As a youngster, Brad Benson remembers watching how salesmen pitched deals and cars zoomed off the lot at his uncle’s used-car business. But the Super Bowl champ never thought he would follow in his uncle’s footsteps, particularly after spending 10 years as a pivotal playmaker with the New York Giants.
“It just kind of happened,” explains Benson, who was an offensive lineman for the Giants and now owns the Brad Benson Auto Group in South Brunswick. “I always loved cars. They were always an interest of mine. I enjoyed selling, and I thought that was cool.”
Now, every day is game time, he says — he works to tackle the competition, win loyal customers, and continually build a successful dealership.
Benson will share his secrets to success during “Winning Super Bowls, Winning Customers: What B2B Marketers Can Learn from a Super Bowl Champion,” hosted by the Business Marketing Association of New Jersey on Tuesday, November 10, at 6 p.m. at Pines Manor in Edison. Cost: $65. Visit www.bma-nj.org.
Benson, 53, has been a go-getter since he was child growing up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where his father worked in road construction and his mother was a housewife. He began playing football in 7th grade, and by 10th grade, he dreamed of playing in the NFL.
Benson played college football at Penn State, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. He entered the NFL draft in 1977 and was picked up by the New England Patriots; he later played for the New York Giants from 1978 to 1988, helping the team win Super Bowl XXI — the one with the missed last-second field goal attempt by the Buffalo Bills — in 1986 and landing a spot in the Pro Bowl that same year.
After spending more than a decade as a pro football player, Benson began looking at new career options. He considered teaching or possibly coaching but ultimately decided to continue to grow his car dealership business. His Hyundai dealership is second in sales out of 800 nationwide.
But he’s not all work and no play, he says. His other passion is RainbowRun Farm in Hillsborough, an equine-sport farm where he also raises cattle. He also enjoys spending time with his family, including his wife, Lisa, and children, Destiny, a high school sophomore; Clint, a high school senior; and Tyler, who is the service director at Brad Benson Auto Group.
Off the field. Making the transition from playing a pro sport to a second career is no easy task, and with the wrong move, you can go as awry as an errant field goal. Just check out Deion Sanders’ brief rap career or Magic Johnson’s now-defunct late-night TV talk show for proof.
Benson says he was able to make a successful transition by applying several of the lessons he learned from football to his new career as a car dealer. Those playmaking lessons, he says, include harnessing healthy competition, continually striving to be the best in the business, and creating a sense of camaraderie among his staff.
“My football career gave me a lot of the people skills that I use today,” he says. “And I still have a real competitive spirit, a very competitive spirit. I always want to be the best.”
The keys to success. Finding and selling great products has long been Benson’s main key to success, he says. If those products can weather a down economy, even better, he says.
“Look at franchises like McDonalds,” Benson says. “It’s a recession proof, alternative, low-cost way of eating. Sometimes it’s better to pay up front for a good product and market it well because it’s hard to market something that’s not a good product.”
Beyond that, he says, perseverance, superior organization, and a little luck will also help attract and maintain a solid, loyal customer base, particularly in the automotive industry, where cars are largely considered a long-term investment.
“It’s not a question of winning over customers. It’s a question of presentation and having a good sales product,” Benson says. “We just don’t present something to customers and hope they buy a car. We present the cars in an organized way, with the correct inventory, with enough of a selection and good pricing.”
“We are a process-driven dealership,” he says. “We know organizational skills are paramount. It’s A-B-C. Our sales people have to follow a successful sales model, and there’s a process that goes with making an offer. That’s all talked about way before a customer comes in.”
Marketing your business. To get the most bang for their buck, business owners must know how to effectively market their product, Benson says.
In his case, he spiked all boring ideas and instead had his team create a marketing campaign built around zany-themed, sometimes satirical television and radio ads. One ad parodied former New York governor Elliot Spitzer, who resigned last year after a sex scandal, and another featured former football great Lawrence Taylor. The memorable ads, Benson says, have created a cult following, produced significant buzz, and attracted business — exactly the outcome he was hoping for.
“We knew we needed to find a marketing style that was totally different than other people,” he says. “Now that doesn’t mean it’s going to work. That was just the first part of developing marketing. The purpose was to cut through the clutter and have something to set us apart.”
Benson, who relies heavily on radio advertisements, believes marketing will always remain one of the best business tools. However, he has noticed how marketing is changing due to technological advancements, and he encourages business owners to stay aware of marketing trends.
“The future of marketing is all going to be electronic,” he says, adding business owners should take notice of the hyper-local marketing opportunities becoming available on the Internet. “It’s going to get to the point where the servers and Yahoo, Google, and some of the bigger search engines will allow advertisers to market by zip code.”