For the two sisters that own Hare Chevrolet, the passion for their family’s business came later in life. As youths, the women just wanted to escape their hometown.
But now, as sixth generation dealers recently taking part in Chevrolet’s Centennial Celebration, the women embrace their family and store heritage. They are in charge of a store known as the oldest transportation company in America, having been originally built to create wagons pre-Civil War.
The Noblesville, Ind., store qualified as a Chevy franchise in 1921. It is now the 34th largest Chevy store for new-car sales in the country and No. 1 in Indiana.
But as young adults, Monica Peck and Courtney Cole were working to get out of Noblesville and pursuing high-powered careers in business and accounting, respectively.
That said, now Cole runs the sales department and Peck heads up the service department of the dealership that averages more than 200 used sales and 140 new sales per month.
“At first, after graduating college, I just thought about how I didn’t want to live in ‘our town’ (Noblesville). Boy, how that has changed,” Peck told Auto Remarketing laughingly.
Now, as they carry on the family business, the two sisters say they desire to be as “big a part of the Noblesville community as possible.”
A Change of Heart
Although they grew up with a family in the dealership business, Peck and Cole didn’t actually spend that much time at the store.
Cole explained she was more interested in sports, excelling in golf and basketball; which she says took up most of her time as a child. But even as the two girls might have been pre-occupied with other activities growing up, their family business certainly left an impression.
Peck still remembers counting the money in the dealership's register with her father while waiting for the schoolbus to arrive. Her father Dave Cox, a fifth generation dealer, is a director for the National Automobile Dealers Association in Indiana.
As the children of Cox and wife Jackie Cox (whose maiden name is Hare) finished high school and college, and their lives pulled them away from Noblesville and the store.
Peck, after a stint at Anderson Consulting, started working for Onex Consulting Firm, a start-up IT company.
And interestingly, this is apparently where she found her true appreciation for what her family does.
“We grew it (Onex Consulting Firm) and put in tons and tons of hours. It was a fun company to grow with, but what hit me was that it was a brother/sister team that owned the company I worked for. Here I am putting in these hours, but I am building a huge asset that is theirs, not mine," she stressed.
“I was growing this company instead of the asset I could inherit, a company that my Dad and Granddad built — Hare Chevrolet,” Peck explained, calling it a realization.
For Cole, the change of heart came after what she calls an “enlightening” summer of selling cars. Having always had sports be a big part of her life, she found herself with time on her hands. Passing on a summer golf tour, she instead decided to sell vehicles at her father's store during the summer and secured an accounting job for the fall.
“For me, I never really had a job, because I did all those crazy sports (golf and basketball). But, I wasn’t going to start the golf tour, and the only job I had before was a strawberry picking job; and it was time I did something ‘real," she highlighted.
“I told my dad I wanted to sell cars that summer before going to my new job at a public accounting firm. He said I would hate it, but I sold cars all summer and loved it,” Cole revealed.
And after having so much fun selling cars, the accounting job didn't seem so attractive, but Cole said she spent 11 months as an accountant. After passing her certified public accountant exam, she then made the choice to go home to her family's business and her new passion.
“Everyone thought I was crazy, but I was a little too outgoing to be a public accountant; selling cars suited me,” Cole told Auto Remarketing.
A New Direction
After Cole joined Hare Chevrolet in 1995 — starting out selling cars — Peck came on board in 2003.
Though the sisters said it was a small store when they came on board — selling 120 cars in a good month — the pair have since grown the company to more than double that monthly total this past October — moving 380 units.
Cole has held positions all across the sales floor, including new-car sales manager, to learn the ropes; while Peck started out in Internet development and marketing when she came on board.
Now, with Cole heading up sales and Peck directing the service department, they both agree the business was “broken up like this, because that is where our talents lie.”
Cole added, “I just enjoy selling, and motivating people, I think sales remind me the most about being in sports, and I really enjoy the marketing part.”
Peck chimed in, noting, “After attending the (NADA) Dealer Academy, I got really interested in fixed operations; I think that is how I got into the service side of things.”
The Struggles of a Dealer
While stressing that they both feel they definitely made the right decision to take over Hare Chevrolet and change the direction of their lives — especially since the business would have been sold out of the family — they both admit there are some difficult aspects to the job.
When asked what makes running a dealership particularly hard, Cole sighted the unpredictability of the industry as a cause for concern.
“The things we can’t control, like price of gas, interest rates and government intervention are always worrisome,” Cole noted, referencing the GM bankruptcy as a difficult time. “But, we have always had a really good structure with having pay plans that are tied to performance; so we really didn’t have to cut anybody because we buckled down and worried about what we can control.
“We can control used cars and service. The factory, one minute they are good and one minute they are bad; but we have nothing to do with that. Whether we have a good product or bad product, we are going to be the best used car operation. And when the factory is good, we can rock and roll; and when it is not, well it doesn’t matter. But we have our priorities in order,” Cole further explained.
For Peck, she referenced balancing family life and the business as the most challenging aspect of the job.
