on where it all started from men.


Brian Singh  03:23

Yeah, yeah, no, appreciate it again. Thanks for Thanks for having me guys. So started in retail. Started off in fixed ops started as a parts guy worked my way up to service advisor Parts and Service Director fixed ops director of a five rooftop dealership group in South Florida, made my way to Texas, and was fixed ops of a three store group and then made it to General Manager right from fixed operation. So never sold a car before obviously been around the industry. My whole career always aspired to continue to move up in the industry. And so went straight straight to GM at a Mazda Kia store here in Houston, Texas, did that for quite some time and then made my way up to schomp automotive group up in Denver, Colorado, some good friends up there. And there became a managing partner of a Nissan store. And then here I am now


Kyle Mountsier  04:18

All right, all right. So I gotta I gotta track this because that was like the fire hose of however many years you've been in the industry which is how many


Brian Singh  04:26

16 years 16 years Okay,


Kyle Mountsier  04:28

so you started in the parts department kind of in the like as as a parts employee do work at work on the desk.


Brian Singh  04:37

So actually started shipping and receiving so I was the guy that was checking the parts in and putting them on the shelves.


Kyle Mountsier  04:43

Okay, so here's what this is. This is what I love about the automotive industry is is a lot of times when we look at general manager and and the track to getting there, you wouldn't normally say you know what you should probably start as is a shipping Receiving clerk in the parts department. That's not where people kind of like, it's not like, everyone's like, that's gonna be the next general manager of the store, he's gonna run the national retailing chain for foundation automotive, get him. Right. So I, you know, I think that your perspective for the industry is probably a really a really key one because a lot of times when we see general manager, executive leadership or even ownership is it comes through the variable operations perspective on the industry. So I think I'd like to kind of like, break that down a little bit, and then pull that all the way forward at some point. But as you were heading, you know, from that fixed ops, especially the transition from the fixed ops director, to the general manager role, what did you see, as you were communicating with a lot of other general managers in the industry, probably at that point in 20 groups or things like that? Where did you see the opportunity that maybe you had, that that others didn't have? Or the or the perspective that you had to be able to dial in both sides of, of, of the dealership?


Brian Singh  06:03

Yeah, no, it was, you know, obviously, there's always the fear of the unknown and the excitement of it. So the first one was really bridging the gap between a lot of operators. So 97 plus percent of GMs, come from sales, never touched, fixed stops. So it was really helping bridge the gap of this


Paul Daly  06:22

message, or you have the stat. Yeah. to back it up.


06:27

Yeah, I think it was when I became a GM. So it's still a very, very small number now. But it's really bridging the gap between the guys that felt like fixed ops was the unknown. And it's a mystery. And they can't get too close to it, but they just got to manage the guy that's doing it and being able to bridge that gap. For a lot of guys, I was part of a 20 group. Obviously, I reached out to a lot of GMs because I wanted to learn variable, right. And so I think getting over the hump for them, that fixed ops Isn't this crazy mystery that you need to stay away from that it's, it's good processes and people, and then me learning the same as well, right, trying to figure out this mystery, of Variable and what it takes to sell a car. And really simplifying it now doing both at a high level, just boiling it down to something so simple of treating your people, right, being a good leader to people, and always being a student of the business, and putting in good processes. And in living proof today that doing those same things, but just different, you know, treating a tech different than you treat an F. Treat an F&I director, right, they're obviously different guys. But they do have the skill set, they need to be given the tools, they need to be given the the processes to follow, and the mystery can can be unraveled. So that was probably the coolest thing for me when working with other GMs while I was learning from them, they also learned from me, you know, as like, as I came up some


