"We try to approach dealer problems with an open mind. We want to be able to stand up in front of any dealer group and be able to say, 'Our distribution policies are fair. We gave you cars based on your sales in the previous 12 months.' We've been doing this ever since our cars have been in short supply — since 1959."
Bridge has also made an important contribution by helping Pontiac keep its car production closely geared to what's selling. One of the worst things an auto maker can do is to build too many of a poor-selling model, because eventually some dealer has to sell every last car. Bridge watches very carefully to see that production's kept in line with what's selling.
Since early this year, Pontiac and the other GM divisions have been keeping track of production, sales, and stocks on a daily basis by means of an IBM computer. Although each dealer makes a daily report on his sales, it's generally necessary to make production changes based on only 10-day or 30-day reports. An associate said that Bridge has an outstandingly good feel for the dealer operation.
Summing up his attitude toward dealers, Bridge noted, "Our dealers have a good feeling toward the whole Pontiac Division. They like their business, they like to work, and we like them. They're leading citizens in their communities. They're prosperous, and they often have interests in other businesses. Basically, our dealers are good organizers."
While Bridge indirectly supervises the merchandising activities of his dealers, he has direct responsibility for the activities of his sales staff in Pontiac, Michigan, and the Pontiac factory field organization, consisting of about 750 sales and service representatives, He's far more interested in whether a man does his job than precisely how he does it.
He noted: "Each man does the job in the way that best fits his personality and nature. I've always remembered what I was told many years ago, when I was first hired into this industry. My boss said, 'I'm interested in two things — how well you do your job and how much I have to untangle after you do it.' Another thing I've always told our sales people: 'It's impossible to sell a man you don't like, but you can sell a man who doesn't like you.' One of the principles that we've applied successfully over the years is to put a little faith in a man and help him develop a little confidence. You'll be amazed at how often he'll succeed."
Asked what makes a successful field man, Bridge said he has to understand the business, the dealer, and the retail problem. Most of the dealers in any line are small-town dealers, and the field man has to talk their language.
Helping Bridge run Pontiac's merchandising operation are three assistant general sales managers. They are E. R. (Pat) Pettengill in Pontiac, Ross Thompson in New York, and Thomas King in Chicago. They're in charge of the central office area, the Eastern area, and the Western area, respectively.
Also reporting to Bridge are the managers of the business management department, budget department, service department, advertising department, parts department, organization and analysis department, car distribution department, and sales promotion department. All these people report to Bridge. But Bridge spends a good bit of time circulating among the people in the Pontiac central office building and, if he has a problem, he just wanders down to their offices.
Imparting some sage GM philosophy, Bridge said, "All of our people have come out of our organization. We don't give the good jobs to outsiders. By promoting from within, you really build loyalty in an organization. This is what makes GM great. You can't go out and hire talent, because you kill your own talent. If a guy knows there's an opening up ahead, he'll really work to earn it."
As a member of the Pontiac factory team, Bridge works closely with and gets good cooperation from other members of the team in engineering, manufacturing, and other departments. He said there's been close cooperation between sales and engineering and that they've been very cooperative in letting him have his say about future cars. But he doesn't try to get into this area too deeply.
An important factor in the design and improvement of Pontiac cars are the Product Information Reports sent in by Pontiac buyers and channeled through the sales department. In all sincerity, buyers are asked what they think of their cars. Bridge said that most people these days, especially the younger generation, aren't a bit reluctant to tell what they think. Besides providing valuable information to the factory, this also builds up a nice spirit among the owners, because they realize the factory's interested in them. He said that it was amazing how often some important modification or refinement in the cars originates with an old service manager who's come up with a good fix for his customers.
Touching briefly on Pontiac's styling, Bridge feels that Detroit's the most style-conscious city in the U.S. He's said, '... as you sell in Detroit, you'll sell nationally."
Still on styling, Bridge and other Pontiac sales executives are extremely aware of the importance of the youth market. "Young people have played an all-important role in our sales climb," Bridge says.
"To cash in on this market segment, we're constantly bringing out new sporty cars like the Bonneville, Grand Prix, Le Mans, and GTO. These models have great appeal to younger car buyers."
In a general comment on Pontiac's advertising, he said it's put the Pontiac Bonneville and Grand Prix in many backyards where the owners have had enough money to buy any car in the world.
Boiling down his thought on how the Pontiac is merchandised, Bridge says simply, "There are no great secrets. You've got to know your job and be on top of it. I don't sit here and keep dreaming up great ideas. All I know is that if you let the product go to pot, you've got troubles." /MT