Gerald Auto Group:
COVID, Community, and Better Relationships
Since the mid-1930’s, the Gerald Auto Group with locations in North Aurora, Naperville, Countryside, and Matteson, has always been committed to its customers from both a business and a philanthropic perspective. The Gerald family, now with its third generation at the helm, has expanded its service to the community in ways that it never expected.
According to Gerald Auto Group’s marketing manager, Suzie Gonnermann, COVID triggered a renewed promise to neighbors of the company’s 11 dealerships.
“Because Gerald has been in this community for so long and has so much repeat business, we have become a trusted neighbor,” says Gonnerman. “When COVID struck, we knew we had an opportunity to really serve our community, whether or not they were ever going to become a customer.”
Caring for neighbors during COVID
With most people staying at home, the Gerald staff became concerned about the safety of customers and the maintenance of their vehicles, especially those who were deemed as essential workers and had to function above and beyond the call of duty. Staff also realized that with no maintenance, warranties may become voided. So, all Gerald brands and dealerships implemented the Gerald Mobile Service Team, a vehicle pick up and drop off service, completely contact-less. Then, when customers were interested in purchasing a vehicle but didn’t want to come to the dealership, the sales staff coordinated test drives at home. Finance managers also made ‘house calls’ to fill out paperwork.
Seeking to do more for neighbors in need, Doug Gerald contacted Hesed House in Aurora, a non-profit the company had been supporting for a long time, to see what was needed for clients and staff of the homeless shelter. His call was timely because the facility was in need of professional cleaning, meals, personal protection equipment, and blankets – all of which the Gerald Auto Group provided at once. “The constant support from Gerald during COVID provided vital goods and services for our most vulnerable neighbors and helped maintain stability during an otherwise very uncertain time,” explains Lauren Jernigan, Division Director of Development for Hesed House.
When regular patrons of the Batavia Farmers Market stayed home, endangering the stability of the market and its vendors, Gerald staff picked up and delivered bags of fresh food to online market customers. When the Aurora Interfaith Food Pantry saw an increase in need for its services during COVID, Gerald dealerships set up displays encouraging customers to purchase pre-assembled bags of food which were then delivered in a large van to clients of the food pantry.
In addition, many other non-profits saw a drop in support during COVID due to the inability to hold in-person events, including Little Friends of Naperville. Gerald stepped in and helped coordinate small, outdoor backyard barbeque fundraisers and supplied food and other items to help offset the cost. After one backyard event, a new donor pledged $250,000 to Little Friends.
Creating better relationships
When supply chain issues first began to change the availability of vehicles, it was tough. “For the first six months customers were frustrated, and rightfully so,” says Gonnerman. Shortly thereafter the staff shifted from a defensive position to a customer-focused position. “We are very honest and straight-forward with customers and tell them exactly what we are experiencing,” explains Gonnerman. “We stay in touch with regular phone calls, update them, and have conversations about things other than vehicles. I think we actually have better relationships with customers now because of the transparency.”
Post-COVID, Gerald is continuing to be creative and fluid with its community support and reaping the benefits of what it learned during this tough time for many.
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