“I don’t have it figured out yet, because I live less than a mile away from the dealership there is a lot of overlap,” she noted.
“Our kids are being raised a lot different from the way we were. They are here a lot, and they know what we do; and they understand the way of it. But it is a daily challenge; there is no right answer.
“Sometimes the business pulls at you, and sometimes your family does. And you have to adjust accordingly. Sometimes you have to figure out how to accommodate both at the same time,” she continued.
When the Business “Pulls”
But when the business “pulls,” both sisters are there when needed, made particularly evident by their high sales and recent success — even while used inventory continues to be hard to find.
In Hare Chevrolet’s 5,000 square-foot rooftop — the fourth building for the company — the business sold 240 used units this past October.
Though the company has not invested in a certified pre-owned program, the business is still averaging over 200 used-car sales a month.
When asked why the rooftop has not taken on automaker-sponsored CPO sales, Cole had this to say.
“We have not done CPO, and I am not sure if we are right or wrong; but it is expensive. We have gotten along fine without it. But the question is whether or not it would create another niche for us,” she noted, stressing this is an ongoing internal discussion.
And interestingly, the pair mentioned they have not had any significant problems sourcing units for their used-car department, despite the current tight wholesale levels.
“It depends on the time or month, but we have had a lot of luck lately buying from the rental companies. For sourcing, we got one guy that lives on the Internet; and we have one guy who goes to the auctions and buys from rental companies. That is pretty much it in a nutshell,” Cole explained.
And as for new-car sales, Peck and Cole both agree they are picking up, after what they cite as an inventory shortage caused by underproduction of the Chevy Equinox and Cruze.
“We are up over 50 percent year-over-year (for new-car sales). The big problem there for a little while was getting inventory, and now we have it for the first time this year,” Cole surmised. “I think all your GM dealers would say the same thing. We have been short all year. They didn’t make enough Equinoxes or Cruzes. But October was great, and we are hoping to have an even better unit this month.”
Finding and Keeping a Customer Base
When asked what their target audience is, the sisters agree though the store is in an upper-income area, they aim to reach “all types of consumers.”
“We live in an upper-income area, but we like to target all demographics; in part because we think special finance is a growing area, compared to regular finance,” said Cole.
The dealership sells anything from lower-priced buy-here, pay-here units to high-line Corvettes.
But helping people find and afford the transportation they need really strikes a chord with Cole. She calls the BHPH side of the business particularly rewarding.
“They (regular finance customers) are more researched. Lots and lots of research, and it is more of a price war at that level. The nice thing about special finance is you are helping people reestablish. We like to sell to everybody. We cater to everybody,” she pointed out.
“That (special finance) is where we try to be a dealer for the people, from donating and working with charities, to helping people buy cars that wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” she continued.
Marketing and Social Media Efforts
In addition to having a physical presence, the managers also make a push to be involved in social media in the community, as well.
From Twitter posts to Facebook contests, Hare Chevrolet aims to integrate itself into the community as much as possible, the sisters agreed.
They have even garnered considerable sales interest from a series of Facebook contests, offering giveaways, like a chance to ride the racetrack at the Indy 500 in a Corvette, as well as the chance to drive a Camaro for a whole weekend.
While 30 percent of their customer base generally comes from within the community, the other 70 percent is potentially not familiar with the Noblesville area and cares instead about the business’s “stability and reputation,” the women pointed out.
“We attract these customers by developing a productive and easily navigated website, as well as making sure our customer service levels are the best that they can be,” Peck asserted.
She also noted the store has delved into radio advertisements, as well, from time-to-time.
Serving as a Noblesville “Institution”
In a recent article commemorating the automaker’s 100th birthday, Chevrolet called the sisters' store a “Noblesville institution.”
Noting that through the store’s four moves over the years, it has never strayed out of a two-mile radius, Peck and Cole agree that Hare Chevrolet holds a “special place” in the community.
In the early 2000s, the store even chose to sponsor the Noblesville High School football stadium, now called Hare Chevrolet Field — a move the staff said they saw many local businesses “imitate” in the following years.
“We were one of the first to sponsor a high school football stadium — Hare Chevrolet field. Noblesville High School was looking for significant fundraising efforts, and this was back when our Dad (Dave Cox) was active in the business. And back then, you didn’t see it (business sponsorships) at all at that level, and now a lot of the businesses are doing this,” said Peck, who is also the chairman of the board for the Noblesville Chamber of Commerce.
And the Future?
When asked whether they think the store will stay in the family for a seventh generation, the sisters laughingly agreed they do often think about it.
“We laugh about that and talk about what roles they would all play. They (Cole and Peck’s children) are 9,8,6,5 … so it is pretty funny at this point with their little personalities,” Peck said with a grin.
“That said, the one thing we commonlysee through 20 Groups, if you don’t love this business, it will eat you alive. I think our feeling is that if one or more of the four want to pursue it, then more power to them; but if they don’t, we will support them in anything they choose to pursue,” Peck explained.
Cole agreed, further stressing, “You really have to love it, and thankfully, we do.”