Passionate generations tying century-old Chevrolet network
- Four generations from one family drive the first and oldest Chevrolet dealership in Europe
- Internet revolution sees 40 percent of sales bump online
- Chevrolet dealer network celebrates 100 years of customer service
Zurich. 2011 marked Chevrolet's 100th anniversary, coinciding with 100 years of commitment and a shared passion for the brand for generations of dealers who have believed in and accompanied it from the start.
This is the case for the Wiegerinck Groep, the first importer of Chevrolets in Europe. Four generations of the Wiegerinck family share two unique things: their first names and a growing passion for the Chevrolet brand spanning almost 100 years!
Beginning in 1919, Bart Wiegerinck, an enterprising industrialist and engineer in the town of Goor in the Netherlands, imported his first Chevrolet truck chassis from America. He immediately saw a lucrative future in the 'motorized carriage' industry for his business. Unbeknownst to him, he was about to kick off a family business that would grow across the generations.
From a small engineering coach house which began in 1887 making bicycles and kitchen equipment with a forge and steel presses, Wiegerinck's business became almost 100 years later two state-of-the-art retail and aftersales centers in Goor and Hengelo, driven by the family's desire for the iconic American brand.
"The handwritten customer bills have been replaced with computerized orders and thankfully the cars are delivered to us by truck. Regardless of these developments, we are still the same company at heart," says fourth-generation managing director and owner of Wiegerinck Groep, Bart Wiegerinck.
Work, rest and play
When importing his first Chevrolet truck chassis from America in 1919, it was little more than an engine and gearbox on wheels, with Bart and his son 'borrowing' orange crates to sit on for their 250 km journey home from the port of Antwerp. Both of them wearing little more than business suits and winter jackets, the journey was harsh, but Wiegerinck was confident this was the way to go to be part of the future industry and grow and diversify his bicycles business.
Almost 100 years later, Bart Wiegerinck's great-grandson, also called Bart, is the fourth generation continuing the family's tradition of heading up the Chevrolet dealership. Taking a look back at this decisive moment in the family's history in the year 1919, Bart explains: "What my great-grandfather saw in the first vehicle he bought – a lot of car for the money and of a high standard of quality – still holds today. And the love and passion for Chevrolet, passed down from generation to generation, is one of the main reasons we have been successful.
"My family never forced me into the business, but since I was four, each day I was in the workshop playing, doing my homework in one of the company offices, washing cars on the forecourt or running errands to earn pocket money. It becomes a part of your life and I enjoy it."
Today, Wiegerinck Groep employs 26 people from the local area. One of those is Bart's father – the third generation of Barts who, at 77, is the company's oldest employee. Having started working at the company at 14, he is still a board member who often mentors staff. "My father is my most trusted advisor when it comes to decisions and we make them together," says today's general manager Bart. "His own father gave him a lot of worldly advice which he has passed on to me that is still relevant today. The Wiegerinck family is also not just my blood family, but the boys and girls who come to work for the company every day. Age and experience is trans-generational from apprentices to pensioners and that reflects on the service we offer customers."
"When asked by customers in 2012 as to why they should buy a Chevy, Dad tells customers that we still own my grandfather's 1958 Bel Air, and that after covering more than 500,000 km, it still runs and is all original. Many of the people he's told this to over the years are still customers today," adds Bart.
One hundred years and 209 million vehicle sales after Chevrolet was founded, the brand's success is not just down to the iconic cars and trucks the company makes, but the unique relationship dealer principals and sales staff have with their customers, gained over decades of loyal service.
"We began building small trucks, cars and limousines with three rows of seats and are still selling them today in the form of the new Chevrolet Orlando. Yet, the most important thing my great-grandfather instilled in us is that if you look after the customer, the customer looks after you as great service costs nothing and is everything to them."
With the explosion of the internet in the 1990s and 2000s, more and more customers arrive at dealerships armed with all the information needed to make an informed vehicle purchase with a click of a mouse. Today, internet sales drive around 40 percent of Chevrolet's business in Europe. Early on, Chevy dealers realized the value of establishing an online presence and today engage consumers through Twitter, Facebook and online chats.
"The boom of the internet changed our daily business a lot, and we've adapted to new trends. Also, the technological advances of the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle represent a huge evolution
since the first Chevrolet bought by my great-grandfather. But what has not changed and will remain, regardless of the technology, is that we have to earn our customer's loyalty every day and we have never forgotten that," adds Wiegerinck.
Throughout history, Chevrolet's European dealers have survived conflict and fluctuating economic conditions, but continue to evolve with the times. Chevrolet sales may have evolved from ordering vehicles by newspaper coupons in 1912 to today's network of 2,500 retail sites across 21 European countries, but sales staff is still the lifeblood of the company and many dealerships are still run by their original families.
"We think it is wonderful to still have so many long-term dealerships that have been part of our journey," said Cesare Prati, Chevrolet Europe's Executive Director of Sales. "The key for our future is to continue to be inspired by Louis Chevrolet and these trailblazers by doing the basics brilliantly for every customer, every time."
Chevrolet sales fast facts:
- In 2011, Chevrolet sold a record 517,800 cars in Total Europe
- In 2011, market share improved in 7 of Chevrolet's top 10 markets
- Chevrolet sold more than 4.76 million cars and trucks in 2011 - every 6.5 seconds a Chevrolet is sold somewhere in the world
- Chevrolet is the fourth biggest automobile brand globally measured by annual sales
- Chevrolet is sold in over 140 countries or 2/3 of the world