STAFF PROFILE: ARIS WOOLFOLK
This month, Aris Woolfolk — a longtime friend of ours whose family, the Hudgins, has been in dealership business for generations — stepped into the role of General Manager for VADA. In that capacity, she serves the needs of Richmond-area dealer members and works with VADA field representatives throughout the Commonwealth, who serve the needs of dealers in their respective regions.
In addition, Aris oversees and will help build on VADA’s Partner Programs, those critical affiliations with dealer vendors that help the Association maintain low dues and offer exceptional training and educational opportunities. “I’m going to be working directly with people at the companies we partner with to make sure we don’t have issues in the stores,” says Aris, who replaces Jason Wilson, who stepped up to fill the role as President and CEO of the Kentucky Automobile Dealers Association in December. “I’m also going to make a big push to try to meet most of the dealers and ride with some of our field representatives.”
Aris comes to VADA from Holiday Chevrolet Cadillac in Williamsburg, which her father, Art Hudgins, recently sold. She served as the dealership’s marketing director, and for a time also ran the service department. We recently interviewed Aris in her second week on the job in late January.
You’re coming to us from the car dealer business on the frontlines. Tell us about your time at Holiday and working in the family business.
I went to work for my dad about 10 years ago, and even attended the National Automobile Dealers Association Academy to learn the ins and outs of the industry. When I went to NADA, I kind of fell in love with the service-side of the business. The way the industry is now, you have way more control and way more room for growth in service than you ever will in sales because the manufacturer controls so much of your margin on new cars, and how you get paid back on your incentives. Everything about this job at VADA is everything I love. Knowing a lot of the people at VADA makes the transition a lot easier.
You weren’t just marketing director at Holiday. You ran the service department, too. What was it like for you there?
I was 100% in the trenches. From the start, I told the technicians that I wasn’t mechanically inclined. But I told them, “I’m going to support you. I want to understand your work, but I can’t do it.” I spent at least three hours a day in the shop with the technicians. Getting to know the technicians and what they're great at makes it a lot easier to figure out who needs training, and who you invest in. That also made it easier for me to understand their work. I knew how to write service. I still do. And in a smaller store like we had, you work on a little bit more of a shoestring. There was no ivory tower at our dealership. If the cashier doesn’t show up, you step up and cash out tickets. I didn’t sit in the office much.
In your own view, what are the primary trends driving the future of the retail auto industry?
There are so many moving pieces right now: the Carvanas of the world, Tesla kind of as its own entity, and now this major push for electric vehicles. Your standalone dealers are phasing out, and you’re having more dealers who have five, six, seven rooftops. It’s a double-edged sword, because the big guys are the ones who struggle to make buying cars convenient for customers. That’s what Carvana and companies and savvy entrepreneurs are able to capitalize on, because they make it easier for the customer. When the car dealers are smaller, they understand how to make the experience easier for the customer. The bigger dealers are going to have to change their mindset because you’re never going to get someone “in the box” for hours anymore, especially after COVID-19 has improved things like at-home delivery and online paperwork. As times evolve, Carvana will succeed with that mindset of “putting a coin in a vending machine.” So we have to ask ourselves: How can we change what we’re doing, so we’re making car buying easy for customers?
At VADA, we worked every day in 2020 to understand and follow the COVID regulations and share information with dealers. But as someone who was actually in the dealership, how did Virginia’s COVID restrictions and Governor’s orders impact your work selling and servicing cars?
Customers were mad because someone wasn’t wearing a mask. Or they were mad because you’re asking them to wear a mask. These were not my rules, we just had to enforce them, or the state would shut us down. Your expenses also went up because of having to pay someone to do all this cleaning. And you have to buy all those supplies. The cost of business went through the roof. You saw fewer people, fewer customers, fewer people getting service, because even people who are not afraid to come in aren’t on the road as much because most everyone is working from home. So they’re not having their vehicle serviced. We did the best we could.
What can be done in Virginia to ensure a more level playing field for franchise dealers?
A lot of that is going to have to do with some of the manufacturers. There are some manufacturers that want to make it difficult to do business, such as getting inventory. Say a customer orders a car. We tell them it’ll be here in the next 60 days, but turns out it takes 120. That makes it difficult for dealers to level the playing field to compete with CarMax and Carvana. The dealers bring so much to the table for the community, sponsoring little leagues and raising money for local causes and things like that, and I think once consumers start remembering those things, that will also level the playing field.
What lessons are you bringing from being in a dealership to VADA?
VADA brings so much to the table for dealers. Like a dealership, it is a well-oiled machine and every job at every level is important to ensure the organization is successful. I’ve experienced that firsthand. I did so many different things at my father’s dealership. I have so much respect for the job that each person does. Every individual plays a role and supports the other. The smallest person who someone may not think is important is just as important as person in charge.