Article

The Smell Of Success

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Seth Ridgeway - Also by this author

On a cold day in February 2003, Mark Checki, the general manager for New Rochelle Toyota, approached Donnell Middleton with the proposition of setting up a Special Finance department for his dealership. Middleton was intrigued with the proposition of running his own show, accepted the challenge and moved into his new home. Those of you that work in Special Finance know what I mean by ‘new home.’ You spend more hours at the dealership than the place you spend your mortgage money on.

Middleton found out early on that running his own show was not all roses and went through some rough times over the first two months. The saving grace during all this was Checki’s belief in Middleton and that Special Finance had a future in his dealership. Checki was tired of referring customers to another dealer that had Special Finance capabilities.

“The first month, we only delivered 10 cars,” Middleton stated, “Our next month wasn’t instant glory either, but we did increase our deliveries by five vehicles.”
 
During the next few months, word must have spread that there was a Special Finance department in New Rochelle, New York at a Toyota dealership that worked hard not only to get customers approved, but allowed customers to drive a new or certified pre-owned vehicle home the same day. Since that time, they have been delivering 20 to 25 cars a month and total deliveries in 2003 were 195.

2003 was a stellar year for New Rochelle Toyota. The success of the Special Finance Department was just the addition they needed for selection for Toyota’s prestigious President’s Award of Excellence for customer service and sales. “From the owner down, we are extremely proud of this award,” Checki stated.

Many lessons were learned while developing the department in 2003 which helped them increase Special Finance sales in 2004. With the addition of their Web site, Driveaway2day.com, having a Capital One sale every five weeks and partnering with Customer Funding for third party Internet leads, this little department went from 20 to 25 sales to 30 to 40 sales a month. “Partnering with Customer Funding was a windfall for us. We deliver an average of 20 percent of the leads they provide, which accounts for over 50 percent of our monthly sales. At $3,100 average gross per unit, we are very pleased.” Anticipated final number of deliveries for 2004 will be in excess of 275.

Middleton and Checki’s goals for 2005 are 50 to 60 special finance units a month, and they know that number is very attainable. “Our process is simple but effective,” Middleton admits. “As soon as we receive a prospective customer’s information, I pass it to our appointment setter. A call is made immediately. We don’t waste time running credit reports. Contact the customer and get the appointment first. Without that appointment, there is no sale. After the appointment is set we mail a friendly reminder post card. This alone has increased our appointment show ratio by 40 percent. Anyone not using some type of method like this to confirm appointments is missing out on customers that will probably buy from a competitor. When setting the appointment, every effort is made to get the customer in today! The farther out you set the appointment, the less likely that customer will show up.”

Middleton says that they have made great strides since that cold day in February 2003 when he was approached by Checki with a new opportunity. “My little department of two people has increased to five. We have refined our appointment setting and follow-up skills to a science as well as working with the customer once they arrive at the dealership. Our time for selling a special finance customer is somewhere between 45 minutes to two hours depending on the severity of their credit situation. We take great pride in our customer service and professional sales team. We know that the customer doesn’t want to spend an eternity completing a vehicle purchase. Every effort is made to keep the buying process as enjoyable as possible knowing that a satisfied customer will pass the good word on and return for their next purchase. We want to be the ‘good guys’ in the auto industry and feel that we have achieved that goal. Yes, life has been good since that cold day in February 2003. The smell of success is much better than roses any day.”

Vol 2, Issue 2

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