Mike Miller Auto Park
Mike Miller is not your average automotive dealer. For starters, he is the first generation in his family to go into the car business – a rarity in an industry dominated by family succession. Furthermore, his management style is remarkably hands-on. He can be found in his office every day, and prefers to be made aware of all deals that occur in his store. “We’re a very engaged dealership,” says Miller, who is the president of Mike Miller Auto Park in Peoria, Ill. “We only have about 50 employees, so we’re a family.” His tight-knit approach doesn’t stop at his personnel. The first thing he says to a new customer after his or her first car purchase is, “Welcome to our family.”
It’s no surprise then, that Miller’s entrance into the automotive world was equally unconventional. “I never dreamed I would be in the car business,” he says. After graduating from college in Chicago, Miller moved down to Miami, FL to sell Mack trucks. During this time, he became friends with a car dealer named Joe O’Brien. Joe convinced Miller to move back to Illinois, offering him the position of a sales manager at his new Mitsubishi store in Bloomington. Miller couldn’t refuse the offer. “I’m a Midwest guy,” he says. “I missed the changing seasons.”
A few years later in 1992, O’Brien asked Miller to operate his Peoria store, Joe O’Brien Auto Park, which had been open for three years. “I was only supposed to stay for a month or so,” Miller says. However, the store started to see significant growth under his management, and he decided to stay on as general manager and plant his roots in Peoria. Under O’Brien’s guidance, he learned the ropes of the automotive business and built a solid network in the community. In 2007, after a 20-year partnership, they both decided it was time for Miller to take full ownership of the Auto Park – which included a Hyundai, Kia and Mitsubishi franchise. “It was a mutual agreement. I had a long run. It was time to go out on my own,” Miller says. “Joe deserves all the credit. Most people don’t get this kind of opportunity, especially if they don’t have family in the business.”
Today, Mike is quick to point out that he has a lot of family in the business. “My employees and customers are my family,” he says. “We have close relationships.” The dealership, which has been renamed Mike Miller Auto Park, is a staple in the community. Many of his customers are friends, and his commercials have become a local hit, bearing the famous jingle, “Mike Miller Minute.”
His high regard for his customers and the community is also carried out by his employees. His store’s sales satisfaction scores currently rank sixth in the nation for Mike Miller Hyundai and second in the region for Mike Miller Kia.
Mike’s loyalty also extends to his dealership’s F&I provider, JM&A Group. The store has been offering JM&A-administered products and services since the ’90s – before Miller was at the helm. “I’ve seen firsthand what JM&A has done for our group. When I went off on my own, there was no question: I was going to stick with them,” he says, adding that their profits spiked immediately.
During tricky times – Miller has come to depend on JM&A Group’s compliance programs and comprehensive menu process. These practices have allowed his dealership to earn a significant per-car profit for the past several years.
After five successful years of being on his own in the car business, Miller says the biggest change is not having that safety net that came with working for someone else: “Now I’m on my own. It’s my name, my reputation and my relationship with the customer. I enjoy it.” However, he still relies heavily on past experiences when planning for the future success of his store. Not surprising, he maintains a close relationship with his friend and mentor, Joe O’Brien, who owns several dealerships in the Midwest.
“Joe always told me, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’ “ Miller says. “I still follow that rule every day.”
Jan 1, 2012