#1 Cochran evolves to customer expectations, pushing others to follow suit


Rob Cochran doesn’t consider himself a car guy — despite being in the car business for almost 30 years. The president and CEO of #1 Cochran says it’s the process of trying to make something better that motivates him.

“My fascination with our industry and what I do has very little to do with the shiny products in our showrooms and much more to do with working as a part of a team to create a great culture and to try to evolve our industry,” he says.

Cochran focuses on creating better experiences for customers and a good place to come to work. He says he would enjoy that whether he was selling cars, shoes or something else.

As one of the top private dealer groups, #1 Cochran operates 17 showrooms and employs nearly 1,000 people.

#1 Cochran also is looked at as the automotive retail leader in Western Pennsylvania, and Cochran knows as a business leader, he needs to stay true both to who he is and the organization’s culture of innovation.

“There’s a boldness to that and because of that, we have to push things. We have to be willing to have the courage to do things that others may take a wait-and-see attitude on,” he says.

Being the first can be risky and it isn’t right for every business. But it’s right for #1 Cochran. The company identifies with pushing the market, and it wants to attract people who enjoy being progressive.

“It’s important to understand what your business represents and what you think the DNA of your business is,” Cochran says.

“Whatever it is that the business represents, both in what it sells and more so in who it is, you need to make the decisions that reinforce that,” he says. “Sometimes it’s easier to do that than other times, but when you can stay true to the course of that business and who the business is, you’ll have better long-term results.”

Transparency transformation

As a market leader, #1 Cochran embraces change. Management works hard to understand what’s happening and how to evolve.

Recently, the digital movement transformed the car-buying experience. People can read online about the right price for any type of car, which car is better and what a car should be traded in for.

When Cochran first started, inexperienced customers would bring somebody they considered experienced. The industry called it quarterbacking, because salespeople had to sell to the quarterback who would then tell the customer it was a good deal.

“Now people don’t need a quarterback; they just need their iPhones. They can get all of the information that they need,” Cochran says.

He thinks this evolution, which is pushing the industry toward transparency, will continue with more and more car buying done online.

#1 Cochran recognized the trend three or four years ago, so it took a risk and put its inventory prices online. Cochran says this was the transaction price for all 3,000 vehicles, not the manufacturer’s suggested retail price or MSRP.

Traditionally, a customer would try and figure out an appropriate discount on the MSRP, depending on the vehicle’s make, model and demand. Now, #1 Cochran uses third-party reference guides like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds® to price everything upfront and put it on the internet.

“It’s clear, it’s easy and it’s understandable, both for the customer and equally as importantly for the salesperson,” he says. “The salesperson has a sense of confidence in why we’re pricing a vehicle a certain way.”