Photo by Cristina Sullivan Photography
With 31 car dealerships throughout the United States and
Canada, and three in California, HGreg is one of the fastest growing automotive
groups in North America with the mission of redefining the car buying
experience and providing seamless customer service online and in stores.
group of automotive dealerships started in 1993 with a single store in
Saint-Eustache, Canada, with one goal: to offer customers a completely new
experience when buying a used vehicle. Their multi-point inspections, upfront
and honest communication, open doors seven days a week, and non-commission paid
salespeople created an opportunity to multiply their stores quickly across
Canada, eventually earning the title of the fifth fastest growing company in
Canada, according to L’Actualité Magazine.
In 2009, the group boldly moved into the United States,
building their first superstore in Miami, Florida, and from there expanded into
the new car side of the business, eventually landing on the West Coast with
their first Infiniti store in Monrovia, California. Today, the HGreg auto group
comprises 31 new and used dealerships across Canada and the United
We had the opportunity to sit down with Erin Williamson,
National Director of Marketing for the HGreg automotive group, to discuss her
views on the tremendous growth the brand has experienced and share her thoughts
on what makes their used car strategy a success. In addition, we uncover her
leadership approach and learn some of the strategies that earned her the title
of finalist in the second annual Top Women in Marketing awards.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Tell us a bit about your experience thus
far with HGreg and how your career with them began.
ERIN: I joined HGreg four years ago. The company started in
Canada, committed to providing an excellent customer experience. They quickly
grew and spread their wings into the bustling Miami market in the U.S. and
later California, opening several stores there. Our mission is clear - redefine
the car buying experience for the consumer. And we’re definitely on the right
track. We’ve grown quickly, and I am proud to say that many of our stores have
earned top rankings from J.D. Power, and we have new expansion plans in 2023.
I chose HGreg because I am passionate about contributing to
growth and being on a winning team. In my role as the National Director of
Marketing, I have the opportunity to work on the operational side of the
stores, designing their interior and the exterior, for instance, but also
supporting the process and onboarding, marketing, and collaborating with
third-party vendors. For me, that's exciting. I like checking things off a
to-do list while always keeping an eye on the big picture. My tasks are
constantly changing and challenging and keep me busy.
I have grown so much professionally, and the additional
knowledge I've acquired while working for HGreg has excelled my career. I've
gained deeper knowledge about the industry, on both the acquiring and selling
of vehicles and marketing's role in maximizing awareness, goodwill and,
DEALER MAGAZINE: Your dealer group has developed a positive
reputation for handling the used car side of the business. Can you tell us more
about your strategy and process?
ERIN: My team is highly data-driven, so we dive into
store location and where our consumers reside. We have a wide variety of
vehicles and many stores, which allows us to buy our inventory in bulk. My
objective is to determine where our consumers are and which cars and services
sell best in these areas. I like to ask myself and my team, “What precisely are
the consumers looking for?”
After identifying “the where” and “the what,” we use an
omnichannel marketing approach. It combines TV, radio, email, SEO, and SEM. Our
focus is on saturation, being in front of the consumer throughout their day.
DEALER MAGAZINE: You have been very successful with
marketing to both bring in consumer cars and sell them in the last few years.
Give us some insight into how that works in your stores.
ERIN: We try to make it as easy as possible in every
aspect for the consumer. Our sales associates do not make a commission based on
their sales. As a result, there’s no pressure to sell. We instead provide
guidance and help our customers through the process.
We also aim to educate and properly inform our consumers
rather than just saying, "Come on in and trade your car; we'll give you
this much money for it." We instead walk them through the process:
"This is what will happen when you trade in your car. These are the steps
you're going to go through. This is who you'll speak with, and here's a video
of the person who will help you." It takes away the anxiety and pressure.
We’ve even gone to people’s homes and appraised the vehicle
at their own homes. We’ll do almost everything it takes to have a satisfied
consumer. I market based on how the consumer reacts, which means I give the
consumer what they want and how they want it. If they are interested in buying
a vehicle entirely from home, we can make it happen. If they want to start the
process at home, do all the paperwork, have a video conference with finance,
and then get to the point where they are ready to purchase and decide they want
to come into the dealership for a test drive, that's perfectly fine.
DEALER MAGAZINE: And has this come about since the
pandemic, or were these processes in place beforehand?
ERIN: The no-commission structure was implemented
pre-pandemic, but the pandemic innovated our in-store and at-home or business
sales approach. I remember receiving a phone call saying we would have to shut
down all stores except those in Florida. At that time, dealerships in Florida
were considered an essential business, but I remember thinking, “How are we going
to operate?”. It usually takes several months to get everything in place to
sell vehicles online; we had it done in a few weeks. I had a call with my team,
and we quickly made it happen.
When we resumed operations in full force, we reinstated what
works and focused on grassroots marketing. This term we haven’t heard in a long
time is being brought back with TikTok. YouTube has also been a great platform
for educational videos. Unfortunately, I don’t think the automotive industry is
taking advantage of its full potential. On the other hand, I definitely am,
thanks to my three kids.
DEALER MAGAZINE: With that in mind, let's discuss your
social strategy. What have you found most effective, and do you use an outside
agency or handle it in-house?
