Stephen “Woody” Woodring never meant to spend his whole life working at Buick dealerships. It just kind of happened that way.
His mother told him to go get a job in the summer of 1970 so he wouldn’t spend his entire time off from school around the house. As fate would have it, the position of lot boy at Bill Stillwell Buick in Downers Grove would prove crucial to his future.
Auto BiographyWoody Buick/GMC
Woodring turned this part-time position into a 46-year career that culminated in ownership of Woody Buick/GMC for the last 18 years, including the last three years in Naperville.
Suffice to say, Woody, as he prefers to be called, has seen it all in the automobile business, including two severe recessions: one in the mid-1970s and the last downturn that began in 2008, when many dealers ended up going out of business. Through it all, Woody has remained focused on one thing: providing the best possible service to his customers.
“I’m 100 percent focused on customer satisfaction as that’s what keeps customers coming back,” Woodring said. “It’s not about selling cars at the lowest price possible, but (rather) giving customers exactly what they expect.”
Pride emanates from “Woody” as he walks through his facility. It doesn’t matter whether he refers to the women staffing the phones in the Business Development Center — his leasing manager, Mary Froehlich, who has worked for him for 31 years — or his son, Chris, the dealership’s used car manager, Woodring points out how each person is essential to Woody Buick/GMC’s success.
“We pride ourselves on low personnel turnover,” he said. “You don’t get the GM Dealer of the Year five years running by having a high turnover.”
Woodring is quick to give credit to everyone who has been instrumental in his professional life, beginning with Bill Stillwell, who helped him move up through the ranks at his store, to his current partner, Jay Marten, who helped provide financing to purchase Village Buick/Pontiac when it became available for sale in 2013.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my key people,” Woodring said.
In his journey with the Buick brand, Woodring said Bill Hartigan of Heritage Cadillac was instrumental in helping him establish the first Woody Buick dealership in Bensenville in 1998. Having worked for Hartigan previously at Thomas Buick, Hartigan contacted Woodring when he was general manager at Roland Gartner Buick, at a time Woodring characterizes as an opportunity to grow and build his career. Hartigan prompted Woodring to return to Bensenville and became a partner in the first Woody Buick dealership.
“We flourished as a single-brand dealership until GM decided that all dealerships needed more than one brand to survive,” Woodring said.
The move to Elgin in 2006 proved difficult as the market there was suffering as the Great Recession took shape. Thus, when the Naperville opportunity became available in 2013, Woody jumped at the chance.
After moving to Naperville, he took the advice provided by GM and established a Business Development Center, which handles all telephone calls related to sales and service appointments. The BDC improves overall service as service department employees no longer are interrupted by outside calls when dealing with customers in the dealership, speeding up mechanical service. Similarly, the BDC follows up on sales appointments by discovering what the dealership can do to make a sale. Such information has proved invaluable to the dealership, while also freeing salespeople to concentrate on the sale at hand.
“It’s not just about answering phone calls,” Woodring said regarding the BDC. “It’s about answering questions and setting follow-up appointments. I’m glad we took that advice as the BDC has been responsible for an approximate 40 percent increase in sales month-to-month over the previous year.”
Although Woody Buick/GMC is not the flashiest dealership on the stretch of Ogden Avenue that boasts such high-end brands as Maserati and Mercedes-Benz, the store boasts the usual accoutrements found in today’s dealerships, including a comfortable waiting room with refreshments, state-of-the-art service bays, Quick Lube Lane, etc. Through it all, Woody keeps emphasizing the service customers receive, pointing out the valet service his various dealerships have offered for 25 years. When calling for a valet service appointment, a Woody representative will come to a customer’s home or business to pick up a vehicle and drop off a similar one that can be used while the customer’s vehicle is being repaired.
The customer vehicle is repaired to specifications and then is washed and vacuumed before it is returned. The valet service has traveled as far as eastern Iowa, southern Wisconsin and parts of Indiana to pick up and service customer cars.
Woodring remains excited about Buick’s future, giving GM executives credit for having the vision to build many of the vehicles that now grace Buick showrooms. Among the vehicles he likes are the Buick Cascada convertible, the restyled LaCrosse and a new crossover SUV called Envision.
“This (the Envision) alone should increase our volume 25 percent,” Woody said. “Buick and GMC are a combination of two winning brands. The GMC truck line is all premium.”
He also sees Buick and GMC continuing to build on the strength of products the manufacturer has developed since the recession.
“We’re bringing people back who haven’t looked at a Buick in a long time,” Woody said.
Having been in the new car business so long, Woodring is well-established with local charities. The dealership works with Naperville Responds for Our Veterans and works frequently with Naperville Settlement, sponsoring many of the organization’s annual activities. Woody Buick also recently signed on to help Benet Academy with the school’s athletic and cultural needs.
“When it comes to helping out the community, if it’s a fruitful event, we do it,” he said.
Along the way, Woody got married and raised six children with his wife, Patti. The couple has lived in Lisle for more than 30 years. He also enjoys playing golf and spending time with their seven grandchildren.
Although Woody is always quick to point out how valuable his employees are to his success, he also indicates that he takes care of a lot of general tasks for the dealership himself, such as advertising, so his employees can concentrate on their jobs.
“I also tell customers that if they are not satisfied with something they should come to me personally,” he said.
The one person who has had the biggest impact on Woody throughout his career is Stillwell, the man who gave him that first job as a lot boy. He continues to carry around a copy of Stillwell’s “Ten Demandments” — sayings that Stillwell believed pertained to good business. Woody carries a copy on his cellphone, photographed from an old piece of paper that appeared to be produced many years ago on a manual typewriter.
As he repeated one saying after another, Woody indicted that he uses them all the time, but possibly the last one embodies his business:
“Don’t kick if I kick. If you’re worth correcting, you’re worth keeping. I don’t waste time cutting specks out of rotten apples.”
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