Following Part 1 and Part 2 that was published in recent weeks, Michelin concludes its in-depth interviews with three of the most successful current IMSA car dealers, Ben Keating, Paul Miller, and Bobby Rahal.
Q. Are there lessons that you take from your dealerships to the track or from the track to the dealerships?
Paul Miller: “In terms of building an organization, it’s really all about the people. And we have really focused on the caliber of people in our team and the caliber of performance in our team.
“It is the quality and longevity of those people. It is the fact we have been able to maintain consistent quality over a long period of time. It is those relationships that we have built.
“We have full-time people (on the race team), unlike many teams in this paddock, who have huge numbers of fly-in people. All our employees are full-time. That is really a game-changer in terms of the way we operate.
“We feel it gives us a real advantage in terms of dealing with the competition. We take a lot of pride in our people.”
Bobby Rahal: “I can’t agree more with Paul there, although I’ll tell you that the racing, we have worked really hard on. We have been in business since 1989. So 32 years… hard to believe. We are using our racing culture as the culture of our dealerships. It is about the best people. It is about teamwork. It’s about everyone working together.
“I don’t care what your role is; if you’re a mechanic, if you’re cleaning the floors, secretary, whatever, everyone’s contribution is important just as it is in racing.
“As I often tell people if I did not have all these great people behind me, I never would have won the race. So, we drive that racing culture… you go into our workshops, and you could eat off the floor! They know that started from ground zero. I was a stickler on that, because of the racing experience, I had.
“You go into a racing team workshop and more often than not you can eat off the floors. I do not care how many cars we are putting through service… that tells the story about our dealerships more than anything. Because they are out of sight, so it would be easy to let it go. But when you take people through, we intentionally show them the service area because that tells our story to the largest extent.
“That was all driven out of the lessons and experiences I had in motorsports to that point and beyond.
“Our dealership group is Team Rahal; mechanics are Team Rahal; Pittsburgh is Team Rahal. It is pictures of the racing team; it is cars hung from the ceiling. Culture to us is so important. It is all about our racing culture being central to what we do as a dealer group.”
Ben Keating: “Today we have 20 dealerships, and we see the strength in that size. I see everyone’s openness on everything. It is based on the big picture of the company and how it compares to others. I seek out comparative data and local market data. Endurance racing provides an opportunity to have a lot of comparisons.
“All our dealerships are in Texas and were essential businesses, so during COVID we never closed. We started selling 25-30 percent less cars but felt like each (dealership) was in its own ‘local bubble.’ We were one of only a few groups that grew in 2020. There’s huge power in comparison.
“For example, we have five Chrysler stores, so they can check and examine each other.
“We found entering COVID, that when managers freaked out or were stuck at home, those were poor performing stores. When general/sales managers remained calm, prepared and process-oriented, they had a better path forward to do right thing for customers and employees. We shared results across our dealerships and as a group. The line is that it is all in the recovery.
“Early on in my racing career, I was in a Viper with Riley. I made a mistake and cost the team a big race. I felt terrible and apologized to everyone on the team. Bill Riley took me aside and was uncommonly stern: He said, ‘listen, this is a team sport. We win as a team; we lose as a team. You made a mistake today. Tomorrow, I may make a bad strategy call or a mechanic may cross thread a wheel on a stop. We win as a team and we lose as a team. None of that is on one person’s shoulders.’
“I have a total of 1,600 people. My job is to lead the leaders and look at reports. I feel the same for this as looking at data, telemetry or watching a race.”
Q. There are 18 brands in IMSA right now. A lot of them are performance related brands. Is part of the vision to build your brand alongside these manufacturers, whatever the major sponsor is, Michelin or others? How do they connect? Do you use motorsports to promote your dealerships?
PM: “We have BMW, Audi, Porsche… they are hugely performance brands across the board. Most of the brands we have are somehow performance or racing related.
“To a lesser extent, we don’t do all the promotion Bobby does from a racing perspective because it tends to be brand oriented. Part of the culture we’ve developed is racing, and it all relates back to my involvement with Porsche in the ‘70s and ‘80s.”
BR: “There is no question the brands we have flatter us, that we have the privilege to represent… like Paul, BMW, then Mercedes-Benz, Jag/Land Rover, Volvo, Acura, Honda, Toyota, Lexus… the whole nine yards. Those are tremendous brands and the fact we are able to work with them is tremendous.
“But we have a brand too. That is kind of the racing aura of that is part of our brand. We have always sought to have relationships with companies that are great brands. In Indy car, we have Fifth Third Bank, we have United Rentals, largest equipment rental company in the world, Total, PeopleReady, Digital Ally, HyVee grocery stores. Michelin certainly fits into that list prominently as well.
“I have worked with Michelin for many years, going back to Jaguar in Formula 1. That was Michelin’s first year coming back (2001). It is a great brand and there is no question about it. We try to support each other. It is good for them, and it is good for you.
“I don’t know if people come to us because of racing… I am sure 80-90 percent of people that buy cars from us don’t follow racing. But it tells a story for us. And that is what we hang our hat on.”
BK: “I promoted the dealerships big-time when it was Viper. That was a strong, win on Sunday, sell on Monday, relationship.
“Viper left GTLM at the end of 2014, but I continued as a privateer in 2015 and 2016 in IMSA GTD. IMSA gave me some marketing value. Viper fans, owners all recognized and appreciated us.
“I went to AMG after that and eventually had a Mercedes-AMG dealership in a small town in Texas. The market was fairly small. I have sold a lot of cars to people I know in the paddock.
“This year, I am doing a full season of LMP2, so no one recognizes an ORECA, and it is harder to make a connection. But I personally prefer LMP2 at this time because there is no BoP and Bronze drivers are required.”