Jeff Kuithe clearly loves being in the car business. From sweeping showroom floors 30 years ago to now being the general manager at one of Houston’s more prestigious dealerships in Northwest Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, his ride has been nothing short of a dream come true. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges along the way. Kuithe didn’t mince words recently when he said Northwest Dodge was hurting when he took over two years ago.
Dwindling sales, employee retention issues, and growing customer dissatisfaction was giving the store a bad name. He certainly didn’t create the mess he inherited, but he knew it was his responsibility to clean it up.
“Candidly speaking, the dealership had a bad reputation,” Kuithe said. “Before I came here, I was at Clear Lake Dodge for five years, and in that time, Northwest had gone through 15 service directors and nine or 10 general managers. It was hard finding someone who cared about everything from front to back. Either we were doing really well in sales and really bad in service, or we were doing really well in service and really bad in sales. Now, we are doing very well in both. We knew the first year would be rough. It’s been an uphill battle—but purposely.”
Many people might not want to rock the boat too much. Kuithe felt he had to. In his eyes, the Ken Garff family of dealerships deserved better. With 52 stores across the nation, their legacy is one of treating customers like royalty—whether they are a first-time car buyer, a family looking for an upgrade, or someone who simply needs help from a reliable service department. And Northwest Dodge, which opened 13 years ago, is historically no exception. The store maintains an inventory of almost 1,000 new vehicles and used cars, trucks, and SUVs. This includes the 2020 Ram 1500 Lone Star & Big Horn, the 2020 Jeep Compass, and the 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The dealership has achieved the highest level of customer experience recognition from FCA and is certified by J.D. Power in five core areas: customer treatment, employee engagement, facilities, processes, and training certification.
But for whatever reason, the store was suddenly slipping in a number of those areas.
“We weren’t treating customers the way they should be treated, and that’s all changed,” Kuithe said. “I’ve done a 90 percent facelift with our personnel, and 50 percent of our service department is new. We’ve been training from within, hiring from within, and just doing a better job finding employees who care. On top of that, we’ve really been focusing on our backyard of Cypress—sponsoring little leagues, getting involved in the schools and with teachers. Whatever we need to do to reintroduce Northwest Dodge to our community and let them know we are here to serve them.”
Beyond the push for a better customer experience, Kuithe said there has been an improved commitment to employees.
“If you are a part-time or full-time employee, your four-year degree is free. And it’s the same for you, your spouse, your mother, your father, and your kids. We have 102 employees, and 30 of them are either signed up or about to be enrolled at Strayer. That piece alone has improved our retention tremendously. We’ve been transparent throughout. We always want to do the right thing, and if we don’t, we’re going to fix it. A lot of people say they want to be different. I don’t want to be different. I want to be better. I want to do everything better, and that takes work.”
In the midst of Northwest Dodge’s revival has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Kuithe said this is where the dealership has truly shown its resolve and commitment to both its staff and loyal customers.
“COVID taught us how to do business better,” he said. “It was important to us that we didn’t let go or furlough any employees, and we have done that. For our customers, we are delivering cars to them when necessary, bringing them a test drive, and providing touch-free drop-offs for service.”
He added, “I’d just like to say that if you’ve given us an opportunity in the past and it didn’t go your way, give us another shot. If you’ve never worked with us before, give us a shot. We are here, and we care.”