Every business needs a North Star: a clear mission statement that keeps things pointed in the right direction. For Brent and Dwight Morgan, brothers and business partners, a moral guiding light is built right into to their company's name, Integrity Automotive Group.
You might know the brothers from their ubiquitous televisions spots in which they recite the "Integrity Promise" to "do the right thing (the) first time, this time, every time." OK, maybe the promise is a bit redundant — "every time" should cover it, right — but you get the picture. The Morgans want their customers to trust them enough to become repeat buyers, the life-blood of automotive dealerships. And, indeed, GM's internal surveys of customer satisfaction show the Integrity stores get top marks in both sales and service categories.
The Morgan's two dealerships on automotive row near Shallowford Road are Integrity Chevrolet, said to be one of the fastest-growing start-ups in GM history; and the Integrity Cadillac, Buick, GMC showroom cluster just a stone's throw away. Both dealerships have benefited from the booming sales of full-size trucks and SUVs, a trend being driven by low gas prices and historically low interest rates.
Automotive retailing in the 21st century has been transformed by chain ownership, yet the Morgans are swimming against the current. By building a small network of family-owned showrooms they are betting that community roots still count for something in a business that has been reshaped by consolidation and digital marketing. The brothers say they are looking to expand their company's footprint if the right opportunity comes along.
Meanwhile, the Morgans have hit paydirt with the Chevy store, which is enjoying the sales surge associated with GM's bow-tie brand. GM says Chevrolet has gained retail market share in seven out of eight months so far in 2016, and remains the industry's fastest growing full-line brand.
Just think, less than a decade ago during the Great Recession, GM was on life support. (Chattanooga now supports two thriving Chevrolet stores, including Integrity Chevrolet and the Mountain View Chevrolet dealership on East 20th Street.)
Meanwhile, the Morgan's Cadillac, Buick, GMC store on International Drive has also clicked with "made-in-America" buyers, offering such desirable products as the new, Spring Hill, Tennessee-made Cadillac XT5 crossover and GMC's popular line of trucks and SUVs. So far in 2016, Buick retail deliveries are up 3 percent, as well, according to GM.
The Morgan brothers came to the car business from different routes. Dwight Morgan, 58, the older of the two siblings and the general manager of Integrity Chevrolet, worked for American General Insurance Company for 25 years before joining Brent Morgan, 55, at the now-defunct local Saturn dealership. (GM shuttered the Saturn brand in 2010.)
Brent, president of Integrity Automotive Group, is an automotive business "lifer" who started working for Chattanooga auto entrepreneur Nelson Bowers at Village Imports BMW, Volvo on Brainerd Road in the mid-1980s. He later moved to Gainesville, Georgia, to work at a Nissan store there, and then returned to Chattanooga to work at an Infiniti/Jaguar dealership here. Later, Brent jumped to Saturn of Chattanooga and ran it as a GM-owned property before he and Dwight purchased the dealership together in 2003.
EVOLUTION OF A PARTNERSHIP
The Morgans were two of six children of Dan and Bobbie Morgan, both deceased. The boys were born in Knoxville but moved to Chattanooga at ages 15 and 12, respectively, when their father was transferred to Chattanooga while working for the Interstate Life Insurance Company. The family resided in the Hurricane Creek area of East Brainerd and attended the Spring Creek Baptist Church in East Ridge.
The brothers pursued separate career paths until 2003, when Brent convinced older-brother Dwight to leave the insurance business and join him at the Chattanooga Saturn store, which was one of the car company's model dealerships at the time.
"I was 45 at the time and thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," Dwight explains.
Brent and his father were pursuing the Saturn store purchase together. Then, a day before he died unexpectedly, Dan Morgan told his two sons they should do the deal together.
"It was almost providential," says Brent. "He said, 'You should do this with Dwight.' And, 'it will be a lot bigger than just Saturn.'"
The 2000s were a period of transition in the automotive business both locally and nationally. After GM shut down Saturn, the Morgans, perhaps because of their good work with the local Saturn store, were positioned well when the Cadillac, Buick, GMC franchises became available here in 2010. For a time, Chattanooga had only one Chevrolet dealership, but the Morgans were granted a second franchise in 2013.
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
A lot of the original Saturn team, along with several of the Morgan children, now populate the two Integrity Automotive stores.
"While Dwight and I share the last name, we consider the whole team family," says Brent. "We have watched them grow up. We talk about it a lot; we want to be a stabilizing factor in the lives of the people who come to work here every day."
To prove their "Integrity" promise is working, the brothers point to their A-plus Better Business Bureau rating and their average 95-percent customer satisfaction rating across their GM auto lines.
"We've never been in legal action, never been sued," Brent explained.
Still, the brothers are not content to rest on past accomplishments. The Cadillac, Buick, GMC store has just undergone a $2.3 million renovations, and the Chevrolet dealership is about to benefit from a $1.5 million face-lift.
True to their Baptist roots, the Morgan brothers believe that a higher power has had a hand in their business success.
"We don't do anything without God," says Brent. "We can look back and there are these Ebenezer moments when we can say: God had a hand in that. He directed our steps."
Sometimes those "steps" included taking a walk together outside their showrooms to make important executive decisions together. "Doing the right thing," it seems, includes applying faith and family virtues that are called forth when the brothers confer to make the right call "the first time, this time, every time."
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