By Mark Apostolon
In a world where promises are often made just to get you in the showroom and expectations are seldom met, my experience with Big Valley Ford and Lincoln, at Auto Center Circle in Stockton, has been nothing short of outstanding and I’m not the only one. On my day at Big Valley Ford, meeting customers, talking with the staff and looking for my next Ford because my leased 2014 Escape is about to come off lease, I honestly had a terrific time, possibly the most fun I’ve had on a writing assignment ever.
As Brand Manager, Erick Beas put it, “Many of our customers have been loyal, long time customers having bought two, three…five cars from us over the years. Their kids may become the next generation of Big Valley Ford customers – unless they want to become a new generation of Big Valley Lincoln customers,” Erick adds with a big smile.
Talking with many Big Valley customers during my afternoon there and test driving new Fords, I can see why so many come back. This is the best car buying experience I’ve ever had. As one couple told me, “We didn’t believe the offer presented to us by Aaron [McDaniel] so we left and went to another dealership, and look, we’re back within an hour.” Two hours later, they were driving out in a new, black Explorer Titanium. “I guarantee you they’ll be referring their friends to me. That’s how it is here, customer first” Aaron later told me.
“Big Valley is a family,” Christian Jimenez proudly points out. Christian is not only someone I’m interviewing, he’s also my Sales Consultant and the Lease Manager (remember I currently have a lease that’s ending). Christian’s been with Big Valley Ford for twelve years. “The staff is like a family; the customers are our family – and I think that’s because of Paul Umdenstock, owner of Big Valley Ford and Lincoln.” Paul began selling cars in 1964 just when the Mustang came out, “back then we’d be selling 50, 60 Mustangs a month. For a couple years I think Ford was selling over a million Mustangs a year.” It was in 1981 at the height of car sales lows throughout the country that Umdenstock bought the Stockton Ford dealership. It was a gamble but it paid off. As Christian said, that credit belongs to Umdenstock.
“This is a family owned business in Stockton. They care, we care. This is not some big corporate consortium group; we are the community – I like that,” Christian tells me while showing me an Edge SEL that has what I’m looking for. “It’s about community, what we do for and with the community that makes me proud to be a part of the Big Valley Ford Family and it’s why I’m here.”
Big Valley is certainly involved with the community – that is apparent as soon as you walk into the showroom where they currently have a Holiday Food Drive going on. “There is so much we do in the community, I don’t know where to begin,” Managing Partner, Steve Kubitz says with a laugh. “There’s always something going on. We work a lot with the veterans and various veterans’ organizations and events. We have First Responders events, a family and kid’s event where kids get to ask Police, Fire, and EMT’s questions, and they bring in the K9 Unit. We sponsor 150 underprivileged kids, boys and girls, every year for We Play at the indoor soccer complex, we’re a main sponsor for the March of Dimes annual event and we partnership with the California Highway Patrol for our Toys for Tots drive. We support the Emergency Food Bank, sponsor the upcoming Parade of Lights in Lodi, and gave ten $500 scholarships to Hispanic Students attending Delta College in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. This year, we donated $10,000 to the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Lodi. I can go on, but you as can see, we do a lot. We’re here to give back to the community.”
From my experience shopping for a new vehicle at Big Valley and observing potential customers looking at cars, SUVs and trucks, there’s no hard sell. If anything, the sales team is more concerned with asking questions – questions customers should be asking but don’t know what to ask. “It’s all about the customer. I know what people forget to ask; options they want then forget to ask about. That’s my job,” Christian tells me. “I need to know everything you want and I need to know everything you need in that new or pre-owned Ford before you decide to buy.” And Christian certainly did ask me all the right questions.
I have purchased five vehicles in my life and leased one. Never has any sales consultant taken the time to match me with the right vehicle. More importantly, Christian’s not trying to sell me something I don’t want, and – AND THIS IS IMPORTANT FOLKS – he is not trying to get me into a new car that doesn’t have an option I have already said I need simply because he doesn’t have it in stock. “What good does it do me to put you in a car or SUV that doesn’t have an option you want? There’s no reason why you shouldn’t get the color you want, the interior color you want, the options you want. Do you know how easy it is for me to get a car, SUV or truck in here with what you want? It is so very easy, and you’ll still get a great price. There is no dealership in the area more competitive.”
Ford was the only car company not to take advantage of the federal bailout – a decision which was, without question, in line of the work and business ethic of the company’s founder, Henry Ford who famously once said, “cut your own wood and heat yourself twice.” Or as Christian put it, “Ford knew what they had to do and they knew they could do it own their own. Restructuring the company, creating new lines with the customer in mind, and do it better than anyone else. After all, for over 39 years, Ford has had the world’s best selling line of trucks.”
Christian was professional, respectful, easy-going and willing to answer any and all of my questions directly and honestly. But moreover, he did what he said he would do. No BS or jerking me around. There’s only one mistake Christian made – he showed me the new Lincoln’s – how cruel. If he’s reading this, I’m sure he’s laughing right now.
Boasting Bridge of Weir leather (the same Scottish leather found in Bentley’s, Rolls Royce’s and Aston Martin’s), Revel Sound Systems (which outsounds Sony, Bose and all others) suspensions that make you feel like you’re driving on a pillow, and amazing interior design and functionality – Lincoln has certainly been reinvented and can be considered nothing but a luxury motor company committed and re-created to compete with the best luxury lines – Lincoln does just that. “They really did this right. Took their time and created a distinctive line with the best of American engineering combined with the ultimate in European comfort in a classic and timeless design.”
I want one.
So, when you go into Big Valley, ask for Christian… or Aaron, Jesus, Bryan, Marty, or anyone of their sales consultants – they’re all great – and let them know that Mark from Latino Times sent you and that I want that Lincoln. But, the truth is, when my lease is up in a few weeks, I’ll be just as happy to be in that Ford Edge SEL.
By Mark Apostolon