Like most companies in 2020, Groupe Beaucage faced challenges with the arrival of the pandemic. “We had to reinvent ourselves,” says founder and president Daniel Beaucage, who started his group of car dealerships in Sherbrooke, Que., in 1992. “With the dealerships closed, we instantly had to try to sell cars online. It was a scary time, but we’re much better today than we were this time last year — we’re much more focused.”
What makes selling cars online tricky is that it cuts out one key element. “There’s emotion in buying a car — people want to touch it, they want to sit in it,” says Beaucage. In fact, people often have their mind made up before they get to the dealership, then have a complete change of heart when they see the cars in person. “I’d say 40 per cent of people end up buying something they didn’t think they would buy when they came in.”
That rate used to be closer to 65 per cent, but it has come down in the past few years, he says, thanks to the wealth of information online — people are a lot more savvy. Groupe Beaucage is contributing to that knowledge with its own YouTube channel, AutoPassion. “We have an in-house journalist who tries the car,” says Beaucage. “He’ll test-drive it in snow, dirt or other conditions so people learn more about what they want to buy.”
While customers have been returning to the dealerships during periods when they’ve reopened, some people are still opting to make their purchase online. The catch is that it’s illegal in Quebec to sign car-purchase paperwork at a customer’s house — it has to be done at the dealership. The CCAQ (Quebec’s automobile dealers’ association) is working to change that. “While we were in the pandemic, the consumer protection office accommodated us for a couple of months, but the law has to change,” says Beaucage.
One of the reasons the company fared reasonably well through the pandemic, Beaucage believes, is its dedicated team of 650 employees. Aside from trying to foster a family-like environment, he has a reliable way of ensuring his people are invested in the company’s success. “I have a partner in every dealership,” he says. “They can buy up to a 20 per cent [share in their dealership]. I share the wealth with them, and it’s helped me to grow.”
It’s been 35 years since Beaucage bought into his first dealership with $10,000 and almost 30 since he founded the company, and he has no plans to stop any time soon. “I’ll stay on as long as I can,” he says. “I love it. Every morning, I wake up and I want to work. I want to win. I want to be better.”