Paul  08:00

I worked in restaurants for, you know, from when I turned 15, all the way through college. And I was always struck by the difference in the operation of the overall restaurant, when what in the restaurant business called the front of the house in the back of the house front of the house being hosts, so staff servers, people in the in the alley, getting the food together, pass out and then the back of the house cooks, prep coach, you know, dishwashers etc. And there was always in most restaurants, there's this great divide between the two, both both literally, and metaphorically, right, there's this big kitchen alley that separates the front of the house in the back of the house. But also that tends to literally separate the ranks of people. And it's a very big us versus them mentality. And in fixed and variable. I've seen a lot of dealerships where there's a lot of contention between the two. And when you really can get those two sides to work together, there's an amazing thing starts to happen for the consumer experience. What would you say? is the key to keeping both the front and the back of the dealership both fixed and variable ops? What is the main kind of friction point? Do you think that if you can overcome that you can have a really cohesive operation?


Kyle Mountsier  09:16

Well, his first one, like his first one is something like this. Well, actually everyone just needs to realize that fixed is actually the front of house right?


09:23

I was gonna ask sales is in the math works harder? Yeah, go ahead, you know. So I would say first, you bridge the gap between and I did it for years, bridging the gap between parts and service, right? Service Department and parts parts doesn't have the part service, whatever, that you just bridge the gap there. And so I think you take a lot of those same principles and theories that you do. And really at its most simple form, you find the pain points and work on those. So when when The used car manager and the service manager are getting into an argument or the salesman walks, and just wants everyone to stop what they're doing, and what are all those pain points that exist, and then bridge that gap with with good communication continuously and making people understand that everyone has a job to do. And maybe you don't have the full scope of what that individual does, right. And same for, you know, I think fixed people, some of them early on, wanted me to tell the salesman like, hey, you know, you can't do this, you can't come back and won't drop everything, what we're doing and just work on the car. And I'm like, actually, we will guys, you know, I think I think you want me to defend you. Because I'm a fixed guy. And I think you were looking for that. But it's not about defending anyone, it's about taking care of the customer. And if we need to get a car and get it taken care of get it ready, PDI, or whatever we need to for a customer. Let's do that, right. And so I think it's realizing it's not about picking sides, there's no enemy or hero in this. It's all about the customer. And it's all about those pain points that exist within that, if we can drop the ego out of the way, and not think that our particular job is more important than anyone elses and realize that there's a customer on the other end of it. I think when you're able to continually remind your employees and folks of that, they start to realize, okay, let me pump the brakes a little bit. And if this salesman's coming back here needs a car done, and get it needs you to get it ready for a customer delivery. Let's let's maybe figure out if we can find out how to get this done and get it taken care of and stop worrying about some of the other items. So it takes time. It's a culture shift. There's no doubt about it. It doesn't happen overnight. You don't go tell your employees, hey, you need to work together. Right? It's just not gonna happen. It's like it's one scenario, one situation at a time. And you start to realize they're like, Okay, there's no, there's no reason, faintness, we're gonna take great care of our customers and, and have a happy customer at the end of it.


Michael Cirillo  11:58

You bring up something that intrigues me, because it's like one of the it's like one of the roads to recovery from addiction is admission. I think that's the first step like admitting you have a problem. And I find that so few organizations are willing to admit they have a problem, because then they know they've got to do something about it. They can't just sweep it under the rug. So I find it really intriguing that you're willing to go into a problem head on, how do you navigate admitting you have a problem, pinpointing it to your to your point, but keeping morale high, so that the team doesn't get depressed over the realization that there's a problem that needs to be fixed?


Brian Singh  12:45

Yeah, no, that's a good one. Because you don't want to damage egos. And you don't want to steal someone's confidence, especially you're walking in and they feel like things are great, and they don't want to maybe address the problem. They just swept it under the rug, and someone's bringing it up. So I think that I take the same approach on how I manage and operate and treat myself and especially coming in, if you keep that student sort of mindset, and I'm always learning I'm not perfect. I don't you know, I have this saying that. I'm not perfect. The company is not perfect. So why Who are we to demand to perfect employee? Right? And when you say that to people, they their guard drops a little bit, right. It's like, okay, cool. I'm not going to be disparaged. I'm not going to feel like I'm gonna get fired, I'm not going to feel like I'm gonna get passed over for cuz I'm not perfect. Like, it's okay, if you are perfect, or you think you're perfect. That's probably not going to get you very far with me, right? Because I'll be the first to admit I'm not and the company's not will always need to get better. And I think when people can let their guard down and realize, okay, you know what, I am good. That's why I'm here. And that's why I've gotten to where I'm at. But I can't improve without feeling the fear of the GM or whoever coming down on me, and making me feel like I'm inadequate in my role. And I think once you do that people start to listen a little more.


