We met up with Robert (Bob) Quirion, President and CEO of DealerMine, to talk about the origins of his CRM software for dealerships, the growth that moved his company into CenterBeam Place, and the essence of DealerMine – keeping people connected. The conversation diverted in lots of interesting directions – and we spoke of the benefits of working in the heart of Brick Park; sharing the business landscape with professional services like legal, creative, and accounting companies, and being a stones’ throw from some of the best shops, restaurants and pubs in the city. We completely agree with him that we should institute “Brick Park Fridays” as a gathering place for people and conversations that continue to make us stronger, adaptable, and more competitive – brick by brick.
Bob Quirion remembers the day when he knew he was onto something. He was working at a car dealership in Saint John where he’d designed and implemented a CRM (customer relationship management) tool to great success. “The trials were good,” he says. “We nearly doubled the gross profit of a dealership in the first four to six months of using it.”
His “ah-ha moment” arrived when a competing dealership came over to see what they were up to; when the competitor discovered the boom in business was thanks to Quirion’s software, they asked if they could buy it. “I worked on it to make it function beyond one local dealership, it needed to work for two different brands. When I was finished, it was installed in three different dealerships. From that point on, we needed to refine the program so it could grow and move into more stores.”
Quirion is the President and CEO of DealerMine Inc., providers of a Service CRM solution for car dealerships across North America. The software combines one-on-one relationship building with contact automation to create memorable customer experiences. The platform was developed so that anyone who purchases a vehicle receives appropriate and sustained contact to build brand affinity, enhance relationships, and book key services.
Quirion is a developer originally from Sarnia, Ontario. Directly after graduating in programming from Lambton College, he went to work in an automotive factory in engineering. From there, Quirion worked in development at Reynolds and Reynolds, a provider of automobile dealership software, services and forms. “They do all of the accounting, parts and service, all the back-office stuff,” Quirion explains. “I received a call from a local dealer here in Saint John asking if I would come and help them engineer a move to a new facility and maximize the use of their Reynolds and Reynolds product.”
He came to Saint John in 1998 and worked at the dealership, where he uncovered areas of opportunity in the service department. Soon thereafter, the DealerMine Service CRM product was created. And in 2001, “we hired our first sales guy, someone I’d worked with at Reynolds and Reynolds, who helped us get DealerMine into 25 dealerships across Canada. I went from software developer, to sales guy, to installer, to trainer. I wore a lot of different hats, I scraped my knees, and found out about what not to do along the way.”
Over the last 16 years, DealerMine has built its business to include nearly 400 dealers using its services across North America, a fully outsourced BDC (business development centre) in Saint John working with between 87-100 dealers, and now employs 187 people. “We love our customers and we work to make them happy,” says Quirion. “We have a 94% customer retention rate in Canada, and if customers leave they come back.”
Along with its Service CRM software tool, DealerMine has a full account management team that stewards the success of each dealership. “The largest Ford store in the world and the largest Honda dealer in North America use our services,” says Quirion. “A dealer’s customers want to feel valued across the board, no matter where they are. A good experience is universal.”
That said, gone are the days of true brand loyalty for car dealers, because as Quirion notes, “now it comes down to three things: who’s got the best service, who’s got the best deals, and who’s going to take care of me?”
In 2009 when the automotive industry took a hit, DealerMine also felt the reverberations. “Big brands were going bankrupt, dealerships were closing and we were losing business. But we made big changes in 2012 and we recovered and adapted. We built our sales team and innovated our product and we continue to grow,” say Quirion.
Part of that growth meant they needed a new office space. They had outgrown their location in Rothesay and in 2015 they moved into CenterBeam Place in the heart of Uptown Saint John. Walking around the nearly 8,500 sq. ft. office space you’re immediately drawn by the brick walls, beautiful wood beams and re-used metal sliding doors throughout the space. The new space was perfect for the company’s next growth phase – the introduction of Dealer Summits. “Our marketing department started hosting dealer summits, inviting a handful of dealers from across North America to our space and showing them how to maximize the DealerMine tool,” says Quirion. “We wanted to be close to hotels, bars, and restaurants in our new space. We knew that the summits would be successful because we had the right place, the right team, and exceptional leadership running them. People love visiting our space and experiencing the heart of Saint John. The vibe is here.”
DealerMine is in the business of connecting people, and though the auto industry may change, the relationships dealers build with their customers will not. “They’ll want to stay connected, be it via smartphone or email or text or whatever innovation comes next. People still want interpersonal contact, they always will.”
Perhaps that’s why you can sometimes find Bob at Picaroon’s late on a Friday afternoon, chatting with business owners, friends and colleagues. “There are sometimes 25 companies represented there. On more that one occasion I was able to plug people in to people from other industries and learn from what their experiences, and that same experience is true for others who work at DealerMine. Those interactions in a relaxed setting make a huge impact. To me, that’s where it’s at – an informal gathering where you’re having really meaningful conversations and building relationships that benefit everyone.”