Huntington Insights: West Michigan | Business Spotlight | Spring 2018

Fox Motors: A company focused on service

Fox Motors does more than sell cars – it enriches people’s lives

By Robert Hoffman

Daniel DeVos has loved cars for as long as he can remember. So in 2000, he took one huge, and as some of his friends put it, wild and crazy leap, into the car business. And he hasn’t looked back since.

From a lone Saab dealership in Grand Rapids, DeVos’ passion for cars has grown into a highly successful line of automobile, motorcycle and powersports dealerships, and today, he is chairman and CEO of DP Fox Ventures LLC, which owns and operates Fox Motors, Fox Harley-Davidson and Fox Powersports. As some of his doubting friends concede, the car business got into DeVos’ blood, so much so that they say he has oil in his veins.

Soaring to new heights

To take the business to the next level, DeVos needed someone to help. The logical choice was Diane Maher, CFO at Fox Motors’ sister company, DP Fox Ventures, a diversified management company with interests in real estate, transportation, fashion, sports and entertainment. As CFO at DP Fox Ventures, and later as COO of Fox Motors, Maher began handling Fox Motors dealership acquisitions, starting with the first one in 2000.

“With one acquisition a year through 2005, we could operate with the same management structure,” Maher says. “It was fairly simple. But in 2006, when we acquired five more stores, the task of managing them became more complex, and we had to make a choice: Stick with the status quo, or commit full force to growing our business.”

The company hired a consultant to help develop statements that accurately reflected Fox Motors’ vision and mission. When they were satisfied that their statements truly reflected their goals and ideals, and put those words on the wall for all to see, it was a galvanizing moment. They knew then what they were about, and what they wanted to accomplish.

Since then, not one word of those statements has changed. Although Fox Motors now has 40 brands and more than 1,550 employees in 31 locations, whenever a decision is made, the people involved use those vision and mission statements as guideposts.

“No matter how much we grow, this will always be about more than selling cars.” – Diane Maher, COO, Fox Motors

Embracing the mission

With that change in focus came a change in structure. Rather than having a few locations managed by one person, Fox Motors split into four divisions, each with a divisional manager. The organizational shift created more jobs – in management, sales, service, legal, human resources, accounting and finance, information technology and marketing – which meant the company had to find more good people to join the Fox Motors team.

“The biggest challenge for us has been finding the right people, people whose values coincide with those of the company,” says Maher “People who will develop into leaders.” To ensure those people get the training they need to succeed, Fox uses proprietary training programs to develop leadership and technical skills.

“We like to develop our talent and promote from within,” Maher says. “We identify employees who embrace our vision and mission statements. In this way, we ensure that the company’s core values live and thrive throughout the organization.”

Hope Anderson is one of these success stories. Anderson started as a fit specialist in 2009 and rose through the ranks to become the first woman at Fox to become a general manager. Today, she runs its Grand Rapids Harley-Davidson dealership. And Nick Dieleman started out as a Subaru salesman. Now he is responsible for the entire Northern Division – 10 dealerships, in addition to collision and service centers in five cities.

At Fox, it’s absolutely possible to go from an entry level position to leading a dealership or a division,” Maher says.

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A vital part of its communities

“No matter how much we grow, this will always be about more than selling cars,” says Maher. “We strongly focus on our people and what they can do to help their communities. Dan (DeVos) gives everyone permission to do that, however that translates for them.”

One way the company has given back is by providing services and support to children and young adults. Fox Motors supports Kids' Food Basket, the largest organization in Michigan dedicated to attacking childhood hunger. Employees help provide Sack Suppers to nearly 7,500 kids every weekday during the school year, plus hundreds more at local sites in the summer.

The company also partnered with Hyundai Hope on Wheels to award a $250,000 grant to doctors at C.S Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a $150,000 grant to doctors at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, earmarked for children’s cancer research. And every year, Fox Motors employees organize and gather gifts for Fox for Tots, a companywide initiative to collect gifts for the less fortunate in the northern Michigan communities of Cadillac, Traverse City, Charlevoix, Marquette and Negaunee.

Fox Motors also supports the Anthony Rizzo Foundation, which raises money for cancer research and provides support to children and their families battling the disease, to give every family a fighting chance.

In addition:

Once a month, Upper Peninsula Fox Motors brings adoptable animals from shelters into its dealerships. Doing so attracts customers, but it also provides animals with a home. Fox covers all adoption fees, including shots and neutering.

Fox Motors is also part of the Ionia State Prison Inmate Re-entry Program. While incarcerated, an inmate can take classes and be certified as an automotive technician. Upon release, he or she is highly qualified to work and can re-enter society with a job, potentially one at Fox Motors.

Enriching lives

Part of Maher’s job is traveling to the company’s markets to meet with team members and set goals, plan and review opportunities. Her favorite part of the job, though, is “dreaming about how Fox Motors can improve. I connect with people on our team, and we talk about how we can do what we’re already doing, but do it better, and how we can expand what we do to help more people.”

First, Fox Motors wants to make sure its customers get their ideal vehicle, with the best price and impeccable service. But the company’s idea of service goes beyond putting cars up on a rack. It includes coming to its customers’ rescue any time they are stranded. It’s raising money to help a family that experienced a devastating house fire. It’s helping a team member who experienced a tragic loss.

“We started out with one Saab store, but it’s grown into an entire organization that cares about people. It’s pretty incredible,” Maher says. “Selling cars has become a way to let all of us enrich people’s lives – our customers, our team, our community. What could be more rewarding, more gratifying than that?”

Gratitude becomes attitude

From the beginning, Fox Motor’s goal has been to bring the fun back to buying a car. Employees work hard to develop trust with their customers, to show them that everyone at Fox Motors is genuine and credible, so there’s no fear of deception, or stress about buying and owning a car.

“We want to ensure that our customers have a remarkable experience,” says Maher. “That hasn’t always been easy, and there will always be obstacles. I believe we define ourselves by how we react to shortcomings and disappointments. Our approach is to believe in ourselves, pick each other up and try to remain positive.” That approach seems to be working – in spades.

“I’m passionate about the business and so thankful for the opportunity Dan has given me,” she says. “I’m living out my dream, and I want to help other people do the same.”

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