Published On: Tuesday, 22 August 2017

'Business Elite' Lease Program Gives Harris Parksville Dealership an Edge

'Business Elite' Lease Program Gives Harris Parksville Dealership an Edge
Chevrolet Buick GMC operation is only one on Vancouver Island with GM program.

PARKSVILLE – Harris Parksville Chevrolet Buick GMC is the only dealership on Vancouver Island that has been approved for General Motors’ Business Elite program.

Fleet and Small Business Manager Richard Allan notes “This is a GM factory program that dealers have to sign up to be authorized to use it. And we’re the only dealer on Vancouver Island to have it.”

The purpose of Business Elite is to put business owners first, he adds. “We have dedicated sales and service staff for this program,” adding that Sheila Hopkins is in charge of service for the program.

“The program gives exclusive loaner vehicles to customers who have their vehicles in for service,” he adds. “If a customer needs a vehicle for their business, we can loan one to them to allow them to continue to do their jobs as they wait to get their own vehicle back.”

Managing Partner Andy Lankester says the fleet division has been a great addition to the dealership, adding “it is a very attractive option for businesses.

“Richard is a star. He’s our man, and we’re very pleased with what he’s doing for us,” Lankester says. “He worked his way up from detailing to service to parts to sales,” he says, adding he promoted Allan to oversee the fleet division in 2010.

Allan says GM has developed a special priority parts program within Business Elite, so that parts sourced from across the country can be shipped to the dealership by the end of the next day of business.

“We have a 30,000 pound hoist that allows us to work on commercial vehicles, motor homes and campers,” he adds. “We’ve made this decision to go with Business Elite with a view towards the long term. It’s taken a lot of work to get here by Andy, Mike and myself.”

Allan describes a fleet as three or more vehicles for a company, although fleets generally run from 20-40 vehicles.

“We service fleets for everything from computer repair companies to forestry industry firms,” he says, adding.

To buy or to lease – that is the question.

Allan sees benefits to both, noting that for smaller fleets, leases may prove beneficial due to monthly payments and after a three-year lease is completed the company can turn the vehicles in and get new ones on a lease.

“There are reduced service costs for repairs within the first three years as well, because the car is under warranty.”

“A lot of people go for leasing being part of a business, because it allows businesses to offset costs and allows them to drive the latest and greatest vehicles.”

Allan, a native of Scotland, has been with the Harris Auto Group since 2006, when Tom Harris heard him say in an interview that “I just wanted to work and be the best hire they’ve ever made. Tom said ‘He’s flown 4,000 miles to get here, so let’s give him a shot’, and hired me right then.”

“This is something I really enjoy,” he says. “Every day is enjoyable for me. If you work hard, this is the best industry to be in.”

Allan observes that much of the larger fleet business concerns trucks, as the Silverado/Sierra 1500 and 3500 models are much in demand.

“Our Chevrolet Express and GM Savana vans are very popular,” he adds. “Because the models have their bodies on a frame instead of a uni-body, it allows them to have a larger payload capacity and makes it easier for trailering because the proper frame underneath enables the truck to take the payload capacity better.”

Lankester has been in the automotive business for 30 years, the past three years as Managing Partner, and he works closely with Partner Mike Harris.

Harris and his father, Tom Harris, who sadly passed away last month, purchased what was then Woodgrove Chevrolet, from Bill Taylor 15 years ago. Just two years the Harris Group did a total transformation of the building.

Lankester started with Totem Mercury in Vancouver in 1987, and has moved from business manager to sales manager, to general sales manager and then General Manager. For the 19 years prior to coming to Parksville, he was with Preston Chevrolet Cadillac in Langley.

“In 2009, Mike called me and asked if I wanted to come and work on the Island,” Lankester recalls. “I met with Mike and Tom and we all said it looked like a good fit.

“I liked the fact it was a family business with family values, and that there was some room for upward mobility. They had promised me an opportunity as a partner would come, and they kept their word. Their word was solid, just like going to the bank.”

The passing of Tom Harris has understandably very hard for staff, especially considering Tom was so well liked and knew everybody by name.

“Tom would want us to carry on in the same fashion, and we need to make him proud.”

Business-wise, it’s been a great ride, Lankester says, adding he is also a partner with Mike and Tom in Parksville Qualicum Self Storage, which features 367 units in the Parksville Industrial Park at 1480 Industrial Way. Also in Harris Oceanside RV Sales, which Lankester added on the lot next door to the dealership.

“I’ve been really busy because these are all my babies,” he says. “All RVs on the lot are consignment, and we’ve added a service department to look after the units and prepare them for sale. We got off to a great start and the business has been growing every year.”

There are 45 staff members on the team, and Lankester still rolls up his sleeves to do whatever needs to be done at the dealership.

He is pleased with not just the solid work ethic of staff, but their willingness to pitch in with new ideas and go the extra mile for customers.

“We have introduced things like ‘Ladies Night’ to educate ladies about vehicles, and it’s hosted by the women in our service department at the dealership,” he notes. Paula Szabo has been promoted to Service Manager, and Lankester adds “we have a lot of women in key roles here. Paula excels because she’s very knowledgeable and has empathy. It’s all about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, and she’s really excited about what she does.”

Teri Wilson is Parts Manager, and Wendy Gamble the Controller.

“Our employees are happy to be here and it shows. Having happy staff that are happy to work here translates into better business,” he says. “We have very low turnover of staff here, which is excellent.”

Lankester is pleased to note that GM has bounced back very strongly from 2008 when a federal government bailout enabled the company to make it through some rough financial waters.

“The company never deviated from investing in research and development,” he says. “Even though the company went bankrupt, they had all their new plans for vehicles ready to go. Once the government got involved with financial assistance, the company got everything turned around and the government got a return on their investment, too. It’s worked out well.”

Today, Lankester says that all of GM’s brands have received top-10 rankings from independent analysts like J.D. Power & Associates, for example.

“It couldn’t be happier buying into a GM dealership, because the brand is so strong,” he says. “Our cars, trucks, vans and SUVs are all widely popular.”

Lankester adds: “This is a very healthy family business with many, many regular clients who buy vehicles here, get their service here, and are happy coming here.”