Checking in with Tucker Rocky’s Steve Johnson


I didn’t have a chance to participate in Tucker Rocky’s national sales meeting in Texas last month, so I tracked down TR”s chief Steve Johnson to get his reaction to the five-day event and to see what he had going at the big Fort Worth-based national distributor.

Steve Johnson

The show was different this year, by design. More aimed at training and business improvement than entertainment and relationship-building. “This show was a lot more about product and selling product,” said Johnson. “It was less about fun and more about dealer training and how to run a good dealership.”

In Johnson’s view, the participating vendors and dealers “were more than positive, they were engaged” in what was going on. “A lot of people are still excited to be in this industry. But there’s a realization that there’s a new norm; it may come back a bit, but it’s going to be at a slower pace. You can’t expect 10%-15% compound growth. You have to hunker down and run your business as best you can. People were fully engaged; more so than ever before.”

Dennis Johnson, editor-in-chief of Dealernews magazine visited the show and did a nice job of reporting on the event in the August issue of the magazine. I’m not going to duplicate his efforts here, but Steve covered some interesting points in our conversation, many focusing on dealer training and customer service.

Big Push On Customer Service

As we chatted, Steve told me a story about customer service that came from his previous experience in the foodservice business. To paraphrase his story: There once was a large bakery that produced custom products for a high-end local grocery store. The big thing was fresh birthday cakes, made the same day and featuring custom greetings. It was an important item for the retailer and produced nice margins for both the bakery and the retailer. The cakes were always delivered on time, the names were spelled correctly, and everyone was happy. But one day, there was a mistake; a cake didn’t get produced for a birthday party that day. The customer went crazy, of course; what was she going to do for the party that afternoon?

The bakery manager on duty that Saturday solved the problem without hesitation. The cake was produced in time and hand delivered directly to the customer’s home in time for the party. In the middle of a raging snowstorm. At no cost; free of charge. “It’s called making a customer for life,” he said. End of story.

As we talked about this approach, turning buyers into regular customers, the conversation turned to the book written by Carl Sewell, the Texas car dealer, “Customers for Life: How To Turn That One-Time Buyer Into a Lifetime Customer.” It’s a fascinating story about one company’s emphasis on customer service. I’m reading it now on my Kindle, and I’ll give you my thoughts on it as soon as I’m finished. Initially, it doesn’t contain anything groundbreaking, really; it just seems to restate some basic principles about dealing with customers. For example, treat a customer like a friend and don’t nickel and dime them to death. Bottom line: your customer is important and make certain that each of your employees treats each of your customers and prospects that way.

The Tucker show included a panel discussion about challenges and opportunities facing our industry, a session that Dennis Johnson reported on in some detail in Dealernews magazine. One of the takeaways? “It’s important to build a relationship with your customers.”

Stepping Up Digital Marketing

Tucker is continuing to build its digital marketing program with a growing emphasis on digital communications at the dealer level. In the panel discussion, Johnson talked about ways to stay connected. “We’re continuing to focus on creating video  for dealers, developing a Facebook presence, continuing to work with dealers to create templates so they can email to their customers and stay involved in those areas. I think it’s the future. We’ll continue to show people how they can use electronic media to be better dealers.”

Johnson said TR will use video to put more emphasis on merchandising at the dealer level. “In the past,” he says, “distributors would sell product to dealers and assume they would merchandise. We realize now that we have to step up and help dealers be better retailers and do a much better job of merchandising. Our job isn’t finished when we write the order and they take delivery of the product.”

Tucker is continuing to build up its product video library available at and YouTube. Johnson says the big flat screen TVs located in dealerships hold tremendous marketing potential. “My thought,” he says, “is to use these flat screens to display product information; it’s a resource for dealers. we’ll help dealers produce their own DVDs.” He would like to provide dealers with the flexibility to program their in-store screens with the programs that are best for them, even switching on a daily basis.

At the end of the day, says Johnson, dealers are in control of their micro environment by the decisions they make very day, even in a slow national economy. “There are so many things a dealer can do to grow his business: Does he have the right product mix? Enough inventory? Is it merchandised properly? Are his people trained? Is he giving customers a reason to come back?”

All basic questions, but important ones as dealers address the new normal.  JD

Contact me with news tips and story ideas at or 952/893-6876

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