February 2014, Auto Dealer Today - Feature
At Honda Marysville in Marysville, Ohio, Christine Clabaugh makes her finance managers’ jobs easier by closing seven out of 10 F&I product deals on the showroom floor. She also pitches the other three, teeing up F&I for an easy close in the box. She does all that while selling no fewer than 16 vehicles each month; in December, she sold 27 units, a personal best.
Clabaugh came to the dealership in March 2012 after training to become a nurse and then a medical biller. After deciding she wanted a career that required more face-to-face interactions, she joined Honda Marysville as a cashier in the service department. After briefly trying her hand at selling motorcycles, she moved into auto sales.
She has since received four salesperson of the month awards, nominated by a customer each time. Among the staff, she is known as “Little Bulldog” for her persistence in holding gross on each sale. Her tenacity has earned her three “Extra-Miler” awards from the dealership and a Top Three ranking among the 32-person sales staff.
James Burns worked alongside Clabaugh as a sales consultant before moving to the finance office. He explains that she establishes a level of trust with her customers that makes them extremely receptive to her F&I product pitches. “But, even if she doesn’t always close a deal, she plants the seed perfectly so that I can close in the box.”
Clabaugh says it took a little while for her to get comfortable pitching products on the floor. She had made it through Honda’s rigorous brand training sessions but was never formally trained in F&I products. She studied the store’s offerings and developed a keen interest in protection products. Now, she considers F&I products to be an extension of good customer service. “My job is to convince them that we’ve worked out a good deal for their budget, and that they deserve a good car that runs well,” she explains.
Clabaugh and Burns say their process works because customers are familiar with the offerings on the F&I menu by the time they get to the box. Finance managers are supposed to be available to get involved in the TO early into the deal, but Clabaugh is typically able to delay the handoff. She runs through A/B pencil payment options and Burns steps in to complete the disclosures. “We just want customers to see where they’d be with and without a service contract or GAP insurance,” he says. By closing F&I products, Clabaugh has the chance to earn compensation on both the front and back ends, but that’s not her only motivation. She says she only recommends items she really feels will benefit the customer in some way.
“Customers have no problem purchasing something if they see value in it,” Burns says, “and Christine puts value in the Honda brand.” He says that he trusts Clabaugh to discuss rates and notes that the F&I team has learned to expect product sales on her deals. She says her specialties are service contracts and GAP coverage, noting that subprime customers are especially receptive to adding a protection package. She tries to avoid maxing out their budgets on the vehicle but admits that “Sometimes you can’t avoid those who have a champagne taste on a beer budget.” She also offers each customer a referral incentive of $60 towards parts and service if their referral purchases a vehicle.
When Clabaugh isn’t delivering vehicles, she remains at the dealership to follow up with customers and send out promotional materials. She tries to stick with clients who couldn’t find the vehicle they wanted and alert them when the perfect unit becomes available. She and her boyfriend also run a dealer trades transportation business on the side. “We’re never not working,” she says.
Burns says Clabaugh is also known for scheduling appointments on her days off. Her dedication reached new heights in January, when Clabaugh was rear-ended on her three-hour commute to the office. With two appointments booked, she decided to continue to the dealership. She did go to the hospital — after delivering a car.