Former linebacker for the New York Giants Jessie Armstead is used to being at the forefront of where the action is—whether it’s at a sports arena or an auto dealership showroom. As the co-owner of National Automotive Management L.L.C., the parent company of Hamilton Honda, an auto dealership based in Hamilton, N.J., the ex-footballer has a penchant for turning nearly whatever he touches into gold.
Hamilton Honda is one of 8 dealerships—(2 in New Jersey, 4 in Pennsylvania and 2 in Michigan)—Armstead owns with longtime friend and business partner Mike Saporito. In March, Hamilton Honda was awarded the 2018 Consumer Satisfaction Award by DealerRater, the world’s leading car dealer review website. Among other things, the web- site ranks dealerships based on the number of favorable online approval ratings—with five out of five stars being a stellar and superior rating. Hamilton Honda averaged 4.8 stars with more than 1,430 total reviews—an average higher than any other auto dealership in the country. The award marks the fourth consecutive year the dealership achieved the national ranking for providing outstanding customer service.
The dealership has already earned American Honda’s Motor Company’s President’s Award and various community service awards. And last year, Hamilton Honda was named Black Enterprise Magazine’s Dealership of the Year.
Armstead retired from playing active professional football in 2007. During his tenure with the NFL, Armstead played for the Giants, the Washington Redskins and the Carolina Panthers. He eventually retired from the Giants, helping the team win two Super Bowl Championships in 2008 and 2012. “I was a special consultant for the team and helped lead them to the championships,” he says. Armstead was inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor and has a Super Bowl Ring from the Giants Super Bowl XLII victory. “I’ve been fortunate to have won football championships and then come into the auto industry and partner with Honda,” he says.
For Armstead, the transition from professional athlete to business mogul and entrepreneur was about as skillfully executed as one of his many former scrimmages for the Giants. As a result of a marketing study by the Honda Corporation in the early 2000’s, it was determined the Hamilton, N.J. area was an inadequate and underserved area for Honda customers making it “an open point.” According to the report, Honda customers in the area were unable to have their Honda vehicles serviced locally. In addition, the study found customers were limited where they could purchase new or previously owned Hondas. Armstead and Saporito jumped at the opportunity to win the lucrative contract, by crafting a niche strategy based on the marketing report and competed for the bid against hundreds of other dealers throughout the country. “We went through the highly competitive and involved process,” he says. “We were finally awarded the dealership prime location,” he says. The two men broke ground on Hamilton Honda on what was once rustic New Jersey farmland in 2008. The dealership officially opened its doors a year later.
Armstead echos a familiar sentiment in many auto dealership circles. “You can’t be a dealer unless you’re a dealer,” he says—hinting at the notion that ownership of an auto dealership is a closed and exclusive sect. As for what sets Hamilton Honda above others, Armstead says he and Saporito regularly emphasize the importance of sterling customer service and advocate the team approach to a current staff of about 200 employees. For example, in a vivid display of promoting solidarity, Armstead says, “I brought out a big heavy chain and threw it on a conference table during a staff meeting and everyone jumped.” He adds, “This was my way of demonstrating that we are as strong as our weakest link and as a team we support the weak link to make our team stronger.”
Another aspect that has led to Hamilton Honda’s success, is its never-ending foray into cutting-edge technology to appease its customer base. For example, the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices on all of its automobiles was a pilot project for Hamilton Honda at its inception and has since become a staple in the business—with every vehicle on the lot being outfitted with RFID tags. The RFID tags work similarly to E-Z Pass and, among other things, digitally gathers and stores data-related information to the vehicle, as well as the customer. “The technology allows us to track the servicing history of the vehicle, maintenance, car wash and service upgrades,” Armstead says. He adds by using seamless technology effectively and with some discretion, RFID is a powerful marketing tool that is not too intrusive and doesn’t infringe on privacy—a frequent criticism by consumers regarding the widespread use of unsolicited business text messaging. “We respect our customers’ needs,” he says. “We don’t use text messaging for marketing purposes.”
Finally, Armstead, who has been married to his wife for 34 years and has two daughters in college, says giving back to the community is a personal and professional mandate. Hamilton Honda is a frequent sponsor and participates in several national, state and local events and charities including the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, the Children’s Miracle Network, Ryan’s Quest and the Hamilton Annual Fireworks and the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. “We’re embedded in the community and give back to the community that has helped and supported us over the years,” he concludes.