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Bill Heard’s $2.2 Billion Reputation Lesson




You know me; always on the lookout for examples of why it’s so vital to maintain a positive business reputation.

So, I’m probably the only person that gets excited by the complete and utter collapse of a company that was generating $2.2 billion in annual revenue!

The Bill Heard Organization was the country’s 11th largest Chevrolet dealer group and in 2005 was named one of its “Dealers of the Year” by GM. Despite that, Bill Heard let its reputation deteriorate to the point that ultimately shut down its business.

As Ward’s explains (emphasis added)…

Perhaps it was rogue employees or a culture within the group that allowed or even encouraged questionable behavior. Whatever the case, the Heard group was unable to shake the perception that it conducted business unethically.

More than 500 complaints against the company were filed in recent years with the Better Business Bureau chapters in the seven states where it conducted business. Additionally, the Internet became a forum for angry customers who posted numerous complaints about Bill Heard on websites that allow customers to review businesses.

Add rising gas prices, $280k in state fines, and having its credit line yanked, and you can see how a bad reputation can be the catalyst for the business’ collapse.

Of course, as Abraham Lincoln once said, your reputation is merely the shadow cast by your character–if Bill Heard had treated its customers well, it wouldn’t be in this miss to start with.

But, what can YOU learn from the collapse of Bill Heard?

  1. Monitor your competitor’s reputation as closely as you monitor you own.
  2. Be aware of the complaints being levied against your competitors–are you one blog post away from the same criticism?
  3. Watch for your competitor’s weaknesses and make them your strengths. As a competitor to Bill Heard, I’d focus on our pledge to treat customers with respect and honesty.
  4. When your competitor ultimately implodes, reach out to its customers. In this case, I’d offer a special $10 oil change to all of Bill Heard’s customers or an extra $500 trade-in payment for anyone that trades a car bought at Bill Heard.

Monitoring your own reputation is a given–right?–but you should also keep a close eye on your competition. When they suffer a reputation misstep, don’t miss the opportunity to use that to your advantage.

(Hat-tip to Laszlo)

  • http://catpickett.com cat pickett

    I’m not usually big on Schadenfreude, but I was happy see Bill Heard crash and burn. My experience with them ranks among the worst at car dealers in my lifetime.

    Watch for your competitor’s weaknesses and make them your strengths.

    I think this is key, especially as markets become smaller and more competitive due to the crappy economy. One of my clients is beginning to target their competitor’s unhappy customers and has had a great response so far.

    cat pickett’s last blog post..Competitive SEO Tools

  • http://www.jordankasteler.com/utah-seo-pro-blog/ Utah SEO Pro

    Sad how a reputation issue can occur on the web within the blink of an eye and cost loads of cash to a company. Even can bankrupt them.

    Utah SEO Pro’s last blog post..Link Metrics for SEO

  • http://www.reputationdr.com Elliot

    yes, we have had a Chevrolet dealer customer as well. complaints mostly focused on financing deals poorly explained by staff and being hooked into payments buyers couldn’t afford. it’s the sub-prime of the auto dealership business, likely to spread. check out GM stock price, more dealers may go down. it was challenging.

  • http://www.shaneeubanks.com Shane Eubanks

    Your comments about being honest with customers rings extremely true regarding the collapse of Bill Heard. I’ve come across so many people who actually thought they were purchasing a vehicle only to find out they were only leasing it. The sales associates were apparently “coached” to sell the leases in this “it’s a great deal for you” sort of attitude. They even sold a 65 month lease to an individual! RIDICULOUS.

    So yes, great point about monitoring the conversation surrounding your competitors. Find their weakness and create strength from it.

    Good riddance to Bill Turd.

    Shane Eubanks’s last blog post..What I Learned at the 2008 Webmaster Jam Session

  • http://opinionhead.com CarpetGuy

    I once worked for Bill Heard and I have to say, that during my time as a New Car Sales Rep., I was embarrassed! I had been in the business for some time and was recruited to work for them through deception! Not one of the things that they promised me ever happened! I saw the crooked dealings, there was fraud in the leases, the sales, the trade ins, you name it, Bill Heard was a crook and finally they put a stop to it! After hundreds, maybe thousands of complaints, just in Houston, for 2 of his dealerships, this cancer has finally been stopped! I say good riddance!

    CarpetGuy’s last blog post..Ronald Reagan: Tear down this wall: As I remember it!

  • http://checkpagerank.ws Check Page Rank

    A reminder for Bill Gates too. Rep is an important value as you gain people’s trust. Thats why Billy is using money for good purposes too..

  • http://www.gadgets4nowt.co.uk/ PS3

    I’ve only ever had reason to use the BBB once and they didn’t seem to have much substance. Clearly that wasn’t the case here.

  • http://www.greatpriceshere.com Nicole Price

    The point at issue here is simply that the dealership would appear to have decided to be cavalier in its customer relationship. No amount of spin on that attitude can generate any good reputation. Under these circumstances, there was no question of managing a reputation. It had to exist to start with!

    Nicole Price’s last blog post..Discount Lingerie

  • http://thisismyurl.com Christopher Ross

    A few weeks back, my boss walked into my office while I was looking over some paperwork. On the monitor behind me was a financial report about him, specifically his latest contributions to the Republican party. Needless to say, he was concerned both how and why I had this information.

    I explained to him that I had an RSS news feed triggered to identify news, blog and web posts which mentioned his name and that information about him was common on the Internet. It’s funny, this man runs multi-million dollar companies but had never stopped to consider how much information about him was on the internet.

    Christopher Ross’s last blog post..Google Changes the Way SERP’s are Displayed

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Christopher a great example of why everyone should check their Google reputation often. ;-)