Can Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet harness its star power?

Mark Wahlberg and dealer principal Jay Feldman celebrate their dealership with staff members.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — It has a name with star power. Now, Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet needs to fuel that fame into car sales.

With new energy, processes and support from Feldman Automotive Group, employees at this large dealership are pumped to try to double or even triple sales from the level produced by the former Bobby Layman Chevrolet.

A visit last week from A-list Hollywood star and producer Wahlberg, who partnered with dealer Jay Feldman in July to buy the dealership, didn’t hurt.

“The energy level is way higher now, a lot of excitement brewing,” said Brian Gilmore, who became general manager of Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet on Aug. 1. He came from AutoNation Ford North Canton in northeast Ohio. Store employees know “this is going to impact our business when it comes to the name recognition, the traffic it’s going to generate. I think they all understand how big of an opportunity it is.”

While Wahlberg won’t be in Columbus too often, he said he will be involved and will have a presence in the dealership, which sold 200 new and used vehicles a month under previous ownership,

Case in point: Large TV screens in the service lounge and throughout the sales floor will allow Wahlberg to communicate with staff and customers.

“We’re going to do some cool stuff. … We’re creating this new technology called the virtual visitor, where at the press of a button, I can be on every screen of the store,” Wahlberg said. “We want to be as active as possible. We want to be here and be as visible as possible.”

The idea borrows from something Wahlberg does at his chain of Wahlburgers restaurants. Feldman, dealer principal of the Chevy store and CEO of Feldman Automotive Group, now with nine stores, called the system a giant FaceTime of sorts. It also will be used to give updates on Wahlberg’s life including his movies.

Taking advantage of Wahlberg’s social media popularity is part of the game plan, said Feldman, who met Wahlberg in 2013 in Detroit during the filming of the fourth installment of the Transformers movie series.

Going forward, Wahlberg and Feldman are interested in opening more dealerships together. They are looking for other locations, possibly in the Midwest.

The dealership will sell Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet merchandise ranging from T-shirts, hats and jewelry to key chains and license plate holders, Feldman said. And a Wahlburgers food truck will visit the store in the coming weeks to serve up burgers.

Fans also will be able to buy Mark Wahlberg customized vehicles complete with special logos stitched into floor mats and headrests.

“He’s going to autograph the car for the customer,” Feldman said.

Wahlberg got a chance to practice his car-selling chops on national TV last week in an appearance on the “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in which he took a stab at selling an Equinox to the host. “We have the best deals,” he told Colbert.



He also professed his love for Chevrolet, something he expanded on during his visit to the dealership.

“What better brand to be a part of. I love cars in general, so I’m a fan of a lot of different brands, but Chevrolet is such an iconic brand,” said Wahlberg, who once worked as a mechanic and tow truck driver and spent $200 on his first car — a 1979 Pontiac LeMans. I’ve “done a lot of stuff with them in the past, product placement and stuff like that in films, so hopefully there’s a great relationship to be had there in the future as well.”

Mark Wahlberg, left, and dealer principal Jay Feldman are looking to beef up sales and staffing.

Feldman wants to make Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet the top-selling Chevy store in Ohio. There’s a way to go — the store is in the Top 25 now, Gilmore said.

To increase sales, inventory is being added. Managers are migrating the dealership management system from Dealertrack to CDK Global.Feldman employees from Michigan stores are helping build in processes that had been absent around traffic management, customer follow-up and prospecting, Feldman Automotive COO Dave Katarski said.

The dealership, with just more than 100 employees, is looking to hire 15 to 20 service technicians and five to 10 sales reps, Feldman said.

Mark Wahlberg, right, standing with a staff member, created lots of buzz at the store.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from people,” he said. “People know [the dealership has] been sold to an experienced owner-operator. Obviously, Mark’s fame does not hurt.”

Wahlberg said providing the customer with an experience and the best customer service is key. He likened the dealership to the Wahlburgers business.

“The celebrity factor can drive people to the doors,” Wahlberg said. “But it’s the customer experience that our staff and employees provide that keeps people coming back.”

Justin Luckett, a salesman at the store since December, said the new owners have helped revive its energy. Customer traffic has increased tremendously, and he expects that to grow even more once advertisements kick off.

And is more traffic helping with sales?

“Absolutely,” said Luckett, who was able to get a picture with Wahlberg during his visit. “I’m doing great. I was doing great before. I’m doing great now. I believe it’s just the work ethic. You have to have a sense of self-motivation in the car business.”

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