Automotive sales and service excellence coupled with a longstanding commitment to customers, employees, and community are synonymous with the Nimnicht family in Jacksonville, FL.
Four generations — when you include Bill Nimnicht Sr.’s father, Ed Nimnicht, an assistant general sales manager for the Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors until his retirement in 1945 — have established and enhanced those values for 80 years.
Billie Nimnicht III, president of the Nimnicht Family of Dealerships — Nimnicht Chevrolet and Nimnicht Buick GMC, is quite proud of where the company is positioned today, especially with the unprecedented pandemic getting smaller in the rearview mirror.
Former Managing Editor of Specialty Audience and Drive editor Joe DeSalvo recently visited with the 55-year-old Nimnicht to talk about the company’s thriving business — highlighted by his Chevy store recently becoming the new-car sales leader in Jacksonville; it’s expanding business portfolio; the car-buying experience; and the future of electric vehicles.
What has made Nimnicht successful for 80 years?
It’s people and the desire to do the right thing. Our belief is you can’t have happy customers without happy employees, so we say that employees come first. Everybody loves working there; we get positive feedback all the time. In a word: We care — we care about doing the right thing; we care about our customers; we care about when we mess up. We’re living and breathing it every day.
Not only are you celebrating an 80th anniversary, but also doing business on the Westside for 50 years. The move to Cassat Avenue has been good for the company, hasn’t it?
It’s the right fit on the Chevy store side of the business. Chevrolet is the everyman’s vehicle. It’s affordable; it’s value, but the quality is there. Being on that side of town, it’s perfect.
What percentage of your customers are repeat customers?
I want to say 30 to 35 percent. It’s not as high as you might think, but we conquest all over town. And Jacksonville does have some transient population. I think we’re doing a good job with customer retention. We’re the biggest and most aggressive dealer in town; we win by price. Because of volume pricing and being good with secondary financing, we’re getting business from all over the area, and even out of town.
What was it like to deal with the pandemic these past 12 months?
I feel guilty. It really hasn’t been that bad. Because everybody was staying by themselves or with their families, cars became a priority. We were deemed an essential business. There was a point when we went half-staff for about a week for safety, and we could not keep up with the volume. It’s the car business.
People are not going out and spending money on restaurants and things like that. They’re upgrading their car a year earlier than they probably would have. Their car is a priority. I’m real proud how we’ve done the right thing and been safe, taking all the right steps. … It’s been enough [the length of time dealing with a pandemic].
What’s your take on the forecast that U.S. car sales are projected to gain 10 percent in 2021?
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. GM had a strike the fall before for about six weeks, so we were already (inventory) depleted. Then the COVID shut down factories. You can’t take two months of production out of the equation and keep up. And that’s why the sales were down. The demand was there. Now we have the world-wide micro-chip shortage. And that is affecting us dramatically. We’re not going to catch up inventory wise until maybe the summer of 2022.
What’s your assessment of public perception and acceptance of EVs?
I still think it’s an awareness problem. Most people still haven’t driven an electric vehicle. They’ve driven a golf cart and probably think, ‘Why would I ever want an underpowered vehicle like that.’ They don’t realize the torque and the responsiveness of an electric vehicle. All they’ve heard is all the bad stuff. It seems like this is going to happen overnight. With two-car families, one of those cars will be an electric car real soon here because in four more years, you’re going to have a lot of offerings. … It’s going to take off and I think it’s a good thing.
The average car on the road is 11 or 12 years, so we’re still going to be servicing vehicles forever. Even though a lot of manufacturers have said they aren’t going to produce anything — an internal combustible engine — past 2030, I know some cities like Paris and Amsterdam have already said that you can’t have an ICE vehicle within the city limits.
I know they’re forcing the issue. They’re still concerned about the grid. If everybody is plugged in, how’s that going to look? It’s coming and I think it’s a good thing. In fact, I’ll be on a call today to discuss electric-charging capacity at the dealerships.
It has to be exciting to have the HUMMER electric truck return to Nimnicht Buick GMC, right?
We still have our HUMMER track from when we were the HUMMER dealer back in 2006. So, we’re definitely going to offer the HUMMER.
So, how long is that waiting list for the HUMMER?
About 40 for a $100,000-plus vehicle. It’s as fast as a Corvette and has 1,100 horsepower and 11,500 foot-pounds of torque and it goes from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds. It’s crazy. GM’s engineering is good.
Will the traditional experience of going to the dealership and making the best deal become a thing of the past?
We’ve been preparing for that (increasing online sales). You could do it online, but you can’t touch or feel it or talk to a salesman. Some 78% of the people who come in end up buying something different than what they came in for, according to NADA statistics. It’s still the shopping experience. You know, people say they want no negotiations and things like that, but when some dealers try that “no-negotiation thing,’’ people don’t believe car dealers, so they say, “That price isn’t good enough.’’ They have to shop around. If someone thinks of their car as a transportation commodity, they might buy it online.
The biggest hurdle is that we have to convince people that when we do everything sight unseen, then deliver it to their door, if they don’t like it or accept it, they’re not obligated. That’s part of the challenge. People don’t want to give all their information and sign on the dotted line and everything without seeing it.
What’s the future for the Nimnicht Family of Dealerships?
Well, doing it the way we like to do it is a full-time effort. Yes, we do have plans to expand, but I have to be honest with you, with business being so good for so long now and the multiples you have to pay for these dealerships, it’s outrageous and we really didn’t want to do that. I would love to have a luxury brand, but these opportunities just don’t come along too often unless you pay way too much. We have diversified. We are now a Reading service truck body distributor (as part of Nimnicht’s Dealer Vehicle Accessories company); we have an insurance agency inside the dealership; and we have a leasing company. We have plenty of things going on.
How would you appraise the lineup of vehicles at your two dealerships?
Oh, gosh, yeah! The cars are just such a pleasure to drive. There are features that surprise and delight you. These vehicles will go 250,000 miles if you take care of them. GM is backing them with good warranties and support. We’re very proud to sell the lineup that we have right now.
Like what Chevy and GM have done with the mid-engine Corvette C8?
I’m mad that I haven’t driven one yet. They’re so popular; we have 85 people on the waiting list. Chevy has to be losing money on it. A comparable vehicle with the same performance, like a Ferrari or Porsche, is probably $100,000 more expensive.
You have to feel good that Nimnicht continues to be recognized nationally and in Florida.
It’s nice to get recognized and get those awards. When it comes to service, we’re trying to put things in place to make it easier, faster and better. That’s our motto: “We want to make it easy for our customers.’’ We’re always trying to enhance the customer experience. For example, we are currently designing a new service department at the Chevy store. It’ll be bigger and more capable with a Quick Service center and an A/C shop for our technicians. It’s a $6.5 million investment and should open in 2022. And, at the Buick GMC store, we just finished installing a new car wash.