ERIN: We manage social media in-house. Our amazing team
works together to make sure we develop quality content to engage consumers and
create brand awareness. We believe the best way to build our brand is to offer
quality and valuable content to strengthen our relationship with our customers.
The goal is to be the most relatable and affordable go-to
for the best car-buying experience.
Regarding strategy, I regularly meet with our General
Managers and ask them questions such as, "What are your pain points? What
do you want to achieve? What seems to be working? What did you see that didn't
work?". That's how we build our all-encompassing strategy. What you see on
social media is also what you see in SEM, SEO, direct mail, emails, and
sometimes on television. We write all the scripts and help produce all the
content because no one is more well-positioned to know our stores than our
in-house marketing team.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Let's talk about your amazing team,
because you were just named a finalist in the second annual Top Women in
Marketing awards. Congratulations!
ERIN:Thank you! I owe my success to my team! I wouldn't be
where I am without their support and hard work. They are the backbone of what
My digital manager is in charge of analyzing data and
running our ads. My social media manager handles the organic postings and
content for all social platforms. My content manager develops the scripts and
videos for the posts. And last but not least, my design manager is in charge of
graphic design and the look and feel of everything with our name.
I like to think of us as disruptors. We love to push the
envelope. They're all extremely passionate about what they do and work so well
together. They also understand how each aspect of our work is an integral part
of the whole. We constantly think outside the box and test different ideas to
see what works best.
It is no big deal when one of our ideas doesn't work. It
wasn't a waste; it was a learning experience.
DEALER MAGAZINE: If you could choose one piece of technology
that you could not live without, what would it be?
ERIN: Choosing one tool is extremely difficult. However, I
would not be able to live without good data. It tells you a lot about our
DEALER MAGAZINE: Let's get into leadership because I can
tell this is really where your passion lies. How do you define leadership? And
what is your management style?
ERIN: Leadership is simply walking from behind. I believe in
lifting up my team and offering them all the tools they need to be
I'm a big proponent of owning your position. I do not
believe in micromanaging. I hired you because you were driven and
knowledgeable. I believed you could achieve great things.
Delegating is an important part of my role because, for my
team, this is their world and their job, and they take pride in what they do. I
am also very boots on the ground. If you need me to stand outside in the hot
sun while you're filming and hold the keys for you, I will clear off my entire day,
and that's what I'll do.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What do you look for when hiring new talent
for your stores?
It is extremely important to me. When I interview a
candidate, it's very short and sweet. Sure, I review their past experience, but
I mostly let them talk about what they love to do within their career. I’ll ask
them about their favorite part of a previous job, and when I see them smile as
they talk about it, I know it’s what fuels their fire. That's what keeps them
happy and excites them. Then, I take that interest and try to make it 75% of
DEALER MAGAZINE: As you know, retention is a looming trend
in our industry. How do you look to retain both your staff and your
ERIN: For the staff, it’s about hiring the right people and
ensuring that they're fulfilled. I also think it's about keeping it real and
being raw and honest with our team members. I have never encountered a
situation at HGreg where someone hasn't been very frank with me. If we face a
challenge, there is an open-door policy. Communication is key. You must make
yourself always accessible to your team and available to help and or guide them
throughout the day.
When our staff is comfortable, they are happy, enjoy their
work, and love what they do. That energy gets passed on to our customers, who
are, in turn, more inclined to purchase with us.
It is important to plant a seed with the consumer and watch
it grow. Purchasing a car is not an easy decision to make. It is one that takes
time and thought. Our staff knows this and is here as a guide to the consumer
throughout the entire process. In turn, the consumer builds a bond and level of
trust with the associate and our brand.
Thus, we form a relationship, and they continue to trust us
throughout the years.
DEALER MAGAZINE: It sounds like regardless of whether it is
marketing or HR or selling vehicles, everything keeps coming back to knowing
that person, whether that individual is on staff or in your showroom.
ERIN:Absolutely. Know your customer well! Know who they are
and how we can streamline the process for them. Get in front of that consumer
with the right messaging at the right time.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What advice would you offer to someone
considering auto retailing as a career, especially as it pertains to
ERIN: It is rare in this industry to have a seat at the
management table as a woman. My advice is to never, ever, give up and pick
working with and for the right team. It took me a long time to get here. I
started at the bottom, cutting checks at an auto auction at 18 years old. I
remember going to the marketing director of the auto auction and asking them
every day if I could have a job. I worked for free, and I came in on my days
off. You must prove that you are supposed to be there and that you've got this.
You have faith and confidence in yourself and know you deserve a seat at that
DEALER MAGAZINE: Wow – Yes! Great answer.
ERIN: You can't take no for an answer. And this is true
in any industry. But automotive is a tough and highly cutthroat industry. It's
so fast-paced, ever-changing, and competitive. But no day is ever the same.
There will not be a day with the same task, and you'll work from 7 am to 7 pm
Automotive does not stop. But when you're prepared to deal
with that and willing to take on the 25% of things you don't want to do for the
75% of things you love to do, this is the right job for you.
DEALER MAGAZINE: If you could describe yourself in one word,
what would it be?
ERIN: Inquisitive. I have a burning desire to constantly
dive in and learn more!