The FORT Podcast: Will Churchill

Will Churchill is the Owner of Frank Kent Cadillac, as well as several restaurants in Fort Worth, including Heim BBQ. Frank Kent Cadillac has been awarded GM Dealer of the Year for 2012 – 2014, an honor given to only the top 2% of GM dealers throughout the country. In this episode, Will and Chris discuss the family history of Frank Kent, how the automotive industry has been hit by COVID-19, how Frank Kent has battled the pandemic’s effect, the specific impact on Fort Worth, and more.

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02:08 — How did you become involved with Frank Kent and the automotive industry?
03:25 — Did you always know you would get into the industry, or were you forced to join the family business?
04:22 — Can you shed some light on what a car dealership would’ve been like in the ‘20s and ‘30s? Were the leading manufacturers the same?
06:33  — What are some of the manufacturers that you own and operate?
07:20 — What is the process of becoming ‘worthy’ to take on a new car brand?
08:50 — Can you shed some light on accessories / distribution and how you’ve become successful with that side of the business?
10:35 —When did you begin to see demand decline due to COVID-19?
13:28 — Are cars still selling?
16:05 — Do you have a person in charge to monitor changes from COVID-19? How do you distribute information to your team?
17:23 — Has demand actually decreased? Is the automotive industry included in the stimulus package?
18:45 — Is there a difference between the 2008 recession and the current situation?
21:27 — If more people are buying online, do you think this will permanently change the car buying process?
25:10 — How do car dealerships make money?
28:06 — The Lack of Auto Technicians
30:16 — You were Chairman of the Cadillac Dealer Council and sat on the GM Dealer Advisory Group Board, what did you learn through that experience?
33:04 — Are there silver linings in this situation that will make the auto industry better?
35:10 — There was a $1B acquisition that fell through today, do you expect automobile mergers and acquisitions to be on hold?
36:43 — What are you looking for that will indicate the industry is picking back up?
38:08 — What makes a great car salesman? What makes the best, the best? Why does that role get a negative reputation?
41:43 — Is the car dealership postcard actually effective? How often does someone show up to a dealership to browse and end up leaving with a brand-new car?
45:53 — The food and beverage industry is on life support, can you shed some light on what you’re hearing?
49:21 — How many of these restaurants do you think will close indefinitely from this pandemic?

Episode Summary

Churchill sheds light on the brands that his dealership represents, a list that boasts of General Motors’ extensive portfolio and a Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM store. He takes a trip down memory lane, reflecting on past associations with brands like Honda and Hyundai, some of which have faced bankruptcy. This segment of the conversation seamlessly transitions into an exploration of the dealership world’s barriers to entry. Churchill doesn’t shy away from stating the facts—it’s a cash-intensive business, and the industry is currently pushing for diversity.

The discourse then takes a turn towards Churchill’s accessory business, a venture that has seen expansion and success. He delves into the wholesale distribution model, elucidating the intricacies of protected markets and how his business has managed to thrive in this competitive landscape. The theme of expansion continues as he shares insights on extending the accessory business to new states, showcasing the venture’s growth trajectory.

As the conversation progresses, the automotive market’s current dynamics come into focus, especially in light of economic uncertainties. Churchill provides real-time insights into the car selling process amidst a pandemic, illustrating the rapid changes and adaptability required to stay afloat. He emphasizes the importance of maintaining open channels of communication with employees and adopting tools like Facebook Workplace to ensure seamless internal interactions.

The financial aspect of running a dealership is not left untouched. Churchill candidly discusses the significant expenses incurred, especially by large dealerships, and the potential relief that government bailouts could bring. He draws parallels between the current crisis and the 2008 downturn, highlighting the unique challenges in managing a range of emotions among employees and clients.

The conversation takes a reflective turn as Churchill shares his perspectives on work-life balance, emphasizing the societal shift towards a healthier balance between professional commitments and personal life. This, he believes, could lead to stronger communities and a better country overall. The potential impact on commercial real estate is also explored, with both Powers and Churchill pondering the future need for large office spaces and dealerships in light of the efficiencies realized through remote work.

Churchill then provides a comprehensive overview of the dealership’s revenue streams. From new and used car sales to financing, extended warranties, and service, he leaves no stone unturned. The challenges faced in the service department are highlighted, with a particular focus on the increasing complexity of car repairs and the shortage of skilled technicians.

The societal and personal impacts of the current global situation are brought to the forefront as Churchill shares how this period has been a learning opportunity for his son, emphasizing the importance of financial awareness and preparedness. The automotive industry’s future, particularly regarding mergers and acquisitions in the car dealership sector, is discussed, with Churchill anticipating a surge in activity once the current uncertainties settle.

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