As a car guy, I have always had this weird interest in car dealerships and the car buying experience. I sometimes like to daydream about what it would be like if there was a dealership that you could walk into and talk to a true enthusiast who wasn’t just trying to sell you something, but rather act as a brand advocate. A magical dealership, where after sometime of talking to a knowledgeable person, agreeing on a fair price and purchasing your dream car, you left with a feeling like “That was fun, and if I have issues they got my back.” A place where your salesperson has a 95% chance of maybe even becoming your friend, because you both are so hardcore about the car you just dropped a year’s salary on.
Ok, to some this may sound kind of creepy, you’re expecting to make a new BFF at Frank’s Auto Plaza? Not exactly, but the point I’m trying to make is the automotive sales industry is often missing the most crucial point of why people buy cars from a dealership more than once. At the end of the day a Chevy Malibu at one place is probably the same as at another, but the difference is usually in how someone felt about the buying experience, not even so much the price. People want to feel like their dealership cares about them, not just their money. Let’s face it, if you love cars, you are emotional about them, they are more than a brick of metal with a bunch of moving bits. They also happen to be one of the most expensive possessions that you’re likely to own besides your house. Yet, many dealerships make you feel like you just bought a $20 egg mixer, and by the way, your sales guy could care less about cars and had to look up the specs on Google.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have had some great car buying experiences, but I’m always interested in discovering new dealerships and seeing how close they compare to my perfect world buying experience dreams. I discovered Bul Auto Sales, a dealership based out of Albany, NY, through following my cousin Jason on social media. My cousin had purchased 10 cars from this dealership, and they ranged from pretty everyday cars to some really high-end stuff like a 700hp Dinan tuned 7 series, a Maserati and most recently, a very sweet M3. It seemed like each year Jason would buy a new car from this mysterious dealership in Albany, so I reached out to him and asked, “What’s the deal with this place? Why are you so loyal?” He explained that the service he received was second to none and that the owners, Val Ranguelov and Jerry Arzoumanian, made you feel like family, not just a customer. In fact, he is now very good friends with Val. I later realized a mutual friend of ours, Rob Wilson, had a similar experience, so much so Rob ended up working for Val as a sales and service manager.
After such raving reviews, I had to see this place for myself, so I hopped on I-90 and headed to Albany to meet up with Val and check out his digs. Upon arriving, I was greeted by Val and my friend Rob. I could tell right away Val was the type of guy that everyone loves and if you don’t love the guy, you’re probably the issue. He was super friendly, energetic and smiling. Even though he was there on a Saturday afternoon, he seemed like he was on vacation. This guy clearly loved his job. He walked me down to the main sales floor and I immediately realized this place is pretty special. A beautiful Ferrari 458 Speciale resting in their show room, next to a Dodge Viper, Noble GT, and a Maserati Quattroporte. Beautiful large format prints of actual customer cars adorn the walls and each salesperson has their office decked out in automotive enthusiast goodies. Walking further through the showroom I noticed that this dealership wasn’t all supercars, there were also plenty of ‘normal’ cars like VW’s and Toyotas. Val explained they really tried hard to cater to a wide range of customers. They had the perfect car for anyone, their only criteria is that it must be a solid car, zero issues.
He then took me through their large service bay area were a Factory Five 427 Cobra and his personal e28 M5 were getting service. The shop was immaculate and I could tell that this great facility must have been new construction, which later I learned it was, and they had finished much of the restoration of the building very recently.
We then went to the front lobby area where the walls were covered top to bottom with eBay awards for perfect customer satisfaction scores through the years, which in the online car sales world, is not an easy task to achieve. He explained to me that much of his success was built through eBay sales and consistently delivering exactly what the customer wanted. It got to the point where people would blindly buy cars from Val because they just knew if it’s from Bul Auto, it’s right.
I asked Val how did he get into this business and where did his passion for cars start.
He explained to me that as a young boy living in Bulgaria, he was always into Ferraris. He later taught himself how to do auto body and mechanical work. Years later when he and his mother moved to the United States, he continued to work on cars. His wife, Nadia, even assisted him. His original shop, not far from the current shop, was a tiny little garage with barely room for 10 cars out front. In fact at one point Val joked about how they had to park many of the exotic cars they sold and serviced in the garages of surrounding houses to hide them because it was located in such a rough area. Times were really tough in the beginning and he and his wife worked extremely hard. He said if it wasn’t for his wife, he would have never made it. She helped with billing, customer service, body work and she even helped construct the new building that was built as a partnership between himself and long time friend from Bulgaria, Jerry Arzoumanian.
Val said the one thing he learned early on in the business was that in order to get a customer back, you have to truly care about them. He opened the drawer to his desk and pulled out a stack of thank you cards from customers with long antidotes about how great the service was and how much they loved working with Val. You could tell this guy was the real deal, a true car nut doing what he loved and his customers were clearly thankful.
“Sure, you occasionally will get a customer you just cannot make happy, no matter what you do, but 98% of people are great to work with and I enjoy selling a used Jetta as much as I do a McLaren P1. We pride ourselves on selling a customer what they need, not just what makes us money. If we don’t think something is worth it, we don’t offer it” said Val.
After spending the day with Val and Rob, I felt like I may have met my ‘dream dealership’ and it was proof that my thoughts hold true. Treat a customer right, make them feel special, and they will be back.