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F&I Dealer of the Year

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F&I a Team Effort at Serpentini Chevrolet

Strong numbers, a happy, productive staff and investments in the community propelled Serpentini Chevrolet of Strongsville (Ohio) to F&I Dealer of the Year honors.

November 2013, F&I and Showroom - Cover Story

by Paul Chavez

Dealer Bob Serpentini hired Nate Gault in 2009 as a producing F&I director at his Chevrolet store in Strongsville, Ohio.
Dealer Bob Serpentini hired Nate Gault in 2009 as a producing F&I director at his Chevrolet store in Strongsville, Ohio.
In July 1980, at the tender age of 22, Bob Serpentini became the youngest first-generation dealer to ever open a Chevrolet franchise. He had worked as a sales manager at the manufacturer’s point in Orrville, Ohio, one hour south of Cleveland, for about nine months when he decided to buy it.

“I’ve always been aggressive, for lack of a better word. I like what I do,” says Serpentini, who started out selling cars for Spitzer Auto Group in the Cleveland/Akron area. “Back then I was excited to have one dealership. Then, as you start doing well, you think one is great, but another would be better.”

Serpentini, 56, now operates the Serpentini Auto Group, which is comprised of three Ohio stores. At this year’s Industry Summit, Serpentini Chevrolet of Strongsville was named the 2013 F&I Dealer of the Year by F&I and Showroom magazine.

Serpentini was one of six finalists vying for The Warranty Group-sponsored award. The field also included Missouri-based Cable Dahmer Automotive Group; Austin, Texas-based First Texas Honda; Salt Lake City’s Ken Garff Automotive Group; Cincinnati’s Kings Toyota; and Abilene, Texas-based Star Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram Hyundai.

The Tale of the Tape
The Strongsville staff boasts solid F&I numbers. The dealership averages a stellar 2.5 products per deal on 300 to 350 units sold per month, with product sales accounting for two-thirds of the group’s per-copy average, which sits well north of $1,000. The dealership’s GAP offering leads the way with a 61 percent penetration rate, followed by vehicle service contracts and tire-and-wheel coverage with acceptance rates of 45 and 38 percent, respectively. The store’s charge-back rate sits at an enviable sub-7 percent.

“It’s funny. It didn’t just all of a sudden happen — Bam! We’re at great numbers,” Serpentini says. “It was kind of a growth pattern. We saw that we had some room to grow.”

Service customers can grab a bite to eat at Bob’s Corvette Cafe while they wait for their vehicles. The cafe also helps the F&I office overcome those “I’m hungry” objections.
Service customers can grab a bite to eat at Bob’s Corvette Cafe while they wait for their vehicles. The cafe also helps the F&I office overcome those “I’m hungry” objections.

In 2009, Serpentini and Strongsville’s general manager, Jeanine Hein, hired Nate Gault, now 32, as a producing F&I director. Gault has been managing the finance function of the store’s F&I process to allow his seven F&I producers to focus on selling product.

“Nate has great ability. He’s very driven. He’s a goal-oriented guy,” Serpentini says. “He’s good at working with other people and creating a team.”

Serpentini credits Gault with restructuring the F&I team’s compensation plan. He switched from individual commissions to a team format in which income is pooled and distributed evenly among producers. The pooled income is based on total department performance, Gault says, so if a producer is having a bad month or a stretch of bad deals, the rest of the team is there to help pick him or her up. “My understanding of how a team is going to perform or going to work is based on if they’re truly a team. If you’re truly a team, you get paid as a team.”

Only a handful of dealerships in Indiana and Ohio pool their money, says Matt Mahar, a regional vice president of Resource Automotive. He and his company’s connection with Serpentini dates back to 2006.

“The reason it works so well in Strongsville is because they look at it as an opportunity to help each other,” Mahar says. “They are all working for the same team and pooling their money together.”

