Used car dealer refutes stereotypes

Above All Auto Center owners Carl Grutzeck (left) and Jeff Rhodes check the paint on a car they are considering for sale.     - Charlie Bermant
Above All Auto Center owners Carl Grutzeck (left) and Jeff Rhodes check the paint on a car they are considering for sale.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

As a rule, used car dealers are about as universally admired as personal injury attorneys and newspaper reporters. But a this year’s model is one with a kinder, gentler persona and who gives back to the community.

“I’m in this business because I love people,” said Carl Grutzeck, co-owner of the new Above All Auto Center on Sedgwick Road in Port Orchard. “I’ve worked in customer service for a long time and know how to treat people, which is the exact way that I want to be treated.”

Grutzeck is a veteran of local car dealerships, working his way up at the Hazlewood Auto Group to a sales manager position.

He then decided to open his own dealership but postponed the action while he worked at Liberty Bay Auto Center in Poulsbo.

“It was a joint learning experience,” Grutzeck said of his time at Liberty Bay. “I taught them about customer service, and they taught me how to run a dealership.” 

Today, he says that Liberty Bay is the dealership he most wants to emulate.

Like Liberty Bay, the new dealership offers a 48-hour money back guarantee, in case of severe buyer’s remorse.

One difference is the absence of a service department. If a purchased car needs work, Grutzeck will outsource the repair to a local service center.

Most dealerships have proscribed service terms, offering guarantees for finite services or extra time for an additional cost.

Grutzeck has no such limits, but uses his judgment whether to pay for a specific problem. For instance, if a customer buys a car in February and finds out the air conditioner is defective, Grutzack will spring for the repair.

“In these cases I have an independent mechanic take a look at the car,” he said. “If it is something that we should have caught, we’ll fix it at our own expense.”

Above All gets its cars at the same place as other dealerships — auctions, repossessions and leased vehicles. Even so, its prices are lower.

“We don’t have a lot of overhead here,” Grutzak said. “So we pass the savings on to the customer.”

While Grutzak provides specific automotive experience, his business partner Jeff Rhodes comes from another sales sphere.

He comes to the new business after working 29 years for Albertsons in three Port Orchard locations.

Visitors to the dealership might be attracted by one car or another, but will be asked by the sales staff to define what automotive features suit their needs.

After this, they will be pointed toward something that fits the bill.

In another page borrowed from Liberty Bay, those customers who refer a sale will get a gift certificate at a local restaurant.

“A lot of dealerships give their referrals $50,” he said. “But it makes for a better experience to give a gift certificate to a nice local restaurant. I want people to buy local from me, so I should do the same thing for them.” 

Grutzack wants to get the customer into the right car today, but doesn’t perceive a drawback if someone visits the lot and does not immediately buy a car.

He is also investing in the community, literally. This year, the dealership is saving $100 from each sale, and will donate that money to a charity during the holiday season.

“We don’t want to sell just one car to someone,” he said. “We want people to become customers for life. And we are not going to sell just any car. As far as safety goes, I will not sell a car that I would not buy for my own daughter.”

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