Michael Cirillo  14:02

I love how you position that you've created a central point by which the entire team can rally around which is doing the right thing for the customer. Starting with how do we want the customer to feel what kind of experience do we want them to have? And then rallying everyone creating agreeable an agreeable environment for everybody? Hey, we might disagree on the minutia. But what we can agree on is the central point so I love the way that you position that. Also, I would submit that I'm sure technicians are like you can pick a fight with us but I'm the one holding a crescent wrench. Yeah. Yeah, just what do you got a plastic chair? I have a drill car


Kyle Mountsier  14:42

to come in for an oil change. Yeah, that one. They're loading


Michael Cirillo  14:46

up drill bits. You know, just like tighten them in. I love it.


Kyle Mountsier  14:52

I do I want to draw because now I'm there's a really straight line. There's a I love drawing the straight lines in like someone's story to what they're doing right now, especially as they start to explore like the the next part of their career. And what you've been brought on with the Foundation group to do is begin this journey of what's being called Evrdrive, which is really a new perspective on retailing. And it's, I'm guessing it has at its core, a very customer focused energy. And so tell us a little bit about because we're seeing a lot of these groups kind of create their, you know, car shops and their, their their driveways and their click lanes. And, you know, and then you got Carvana and Carmax. And so we all realize this, this other brand, has the potential to be exploratory and create new inroads and create customer experiences. So what what ever drives take on that, that that you're bringing your experience to?


15:58

Yeah, so I would say definitely, we're building this with the customer at the center, right, we're not doing it easy, we're not doing it, to make it convenient for us. So much. So that Foundation is decided to split this off completely. Right, this is a whole separate entity will have a few pieces that will be continued to be connections. But from a consumers perspective, it's completely separate. So we're not the dealership is not the main source. And then this afterthought of E commerce is there, which works for a lot of people, it works for like like to your example, a Lithia Driveway. This model is just saying, Were building, what do we need to do to build around the customer? And provide this this industry, this segment of the industry that continues to grow every single year and ecommerce? And how do we build it? What do we need to do to build it the right way, and that is to have our own reconditioning center to keep it completely separate from the dealership model. Now, we don't need to build this, and we're not going to build it by disparaging the dealership model either, right? We believe we can coexist with the Lithia/Driveways with their Carvanas. And with new car franchise dealers, I mean, I grew up in the new car franchise dealer. So I love a lot of things about it. And there are a lot of great things about it. But in order to meet the customer that with this e commerce solution, you've got to take it and separate it while still coexisting with with all the others out there.


Kyle Mountsier  17:32

So what do you think will be outside of the separation and the the attention to e commerce, what do you think, or maybe you've already done this work, what's gonna be kind of the thing that sets it to set it up sets it a part, from a consumer or an employee perspective, and the engagement of in both of those mediums and how you approach consumers.


