By Wendy Baker | Photo by Jessica McCafferty
Annie and Shea Brennan opened Brennan Buick GMC on Route 3 in Plattsburgh in December of 2021. Their partnership is visionary, innovative, and community focused.
An important aspect of the Brennans’ story as business owners is the amount of thought that went into their partnership before it began. Annie and Shea chose to go into business together, chose the car industry as the right area for them, and chose the Plattsburgh community as the right location. “We had worked together successfully as collaborators in the past, and Annie had grown up in the car industry. When we looked for locations, we were attracted to Plattsburgh right away because it reminded us of our home in New Brunswick, Canada. It had the same community feel that we loved and a great work force,” explained Shea.
“Moving with our two toddlers to a different country where we didn’t know anyone so we could start Brennan Buick GMC was the biggest risk we’ve ever taken,” explained Annie. “It turned out to be better than we could have ever imagined. Plattsburgh is our home and we’re so grateful to live here, work here and raise our family here.”
The Brennans found out their dealership would become a reality just nine months before they opened. Annie did the backend research while on maternity leave while Shea focused on other aspects of the work that needed to be done in order to be ready to open. “We tried to do a lot of things together, but as our opening date got closer, we found we needed to divide and conquer.
“Annie grew up in the business and has worked in every area. My experience was mostly on the variable operations — sales and finance — or what some people call the front of the house,” explained Shea. “Annie has spent most of her career focused on service and parts so she ran with that side of things when we started. We both shared the tasks of marketing and human resources.”
Monitoring daily financial operations and cash management has been the new learning curve for us as owners starting a new business,” added Annie. “It’s a never-ending task that is its own department. Now that we have a team built (our dream team), we can spend more of our time working on the business, fine-tuning processes and adapting to our customers’ needs.”
When the Brennans were looking for opportunities to own their own dealership, they narrowed their choice from a few options. “We studied each area to find out population sizes, what the economy was like and the type of amenities available,” Shea explained. “When we first heard about Plattsburgh, we explored the North Country Goodlife website sponsored by the North Country Chamber of Commerce and loved the tagline, ‘Why not live where others vacation,” which sounded really exciting to us.” explained Annie.
“The North Country community is a lot like where we came from. The towns we grew up in were much smaller than Plattsburgh. We loved the small town feel of Plattsburgh even with a larger population and way more amenities. The opportunities to network and get involved and how everyone collaborates is just out of this world. It would have taken us at least three to five years longer to meet this many people. Opportunities to network sponsored by the Chamber, joining Plattsburgh Noon Rotary Club, and the Adirondack Young Professionals Club. Everyone works together in order to help the area prosper,” Annie said.
One thing Brennan Buick GMC is doing is carrying a larger staff in order to accommodate both their employees and being open long hours to accommodate customers. “On the sales side of things, its common that you’re going to be working every Saturday,” explained Shea, “which isn’t always workable if people want to have a family life on the weekend. We’ve adopted a different staffing model to accommodate the personal needs of our employees.”
“We found that having a larger staff allowed us greater flexibility. We’ve really focused on making everyone’s job manageable by separating roles and responsibilities, creating a more consistent experience for customers and emphasizing a team approach for employees,” noted Annie.
At the heart of this work is the Brennans’ choice to work with Culture Index, a professional profile company that assists companies with hiring, employee development, and support strategies. “The first thing we did was profile ourselves, which really helped us be aware of our strengths and weaknesses and take our partnership to this new level,” said Annie. “It was really important for us to know what skills and strengths we would each be bringing to the business everyday as owners.” Understanding employees’ natural tendencies in the workplace has been a cornerstone of the Brennans’ ability to choose the right people for the right positions on their team through the hiring process. “Insights over instincts has been our approach to this work, which has really made a difference for us. Making a match between the skills and traits a job calls for and the person doing it has been really important.”
Performance mentoring groups with other car dealerships have also been instrumental to the success they’ve felt so far. “They remind us that we can’t boil the ocean. Just tackle one issue at a time,” noted Shea.
The last six months, compared to their first six months, has led the Brennans to get a lot more done, which feels good. They’ve filled key roles, built and trained their team, and implemented lots of processes. “Before we had a team in place we were always trying to catch up,” explained Annie, “but now it feels like we have our time back to focus on the business and look at the bigger picture. We’ve realized that we have to give some things up in order to move ahead.”
“We started with twenty-five employees and we’re up to fifty now, which gives us a lot more flexibility to focus on the growth of the business. We’re hoping to grow our part time workforce in the future to help fill any gaps that come up.”
Having spent this first year building their team and processes, with everyone in the right seat, trained, and empowered, the Brennans have found time for community involvement, support and networking.
“You’re either working in your business or on your business,” explained Shea. “When we were first getting started, we were totally in the business. Now we can focus on helping it grow. What’s really important to us is our ability to focus on our people. With good processes in place, we can focus on employee engagement events and really seeing and supporting our employees.
New enabling technologies and working with supporting vendors and partnerships with third parties are also on the horizon. “Everything needs to be data driven these days and partnerships with outside companies that used to be thought of as competitors are really important,” explained Shea.
According to Shea, the car industry has changed more in the last five years than in the previous fifteen. “The technology is endless. The data you can gather is endless. Lead generators, customer texting services and service industry digital assistance tools are really amazing aspects of our industry. These days, when we have to be away from a meeting, we can manage the entire business from our phones, which is certainly new.”
Managing a business and home partnership can be tricky at times, but the Brennans have thought of ways to navigate that intentionally. “Numbers don’t lie,” said Annie. “When we disagree, we always look at the numbers and let the numbers run our business. Getting our team built allows us to step back and work together to protect our staff and our business from any economic challenge that comes our way. We’re really looking forward to the future.”
Brennan Buick GMC
383 Route 3
Plattsburgh, NY 12901