James Dollinger arrived in Flint in 1982 with $150 in his pocket. In the nearly 40 years he has been in the city he has become a major player in the world of car dealerships.
Raised in Albion, NY, he grew up in the auto industry, his father having been a Pontiac-Buick dealer for 17 years. After coming to Flint, he sold cars and was Buick Motor Division’s top salesman for six years. He says he achieved this success by “offering his customers unequaled personalized service.”
Today, he owns Dollinger and Company, which is a real estate and new- and used-vehicle sales business, and has adopted the nickname “Buickman.”
Since first coming to Flint, Dollinger has grown to love his adopted home and learned the rhythms of his business. Now, with many Michigander wondering what the auto industry will look like, he sees a bright future.
Despite the current uncertainty and economic troubles due to the COVID 19 crisis, he believes the recovery will be relatively quick, especially for car sales.
He also believes Flint has the tools to recover. He does point to achieve a recovery that will last the city must support and improve education so the young people can be successful and get better paying jobs.
“Flint is a city with a resilient community,” says Dollinger, who was involved in renovating an old union hall in the city.
Dollinger’s outlook is based on hands-on experience, not just analyzing cold numbers. To get a better understanding of the industry he also frequently attends the GM shareholders meeting.
That hands-on approach in part comes from a unique form of sales, which many dealerships are now trying. Instead of the normal car system where each dealership has its own salesforce, Dollinger has agents in multiple dealerships across the region. This atypical form of sales allows Dollinger to know how multiple dealerships are operating.
The reality of what dealership are ready for a reopened Flint depends on how each dealer handled the time closed. Dollinger says he saw some adapt well, and others not. Some dealerships used tent sales, price drops, and appointment sales. The quicker they moved the better their current reality, he says.
One adaption is particularly close to Dollinger, driving the cars directly to the customers to be test driven. This is something Dollinger has been doing for a while.
His team has delivered cars to be test-driven across the state, and even as far away as Florida.
Dollinger says it is an extension of customer service, and he believes the businesses that follow that model are in the best shape to stay profitable.
It was advice given to him by his father who said, “You treat your customers like family and your phone will never stop ringing.”
This has been one of the most notable experiences with Dollinger. He says that type of customer service is why he has been so successful.
If that assessment is accurate, those kinds of appointments and deliveries may not go away with the pandemic.
Aside from the adjustments at the dealership level, Dollinger sees another potential asset to the industry’s health, the age of cars. He says that many of the cars he sees on the road are around 10 years old, which means that many drivers will need a car, new or used, sometime sooner rather than later.
All these signs point to a recovery from the COVID-19 crisis for both Flint and the auto industry.
Lead photo courtesy of UM-Flint