17:55

So I think we're bridging a lot of the best of both worlds and the staffing that we're bringing on. So but at the head of the table is a car guy, but my COO she came from TrueCar, my my chief marketing officer came, she spent her entire career on the OEM side of the business. And we're bringing a lot of things that maybe maybe some dealerships don't do and don't focus on when you talk about employee engagement, employee satisfaction, we're gonna build a Leadership Academy for our employees. Has nothing to do with selling cars, but we want to make sure that we can give them the tools to succeed as well. And then from the consumers perspective, I think the culture that we create will be a big part of it. But outside of that, we're also doing customer experience centers, where you can still engage with an associate of Evrdrive it's still an Ecommerce platform you still transact that way so it's not like you start the process in one area and then have to start all over again. So we feel like we're bridging the gap between no human interaction and Ecommerce


Paul Daly  19:05

Can you explain Can you explain what a customer experience center like looks like in you know feels like


Brian Singh  19:12

yep, so it's the inventory won't be there we're finding every year the stats go down with for test drives


Paul Daly  19:21

right because I'm an indication would it be in we're going


Brian Singh  19:24

to be in high traffic areas, malls, shopping centers, so small footprint but high traffic areas that people can get to very easy very boutique style type environment


Paul Daly  19:35

so like, like from a square footage standpoint give me like comparable of a store that people might be familiar with.


Brian Singh  19:42

We're not going to go ahead yeah, I was gonna say 2500 square feet ish so so like so I don't want any


Paul Daly  19:50

small like you know, I don't know in in you know, my the big mall here. There's like a, like, I think it's a it's a Casper mattress. store. It's like one of the mattress brands. And it's, it's just like, I don't know, it's just like a small retail spot. Right? You know, there's not going to be a single car in there.


20:10

Exactly. Yep, no cars. And you know, we're not everything to everyone. So test drive is not part of it. But again, that's that seems people don't seem to care about test driving as much anymore. They do want the interaction, they do want to ask questions. Although we're simplifying, buying a car, it's still a complicated process. And working in the dealerships. People have a lot of questions. And sometimes they don't want to do that over the phone. And we get numb to some of the questions people have, because we're doing it every single day, we know the process like the back of our hands. But people want to communicate, they want to interact, and they want to ask questions to feel comfortable about making this purchase. So we want to lean into Ecommerce because you shouldn't be able to buy a car on your phone from start to finish, you know, outside of any state requirements that need a an actual signature, you should be able to buy a car that way. But you don't want to get so extreme, you alienate folks and not have the human interaction in that presence as well.


Michael Cirillo  21:13

You know, you know what? You know what's interesting about this, I'm clenching to the air right now. Because I'm so intrigued by this concept, because you've used the word now, Brian, three or four times alienate. And maybe here's my controversial statement of the day. Great marketing does exactly that. it alienates a certain audience that it's not positioned for, and it attracts the right audience. You know what I mean? Like, I'm never gonna buy the Skechers shoes that tone my buttocks, because I'm not interested. Like they


Kyle Mountsier  21:54

not I look that I could have told you that.


Michael Cirillo  22:00

Obviously, don't need it, Michael. Come on. These glutes are made for walking in recording has stopped. Like, great marketing, attracts the right audience, and it repels the wrong audience. And I think for too long in our industry, the narrative has been you're either pro dealer or you're anti dealer. Well, no, not not necessarily. So black and white, or cut and dry, lukewarm, whatever, it you can actually be pro dealer, but recognize that there is a segment over here, who perhaps just wants a different option. And so you know, enter the market catering to that option. And so, you know, I wouldn't even position as as it alienates other than you've found a market segment, who you believe, is wanting this type of an experience. And it goes back to gosh, I feel like all of us have had conversations at some point, alluding to this idea that, that we believe showrooms, the footprint might shrink, right? service departments might grow. Right, and we've we're starting to see that narrative a lot more. I don't know how you guys feel about that. But I'm certainly seeing it a lot more that the footprint, the showroom is going to shrink, floor plans shrink. And there might be even one of each vehicle with like an iPad type kiosk thing where you can customize to your point, what you've created is a visitor center, right? This this Experience Center, it's a visitor center, like I'm going to a landmark that I want to learn more about, I'm coming in a low, nice smelling environment that I can learn more about what I'm interested in, and and get the information I need. So I think that this is really interesting. And it's we're starting to, we're starting to round out that full circle.


