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Dealer Profile: Summit Place Kia

March 2009, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Tariq Kamal

With the November 2007 purchase of the former Dick Scott Kia in Waterford, Mich., Rich LaLonde and Jerry Doute became the proud owners of their first dealership. In their first year, the partners renamed the store Summit Place Kia, acquired a second location in nearby Canton and became their OEM’s No. 1 dealer in Metro Detroit.

Their success was hardly a case of beginners’ luck. In the decades leading up to the acquisition, LaLonde and Doute spent thousands of hours in hundreds of dealerships across the United States.

“Several years ago, when I worked as a Certified Public Accountant, my main client base was dealers, and I fell in love with the business,” LaLonde says. “My first opportunity to get into the car business directly was as a controller at a large dealership. That’s when I realized that I was much more excited by the finance aspect than I was by sales.”

LaLonde then broadened his experience by taking a general manager position at a Detroit-area Jeep-Eagle store, then worked as a regional vice president for Agency Rent-A-Car. It was in these positions that LaLonde began to realize many dealers were falling short in one particular area: special finance.

“When I was at Agency, we developed relationships with GE Capital and Credit Acceptance Corp.,” he says. “To sell the rental units, we needed to find a way to finance customers with derogatory credit. This was back in the early ’90s, when subprime auto finance was new. But with GE and Credit Acceptance backing us, over the next 12 months, we caught fire, just retailing from our small Detroit lot.”

Realizing the untapped potential of the subprime market, LaLonde left Agency Rent-A-Car in December 1993 to start his own consulting firm. He sought out dealers who were willing to take a chance on special finance. After running several successful, week-long “Bankruptcy Super Sales,” LaLonde says his clients began to ask for a more long-term strategy.

“We started by placing special finance managers in each dealership for 60 days,” he says. “They would set up the department, go to work on the inventory, do the meet-and-greet and collect stips. Eventually, we also began placing our people in dealerships on a permanent basis.”

At that time, Jerry Doute was the used-car manager at North Brothers Ford in Westland, Mich. He heard about LaLonde’s work through a colleague and decided to give the ACE Group a try.

“We asked Rich’s company to place an SF manager at North Brothers, and it worked,” Doute recalls. “Not long after, I was offered a general manager position at a smaller dealership, and I was sure I could use that experience to ramp up their subprime sales.”

Like many other dealers, however, Doute’s new boss was wary of breaking into special finance.

“Until I realized the full potential of subprime, I was fearful of it myself,” Doute says. “But I couldn’t convince the owner to even try it. Despite the potential, he was not willing to change. After seven months, I called Rich to see if he had anything for me.”

Doute went to work for ACE, learned the intricacies of the program and began working with dealers. Within a few years, he had risen to the position of vice president of field operations, overseeing ACE’s crew of special finance managers.

A few years later, both men would get the chance to practice what they’d preached, this time at their own store.

Reaching the Summit

In July 2007, Dick Scott approached LaLonde to discuss the possibility of placing an ACE manager at one or both of his Detroit-area Kia franchises. It was in the course of these talks that the idea for a sale was broached.

“In my consulting days, I had always said that if I was ever going to own a dealership, it would be a Kia store,” LaLonde says. “I jumped at the opportunity. And by that time, Jerry had been with us for 12 years. He had the perfect résumé for the general manager position, and I wanted to get him on board.”

“I was passionate about subprime, and I liked the idea of working in my own dealership,” Doute says. “I felt fortunate that Rich asked me to invest. It’s his spirit and passion for special finance that drives the business. Me, I’m the Energizer Bunny. I’m still a car salesman, whatever my title, and together we knew we could make it work.”

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