Auto Pilot

Although it’s posed serious challenges, Tom Zimbrick, CEO of Zimbrick, Inc., says the recession has brought opportunities as well

The economic downturn has had a major effect on Tom Zimbrick’s business, not surprisingly. “It’s been the biggest economic impact on the automotive industry in over thirty years,” he says. “But it’s enabled us to sort out what’s really important and take even better care of our customers. People are looking for value; they don’t want any unexpected costs or surprises. We’re stressing our long history, concentrating on service and not taking anything for granted.”

He and his team were as ready as they could be for the recession. “A few years ago we made a serious investment, not only in buildings and people, but also in technology,” Zimbrick reflects. “Then we started feeling signs of the economic downturn through indicators we were tracking. We didn’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction, so we planned what we’d do in different scenarios—a ‘what if’ approach—and we were able to have an organized strategy.”

When it came to what Zimbrick deems his most important asset, people, the organization combined jobs and created more cross-functional teams to conserve costs. “Any success we’ve had is because of our employees—they do the heavy lifting with our customers,” he says. “They really rose to the occasion and made sacrifices over the past year.”

On other fronts, “We right-sized our used-car inventory and got our financial house in order,” says Zimbrick. “We had to figure out how to maintain our high level of customer service. It’s been our hallmark for forty-seven years and we didn’t want to jeopardize it.”

He also helped strategize at the national level. “I had the good fortune to be associated with Saturn and serve on the Saturn dealers board of directors,” he explains. “We had to come up with various scenarios as to what to do with Saturn, and we advocated selling it off to a separate company. It was a great honor to be associated with [the effort].” And although the deal fell apart at the eleventh hour, Zimbrick is proud that he and his group gave it their best.

It’s a very exciting time for the auto industry, Zimbrick maintains. “I see a lot of opportunities coming. This year we’ll salvage or destroy more cars than are sold in the U.S., so I see a tremendous boom coming in the industry. We’ll approach it in a high-tech and a high-touch way. There’s a great menu of tech possibilities with things like social media, but we can’t forget to have just as much emphasis on customer service. Service channels change, but not customer care.”

Judy Dahl is a contributing writer for Madison Magazine.

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