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Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land is building customer loyalty and making roads safer at the same time.
Since 2014, the Texas dealership has sent more than 260 teenagers through a driving safety school that uses an array of Mercedes vehicles to teach various maneuvers.
The initiative started as a perk for dealership clients’ children as part of a VIP benefits program, but it was expanded in 2019 to include the local Clements High School as the store made the experience available to those outside its customer base for the first time.
The training has been a hit with Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land clients in the dealership’s “First. Class. Access.” program, which is built around a package of lifestyle sweeteners. Besides the teen driving school, these customers get offers through businesses such as travel concierge services, member pricing at a spa and special rates at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in the Bahamas, to name a few.
“We pitch it as taking care of our clients inside and outside of our dealership,” said Derek Brown, the store’s vice president of marketing. “I definitely think it’s a retention tool. It’s definitely a loyalty component.”
Clements High is the alma mater of Kory Enders, an IndyCar driver who went through the safety course as a teen. He is the son of the dealership’s owner, Kenneth Enders.
Kory Enders covers the costs for half of the Clements students, while the dealership covers the rest.
The teens learn skills such as reversing, evasive lane changes and braking adjustments at the MSR Houston racing facility. The dealership says the exercises show the students safe-driving and accident-avoidance techniques and let them experience extreme situations in a controlled environment.
Enders is among a number of professional drivers who work with the students. The dealership holds four sessions each year — one for Clements and the others for the families of its clients in the access program.
“The benefit is we have happy parents, we have safe drivers, smarter drivers and we have gratitude from our clients, so there’s an intangible benefit,” Brown said. “They know that we are sincerely vested in the safety of their families and, specifically, their children.”
The training starts in the morning with classroom instruction before students get behind the wheel. Brown said the students, while donning Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land shirts, are taught about seating position, hand and mirror placement, vision and awareness.
Over the years, some students shared during introductory portions of the class that they had been in rollover accidents. While the driving school is supposed to be fun, Brown said these episodes underscore the importance of the lessons being taught.
The dealership, which sold more than 2,000 new and used vehicles in 2021, has reached out to other area high schools about getting involved in the program.
Brown said the driver training shows that dealerships can have a reach beyond just selling vehicles. The program also provides time to chat with parents who are looking on while their teens are taught new techniques.
“It feels good to do something right as a dealership, to kind of break the stereotype,” Brown said.
“There’s the perception that we’re all just trying to sell cars. This is one of those opportunities where we get to stand outside with parents all day and talk to them and learn about their passion for the cars, or their driving experiences.”