3rd March, 2015 · Profile

The Community And The Dealer

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In this article

An Australian Role Model: Richard Rolfe OAM

If there was ever an exemplary example of the good that can be achieved from being an active and contributing community member, it would be Richard Rolfe.

Every year automotive Dealers collectively contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to their local communities – a generosity that goes largely unnoticed.
Local community is ingrained in the DNA of automotive Dealers.

Unlike many other businesses, a special kinship often exists between dealerships and the communities they serve; one that goes well beyond a transactional bond. In fact, there are simply not enough pages in this magazine to record the amazing stories we’ve heard from Dealers across the country and the unique experiences they’ve had with their customers and wider communities.

From supporting local clubs and charities, going the extra mile for customers in turmoil and participating in (or even creating) local initiatives for the greater good – the benefits Dealers gain from community contribution are two-fold.

Of course, increased business exposure is an obvious benefit; however this usually plays second-fiddle to the Dealer’s primary objective of giving back to the community and enacting positive change. Indeed, many automotive businesses substantially contribute their time, money and resources with little desire for self-promotion. However, it’s also no coincidence that these same businesses have enjoyed lifetime customers and operations for over 15, 20, 50 and even 100 years.

In the last issue of Automotive Dealer, we interviewed one of the country’s most successful automotive businessmen, John Hughes, whose relationship with local customers and community was astounding. ‘I’m the only Dealer in Australia that regularly runs double page ads in the press with unsolicited comments from satisfied customers’, he said. This determination to harness positive relationships with the community extends even further, through the various charities Hughes is a part of, like the 2014 John Hughes Big Walk which raised over $200,000 (and still counting) to support the cancer ward at the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children.

‘Many of Australia’s automotive dealers play an active role in the community that goes far beyond selling and servicing cars,’ said AADA CEO Patrick Tessier.

‘Dealership owners often live in the suburbs where their business operates, and of course employ people who almost always do as well. As such, dealership owners and staff have a strong sense of community, and so giving back is considered an important part of business.’

A recent survey from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) and Ally Financial supports this, in the context of their detailed survey into Dealer-community contributions in the U.S.

Amongst its findings, the report uncovered that ‘nearly 50 per cent of Dealers gave more than US$25,000 to non-profit organisations and charitable causes in 2013, with 13 per cent giving in excess of $100,000.’

And in terms of vehicle lending and donations, over US$4.5m worth of vehicles were contributed to charitable causes in 2014 alone.
These figures are all up on the previous year too. Whilst 65 per cent of new car dealers reported an increase in charitable contribution for 2013, this rose to 70 per cent last year.

And with 43 per cent of Dealers expecting to increase their contribution again in 2016, communities will continue to benefit in the millions.

‘Franchised new-car dealers are among the largest supporters of community-based programs and charitable organisations in most towns across the country,’ according to NADA President Peter Welch. ‘New-car dealers support their local communities in many ways—from creating well-paying jobs, generating significant revenue in taxes to providing other economic benefits. It’s difficult to keep track of the level of charitable involvement because so many dealers do not seek publicity or recognition.’

As we’ve already touched on, community involvement by Dealers is usually centred on the suburbs or area that they operate in. This was supported by the results of the survey which showed that 90 per cent of Dealers made contributions that directly benefited local charities and organisations.

‘Dealers see the value of giving back in a variety of ways – from their businesses, to their communities’ said Tim Russi, president of Auto Finance for Ally.

An Australian Role Model: Richard Rolfe OAM

If there was ever an exemplary example of the good that can be achieved from being an active and contributing community member, it would be Richard Rolfe.

Over years, the Audi Centre Canberra and Rolfe Renault Dealer Principal has contributed enormous amounts of money and resources to organisations in his local community and beyond.

In fact, in 2009 he was officially recognised for his efforts, with a Medal of the Order of Australia bestowed on him for ‘service to the community of Canberra through philanthropic support for sporting, service and charitable organisations.’

Richard’s passion for community support is also shared by his wife Deborah, who despite leading a busy career of her own as a law firm partner has contributed generously to a number of causes.

Together, the dynamic duo has raised money and awareness for local schools and clubs, as well as larger organisations such as the Special Olympics, Lifeline, Soldier On and the Canberra Hospital Foundation. Richard is also the Patron of the Heart Foundation, not to mention a keen sports enthusiast.

Pictured far left: Australia's five Cross of Valour recipients all wearing Lifeline caps, attending the Opening of the Lifeline Book Fair on Friday 13th February. These five extremely brave Australians were specifically brought to Canberra for the first time ever to support Lifeline and the Heart Foundation as an initiative of Richard.
Pictured far left: Australia’s five Cross of Valour recipients all wearing Lifeline caps, attending the Opening of the Lifeline Book Fair on Friday 13th February. These five extremely brave Australians were specifically brought to Canberra for the first time ever to support Lifeline and the Heart Foundation as an initiative of Richard.
Pictured: Richard Rolfe with Treasurer Joe Hockey (holding AADA Submission) and Dr. Brendon Nelson at 2014 Lifeline charity function
Pictured: Richard Rolfe with Treasurer Joe Hockey (holding AADA Submission) and Dr. Brendon Nelson at 2014 Lifeline charity function

Actually, Richard’s enthusiasm for Australian sport is easily distinguished and the list of sports clubs and athletes he’s sponsored stretches from locals like the Canberra Capitals, Canberra Cavalry and Canberra Raiders – to Australian swimmers and athletes including Alicia Coutts and Melissa Breen.

So surely, with all of these extra commitments, Richard’s businesses are being put on the back burner?
Actually, Richard’s dealerships are thriving.

Audi Centre Canberra was awarded the coveted Provincial Dealership of the Year in 2007 and 2008 and then again in 2009, 2010 and 2011 after the dealership became a fully-fledged metropolitan operation.

In Richard’s own words from a speech delivered back in 2009:

‘When I took over the Audi franchise in October 2006, the local dealership had a local market share of less than 12 per cent and came a distant 4th behind BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. In 2007 Audi Centre Canberra won the national title of Dealer of the Year and backed that up again in 2008. This is the first time a Canberra dealer has won back to back national titles and our market share as at the end of February 2009 has risen from 12 per cent to 60 per cent… I cannot say that our support of sport was the catalyst for our dramatic growth, but it is definitely one of the major factors.’

When talking about the juggle of managing a busy dealership, along with community commitments, Richard says it’s all about being proactive and looking for opportunity.

‘Getting involved with the community is a great tool for building awareness around your business. As you meet with different charities and organisations, your network expands and new
opportunities arise.’

Richard, who’s been a part of the motor industry all his adult life, acknowledges that much of the good Dealers do can go unnoticed. ‘People may not realise how much dealerships do for the community… primarily as many Dealers don’t view this support as traditional marketing and therefore don’t promote their involvement.’

Whilst boastfulness may be considered unsavoury, Richard contends that ‘there is an expectation of companies to be good corporate citizens.’

This perhaps, is as good a motivation as any for Dealers contributing to their local community to take a more active role in spreading the news about their involvement.

As Tim Russi says ‘Auto dealers are leaders in their communities, and their giving often inspires others to make a difference as well…’