Group aims to bring Honda dealer up-to-speed

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 23, 2011

A new banner and block letters on a North Frontage Road car dealership are the start of what its new owners hope is a ground-up makeover of the location’s image.

“There’s a history of bad customer service here, and no inventory,” said Trent Coon, the new general manager of Excel Honda, formerly known as Vicksburg Honda. “But, we’re here to get our customers back.”

Purchased in the fall by a Texas-based group of Honda dealers, the local outpost will try to match its brand’s reputation for reliability with some heavy-duty tweaking to its sales staff and model availability.

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“It’s been 60 to 70 percent pre-owned vehicles, but we’ll have more new ones — like the 2011 Honda Odyssey, some heavy-duty trucks as well,” Coon said. “We’re not going to lose business if we don’t have something, because I’ll go get it.”

Newer and fuller inventory — enough to keep 75 to 80 new models on the lot — is part of the plan, as is new hires for the sales floor to equal one salesperson for every 10 vehicles on site. It’s a heady start for a dealership that faces challenges daily, Coon and business manager George Jones said, namely its partially obscured location behind one of numerous hills along North Frontage. Coon said a new location on Interstate 20 hasn’t been ruled out by the new owners, but improvements to the current store will grab most of their attention for now.

“We’re excited about the new ownership, and we’ve got a new attitude,” Jones said, adding that low sales during his four years in the business office had numerous causes — the recession, bad credit scores among the car-buying public over the period and working with just four banks to help finance vehicles. Now, Jones said, they’ve expanded to eight lenders inside and outside Vicksburg.

“It was very limited in the past,” Jones said.

Favorites such as the Accord and Civic figure to remain the most dominant models on the lot, as will the highly-rated CR-V, Coon said.

“We’re a Honda dealer,” Jones said. “We want easier opportunities to buy here rather than going out of the area.”

Honda received three segment awards in J.D. Power and Associates’ vehicle dependability study for 2010, with the CR-V, Ridgeline and Fit models topping their respective categories. A survey in September by listed five Honda models among 13 vehicles of various types that are most unpopular with auto mechanics.

The building that houses Excel Honda’s offices is a little more than 20 years old. The dealership operated as Vicksburg Honda from about 2001 to 2010 and, for most of the 1990s, it was called River City Honda.

The business was purchased in the fall from Jeremiah Properties LLC, based in Afton, Tenn.