Inside Hires
Every good team needs strong players, and Serpentini has developed a strategy to cultivate and maintain his squad. He cites his policy of promoting from within as a key factor in maintaining longevity for employees and success for the ­business.

Under the leadership of Nate Gault, the F&I team at Serpentini Chevrolet of Strongsville is averaging 2.5 products per deal on 300 to 350 units sold per month. The store’s charge-back rate sits below 7 percent.
Under the leadership of Nate Gault, the F&I team at Serpentini Chevrolet of Strongsville is averaging 2.5 products per deal on 300 to 350 units sold per month. The store’s charge-back rate sits below 7 percent.
“I don’t believe in going and getting someone from the outside,” Serpentini says. “That way there’s no hired-gun mentality of waiting for the next best offer.”

Gault has endorsed the hiring strategy and noted that it has become increasingly tougher to hire F&I staff from outside. All of his F&I managers were previous salespeople at the Strongsville location. And they all have the experience to help close deals.

“I want my F&I producers to understand the sales process,” Gault says. “They’ve all been there and have done well at it. They are going to perform a lot better and keep the relationship between the F&I and sales departments strong.”

Serpentini also believes a strong team needs fresh, well-rested players. To that end, he has implemented a work schedule that balances work and personal life. “Our business is not an easy business, and one of the toughest things is attracting quality people,” he says. “People have to have a life. If there’s no balance, it can’t last.”

Most employees work 40 to 45 hours per week and enjoy a flexible scheduling system. The store is open seven days a week, but management wants each staffer to take days off whenever they’re needed. Hein works with employees to help ensure the work-life balance doesn’t get out of whack.

Gault also utilizes the Predictive Index (PI) to recruit and maintain his staff by examining the results of the system’s personality assessment. His favorite score is P36, which indicates that a person is a “seller and a teller,” ideal for F&I directors seeking producers who don’t pitch product too hard.

“The PI highlights a candidate’s strong traits and weaknesses,” Gault says. “It basically tells us a little more about them. It also tells us how to manage that person.”

The two-part online exam offers users about 60 personality traits, such as sympathetic or successful, that they mark if they feel people perceive them as such. On the second part, Gault says, they mark the personality traits they believe they have themselves.

The Chevrolet dealership was purchased by Serpentini Auto Group in 1998. It was originally located in  Berea, Ohio, and was relocated to Strongsville in 2003.
The Chevrolet dealership was purchased by Serpentini Auto Group in 1998. It was originally located in  Berea, Ohio, and was relocated to Strongsville in 2003.

“It’s pretty spot-on. You can’t really fool the system,” he says. “Anytime a producer is not doing well, you can always have them take a PI and pretty much figure it out.” Gault believes the process has helped the staff become an efficient, highly functioning team. “Our start-to-finish F&I process, from the time the deal gets to my hands, is about 25 to 30 minutes.”

Gault structures every deal and picks and chooses which bank to use for financing. He tries to maintain a balanced spread and avoids giving any lender preferential treatment. While Gault structures and loads the deal, an F&I manager engages in a two- to three-minute customer interview to find out about the customer’s insurance coverage, intended use of the vehicle and how long they plan on keeping it.

“We’re real big into menu selling and offering every product every time,” Gault says. “Our other big thing is CSI. Our CSI average is between 98 and 99 percent and we take it to heart.”

If an F&I manager is unable to sell any products, another manager will take the “TO.” Gault stands ready to take a final turn before pushing the deal through.

Gault also credits Resource Automotive and the company’s products and training for boosting the F&I department’s bottom line.

“They help us maintain our compliance and help us with deal audits. They help make sure everything we do, we’re maximizing the benefit for the customers,” Gault says. “We average 2.5 products a deal, which is well above the industry average.”

Comment

  1. 1. Nate [ October 04, 2015 @ 08:38PM ]

    Congrats! It sounds like they worked hard, and deserve the honor!

    Nate
    http://www.savannahmitsubishi.com

 

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