Kyle Mountsier  23:51

Well. They go well, and also, I'm just thinking about this. It's like, they're probably you know, how many times is like, well, I love my trade at home. Like, if you're shopping, you're probably in the you know, like, it's just, it's just there, right? And so if you have the like you have that piece too. So you can do the trade appraisal and see the vehicle in person. Like there's just a lot of things that if you think about the way that people engage a shopping center or mall or any of those like high traffic corner areas, I'm thinking like, how do we, you know, how do we become the new Walgreens, right as an industry where it's like, we're just on the corner corner


Brian Singh  24:37

and have car dealers strip clubs, they would they would lump them together, the city would say we don't want them in there. And I think we're changing that right? It's because they got


Michael Cirillo  24:45

confused about the terminology like what headlights are we talking about here?


Brian Singh  24:51

Exactly. And it's like, you know, we could be with any other retail shopping as long as we give that customer the similar experience that they expect and deserve. I think we shouldn't have to be afraid to mix with any of those.


Michael Cirillo  25:08

Man, this is really compelling, interesting conversation. Brian, thanks so much for joining us on the Auto Collabs podcast.


Brian Singh  25:14

Absolutely. Appreciate you guys having me


Michael Cirillo  25:22

think a lot about this idea in business. I think even guys like Grant Cardone talk about this where it's like, you got to be agreeable. It's kind of like the first rule of business be agreeable. And I know a lot of people have a problem with that, because they're like, but what if I don't agree, and I'm like, Ah, there's, I see it as it makes me look weak, or something makes me look weak. What if I don't agree with their position? Well, it's like, you don't actually have to agree with their position, you have to agree that they have a position, right? And the minute that you can become agreeable on that level, like nobody can get you, you're like, you're like Doc Rivers. It's like, it's it's not Blake's fault. It's everybody's fault. You know, it's like we all did it, you know, you can't get them. I love how Brian framed, creating an agreeable environment for everybody. You might disagree with me fundamentally, as a technician, because you don't understand me or a technician might disagree with sales, because you don't understand me or whatever. But what we can agree on this point of agreeableness is a new customer experience, what we want them to feel and what we can agree on is the right thing to do for them. That was a huge takeaway for me from Brian.


Kyle Mountsier  26:28

Yeah, well, speaking of of the customer experience, this idea of, yeah, we can't hit the button in this podcast Paul. But the idea of creating these centers that are oriented around the customer experience, and, you know, some would argue, hey, look, the showroom does that it allows for test drives that allows for sitting down having that conversation. But I think going closer to the customer getting closer to their regular everyday interaction, and create an experience that is altogether different than the showroom experience will attract a another type of buyer that as an industry, we need to be ready to attract, it's, I know, people that have never ordered food off of DoorDash. Like, they will only go and grab the food themselves, or their only eat out or things like that. And that's okay. Now, my wife and I, we DoorDash things like it's going on, like they're about the business, right? And it's just, it's, it's trying to figure out what avenue in what lane different customers are looking to interact with businesses with and I love the approach that they're taking is saying, hey, look, this is the part of the customer experience that we're trying to solve. And we know that there are others that will solve it in different ways. And that's okay.


Paul Daly  27:42

That's, I mean, that's the whole principle of why all of these, you know, new entrants, whether it's a Carvana, or a room, or, you know, products like driveway that have been born out of, you know, the franchise side of things. And now Evrdrive, trying a different way. That's the beauty of the whole thing is that no one's going to get the whole thing, right. And everyone's going to take learnings from everyone's attempt, and they're going to put them together and hopefully, make the customer experience better and better as we move through it. So I love that there's someone else trying a different approach. I happen to think they're going to find a few things that no one else has found before. And it's going to make everybody execute better, especially as it pertains to the customer experience. And I think it's going to tie back to the view of franchise retail automotive in a positive way. So on behalf of Michael Cirillo, Kyle Mountsier and myself. Thanks for listening to Auto Collabs. We'll see you next time.


28:36

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