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Steves Chevrolet Survives GM Cuts
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Jeff Steves, of Steves Chevrolet, is looking forward to the future now that they received word that his family-owned business sailed through the second round of General Motor cuts that culled 42 percent of the company’s dealerships. - photo by Kim Van Meter/The Leader
Jeff Steves, part of the Steves family who owns Steves Chevrolet, admits in the wake of the General Motors Chapter 11 tsunami, there were some sleepless nights caused by fear for the future of the locally-owned and operated dealership.
But, unlike the Manteca and Escalon Chevrolet dealership, which were both given their “wind-down” letters, Steves Chevrolet sailed into calm waters, buoyed by a solid reputation, excellent sales numbers, and consistently phenomenal customer service ratings.
“There were some tense moments,” Steves revealed. “Once the company entered into Chapter 11 it was a whole different world. When we received word that we’d survived the second cut there was a lot of hooting and hollering around here. People were so happy some had tears in their eyes. It was like a 1,000 pounds came off my shoulders.”
Even as Steves enjoys the relief, he can’t help but feel for the dealers who weren’t so lucky.
“I really feel for the folks who’ve had their franchises pulled. It’s extremely traumatic,” he said. “What’s really tragic about these closures is what they do for the communities.”
As part of the Chapter 11, GM has agreed to shut down under-performing lines, such as Hummer, Saturn, Saab and Pontiac. The lines that will remain are: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC trucks.
The family patriarch, Frank Steves opened the Oakdale dealership in 1974 at the original location of 505 E. F Street; the dealership has been at its current location for the past 10 years. The elder Steves is still an integral part of the business, though his sons Jeff and Brett have taken the reins for the day-to-day operations at the Oakdale and Chowchilla locations.
Jeff Steves believes part of their success has been the family’s commitment to their customers and their business, stating a family member opens the doors first thing in the morning and at the end of the day, it’s a family member who turns the key and shuts off the lights.
“I’ve got top-notch managers but I definitely have my hands in everything. There’s no screening of calls, there’s no closing of the door,” he said. “Our principles and work ethics, taking care of customers…I think that’s what is getting us through these tough times.”
There’s no doubt Steves Chevrolet is tough to beat when it comes to customer service. According to Steves, their Customer Service Index (CSI) scores are the highest in the state.
“The highest rating you can get is a 4.0,” Steves said. “In sales, we consistently receive 3.98 and in service we receive 3.97. We always put ourselves in the customer’s shoes. And we’re proactive about unhappy customers. We sit down, talk about it, and find a resolution because buying a car should be fun and exciting.”
In the GM family, the Steves dealerships are in a league of their own, pulling numbers not even bigger metropolitan dealerships can boast.
“We’re the most effective Chevy truck dealer,” Steves said, noting his Oakdale dealership is responsible for the Oakdale, Riverbank, Knights Ferry, and Waterford area.  “We’re 600 percent effective. And it’s sheer word of mouth. Most dealerships are notorious for turn-over. Our dealers have been here for years.”
To talk numbers, Steves shared that in 2008 they sold 933 new trucks but that number represents the downturn in the economy. In the past, they’ve sold twice that number. This year is shaping up to be similar to 2008 but they’re still moving vehicles and that says something. Still, Steves is modest about their success, saying, “It’s a difficult year. It’s very sad out there but I see it starting to turn around a bit.”
Of GM, Steves is also optimistic in spite of the Chapter 11.
“You know I suspected trouble years ago but I feel really optimistic for the future of GM. There were 6,220 dealers nationwide and of that number they needed to cut 42 percent. That number is massive. But it was a necessary action for the health of the company.”
Steves is ready to get back to the business of selling cars now that the uncertainty is over.
“There were a lot of rumors going on out there,” he said. “It was eating us alive.”
And now that the Steves operation can breathe more easily, they’re excited about what’s on the horizon.
“The all new Camaro,” Steves said with a grin. “The one that debuted in Transformers. We’ve already got a back log of orders.”
Bumble-Bee yellow, it seems, will be a good color for the newly slimmed GM franchise – and Steves Chevrolet.