Currie Motors is located about as far away from Forest Park’s Madison Street retail district as you can get and still be in Forest Park. So why do they sponsor events that take place on Madison, like the Street Patrick’s Day Parade, Cruise Nights, the Casket Races and the Ribfest?
Leo Sfikas, Currie Motors’ general manager, likes to use the term karma to explain why his company invests in events that don’t directly or immediately improve his bottom line.
“We understand,” he explained, “that when the people at the Casket Races or the Street Pat’s Parade disband, they’re going to patronize the businesses on Madison Street, and it’s not going to affect us.”
In fact, when people want to know where Currie Motors is located, they frequently use the Eisenhower Expressway, First Avenue and Loyola Hospital as orientation points, not the Village of Forest Park. So in some ways the car dealership doesn’t need a successful Madison Street to make money.
“We don’t expect everyone to come and buy their automobiles from us because we sponsor the St. Pat’s Parade,” Sfikas said. “We do it because it’s a good thing to do. A really good business should be woven into the fabric of the community, should participate in the community, and should not be a spectator, regardless of whether folks in town come to do business or not. If you’re in it for the long haul as we are, it makes all the sense in the world to embrace your community, become active in your community and be a good role model in your community.”
From time to time, he does see a bottom-line result directly related to the dealership’s involvement in the community. One relative of a Chamber of Commerce member drove five hours to buy a Camaro from him, he recalled, when he could have purchased the vehicle in his hometown.
But most of the time, the cause/effect relationship is harder to see.
“The reality is that the businesses on Madison Street are our neighbors,” he said. “The last thing I would ever want to see is what happened in Detroit. It’s a crying shame. If the people of Detroit were doing more of what we are doing here — pulling together as a whole community — maybe it wouldn’t have occurred there.”
But Sfikas also knows that what goes around often comes around.
“It’s not an accident that we do well,” he said, noting that car salesmen have a negative public image. In the industry, he noted, that image is maintained by dealers who hire what he calls “lot lizards,” i.e. salesmen who have no loyalty to the brand, no knowledge of the product they are selling and use their personality alone to “get into someone’s pocket.”
Sfikas said Currie Motors has in place a culture where that kind of thing doesn’t happen.
“I don’t look at our success as an accident,” he said. “We’re very particular about who we employ. I never want me or my staff to be perceived as bad people. I’m really proud of our team.”
The concept of karma states basically that you reap what you sow, and Currie Motors points to a large harvest as evidence that the business has sown well. If sales tax is any indication of how well a store is doing, the Review estimated that the village of Forest Park received from the dealership close to $300,000 in sales tax last year, according to documents available at village hall. In March, the dealership on Roosevelt Road sold roughly 235 new and used cars. Last year, Currie Motors placed seventh in sales in their region, which includes about 300 Chevrolet dealers.
Currie Motors is owned by the Jaffey family who live in the United Kingdom. The family owns nine dealerships in the UK and six entities, including a bank, in the U.S. Their business is not publicly traded.
Sfikas acknowledged that his business spends $95,000 to $100,000 a month on advertising, which is necessary in today’s competitive market, but that car karma comes into play when a customer walks in the door at 8401 W. Roosevelt Road.
“Thirty years ago,” he said, “a customer would visit an average of four dealerships before buying a car. Today the average is 1.4 because so many shoppers will do their homework online. They’ll know which car they want and all about what features it has. They’ll come because of the dealer’s competitive pricing, but they will buy because of the kind of experience they have once they come through the door.
“Shame on us if the customer knows more about the car they want than the sales associate working with them,” he added. “Customers who are spending that kind of money [$70,000 for a Tahoe or Suburban] want to deal with someone who knows the product and appreciates that they have come to Currie Motors. Our mindset here is that of course price is important, but our price is on the Internet and we’ve already put aggressive pricing out there. Customers have already done their homework. What they want is a good experience. If you can do that, price is secondary.”