Article

Managing By The Numbers While Navigating Expansion

December 2007, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Jennifer Murphy Bloodworth - Also by this author

Matt Ghazal, the president of six Michigan dealerships, said his automotive career began “with a very humble beginning.” That was 12 years ago. While Ghazal is still as modest as ever, his dealerships are anything but. He’s been adding a new dealership to his lineup essentially every two or three years. After three years in business, he entered the buy here pay here industry when he added Express Auto to his dealership lineup, and within seven years, he’d opened up two more BHPH locations and an RV dealership.

Initially, Ghazal was a special finance dealer, but his business soon progressed to encompass the buy here pay here market. He said, “When the sub prime meltdown came about, we realized it was time for us to start doing our own papers. We started doing buy here pay here in 2000.” While the hardships of sub prime finance companies (ACC, Jayhawk, Guardian National and Mercury Finance) in the late 90s helped nudge Ghazal into BHPH, he said he would have entered BHPH sales regardless.

His first dealership, the Ghazal Car Company, in Kalamazoo, Mich., is still dedicated to special finance and now does business as the Motor Zone. He also owns Motor Zone Suzuki about 20 miles away in Battle Creek, Mich. Of his three BHPH stores, all of which are named Express Auto, two are in Kalamazoo, and one is in Battle Creek.

One of his most recent additions, Bedford RV (also in Battle Creek) led to the opening of the third Express Auto location. The past dealer of Bedford RV was ready to retire, and Ghazal wanted the land to open a BHPH location in Battle Creek. Luckily, the land was big enough to accommodate both dealerships.

When hearing about his success, one might think Ghazal spent most of his life in a dealership learning the ropes from his father or grandfather. However, prior to opening up his own dealership, he’d only been on a showroom floor as a customer. He bypassed selling vehicles and went straight to owning a dealership. Higher education and a mind for business is what helped him jump to the top rung of the dealership ladder. “I have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and statistics, and I have a master’s degree in finance. Just crunching numbers is up my alley,” he stated.

Needless to say, Ghazal focuses heavily on each store’s numbers. He receives various reports from each store daily, weekly and monthly and analyzes them to determine how each store is performing, see if any of them need improvement and monitor his expenses. In his BHPH stores, the first figure he looks at when he receives the daily report is the number of delinquent accounts. When looking at the weekly and monthly BHPH reports, he still looks at his delinquency rate, but he also focuses on recency rates.

Currently, all six stores typically sell about 250 vehicles combined per month. The three BHPH locations account for about 120 sales per month. To manage all these BHPH accounts, Ghazal created a related finance company, Express Finance Company (EFC), which allows all collections and underwriting to be centralized. This lets each individual BHPH store manager focus only on managing the store’s sales force and the inventory.

Ghazal also holds his BHPH locations to specific benchmarks. The typical cash-in-deal is about $4,500. His benchmark for delinquency rate is 12 percent, and he aims to keep charge-offs around 2 percent per month. The average contract length ranges between 30 and 36 months. The average down payment is between $400 and $600, and recency typically averages over 90 percent, but does fluctuate between 86 to 96 percent.

While Ghazal is great at managing by numbers, he’s also a hands-on leader. He visits each of his six locations at least twice a week, sometimes to hold structured meetings, other times to assess and troubleshoot problems. During some store visits, he’s more low-key, spending time to visit with his staff members, or the “team” as he calls it.

He is extremely team-oriented and wouldn’t brag on his own accomplishments, instead saying, “I’m not going to tell you what I’m good at. I’m always looking to become better in the areas I’m not good at.” However, he was quick to compliment his hard-working team for their accomplishments, directly attributing his success to his staff, which has grown to almost 100 employees.

“We’re fortunate to have good people; we really are. With as much growth as we’re going through, it would require a team, and I’m fortunate to have a very good team,” he said. In an industry riddled with turnover, Ghazal holds his team together “by appreciating them, respecting their talents, working on their deficiencies” and by treating his employees like he would any of his customers.

Regarding his team, he also added, “Obviously pay is important … but just as important is employees feeling that they’re part of a team, feeling appreciated, feeling that they can contribute and cultivating a culture that is conducive to appreciating the customer.”

One key member of the team is Henry Ghazal, the regional manager of the three BHPH locations and Ghazal’s cousin. He joined the team in 1999 and had a big role in the opening the first BHPH location. Since EFC handles the finance side of the BHPH stores, Henry is in charge of the sales side of it. He’s continually in contact with the three store managers, the two buyers that purchase inventory and, of course, Ghazal to make sure all the stores are running efficiently.

While Ghazal didn’t elaborate on his strong points, Henry did shed some light on the strengths of his cousin and the BHPH locations. He said, “Matt is known for his expenses. He’s very good at controlling expenses. Our delinquency is very good. We take pride in that too. We keep it under control.”

Paulette Lane, a new addition to the team, is the marketing and advertising director for all six dealerships. She’s currently working with Ghazal on a number of projects to generate more sales, including print and radio campaigns and a group of new Web sites scheduled to launch this fall, along with marketing to past customers and referrals.

Multiple Web sites were scheduled to launch in mid-September to drive traffic to Ghazal’s stores. Three dealership Web sites were to be launched—one for the three Express Auto stores, one for the Motor Zone and one for Motor Zone Suzuki. Other blind sites, like MichiganAutoStore.com and WestMichiganCarCredit.com, were also planned for launch at the same time to generate even more leads.

The Express Auto Web site will be a little different than the other sites because it won’t showcase the entire BHPH inventory, instead only listing a small portion of it with sample weekly payments for each vehicle. Lane said another thing the BHPH sites will emphasize is free oil changes for life, so customers will know the company is committed to giving them a reliable vehicle and wants to help them keep it in good condition.

One online feature exclusive to BHPH customers is that they’ll be able to make their payments online. Ghazal said he wants to give his customers all the payment options he can, noting that customers had inquired about online payments. “As more and more customers use online services, we need to be ahead of that curve.” Those customers will be able to pay with a credit or debit card or have their payment drafted out of a bank account. He estimated that half of his customers will utilize the online payment option to eliminate the weekly drive to the dealership.

Also scheduled for launch early this fall is MotorZonePromise.com, a single-page site that prospects and customers alike can visit to see the unique offerings of the Motor Zone and Express Auto dealerships. Ghazal takes care of his customers like he takes care of his employees by offering incentives that aren’t commonly offered by dealerships.

For example, all vehicle purchases at the Motor Zone and Express Auto stores come with a three-day love it or leave it policy—quite an uncommon offering that Ghazal and his team implemented in his BHPH and sub prime dealerships almost a year ago. He said he implemented it because “he wants his customers to buy with confidence.”

While there are no mileage restrictions on this policy, there is one variation depending on the type of customer. In Ghazal’s BHPH stores, customers can only exchange a vehicle within three days. In his sub prime stores, customers are allowed the option of exchanging or returning a vehicle if they’re not satisfied.

Customers also receive complimentary extended service warranties and oil changes for life free of charge which will be showcased on MotorZonePromise.com along with other customer incentives.

Ghazal and his team are currently experiencing expansion in every area—new locations, new customers, new employees and new Web sites, all while keeping an eye out for a fourth BHPH location in a new market.

Ghazal’s summation of business - “It’s really exciting to be growing in a shrinking market.”

Vol 4, Issue 10

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