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F&I Dealer of the Year

Special Finance®

Setting the Pace

Meet the seven finalists for F&I Dealer of the Year, the winner of which will be profiled in the magazine’s November issue.

October 2011, F&I and Showroom - Cover Story

by Gregory Arroyo - Also by this author

For these seven operations, noncompliance is not an option. What sets them apart from the rest is the ability of their F&I departments to succeed under the strictest of guidelines, as they have successfully found the fine balance between being customer-centric and aggressive. One of them will appear on the cover of next month’s issue as the 2011 F&I Dealer of the Year. The following profiles offer a peak into these operations and the people who lead them.

Ralph Larson, Dick Hannah Dealerships
Ralph Larson, Dick Hannah Dealerships

Dick Hannah Dealerships

Background Check: Founded in 1949, Vancouver, Wash.-based Dick Hannah Dealerships is a 13-rooftop, 19-brand operation. The dealer group is currently operated by Richard Hannah, president, and vice presidents Jason and Jennifer Hannah.

The Numbers: The dealer group’s profit per vehicle retailed sits just north of $1,000 after increasing by $350 since March 2007. In the same span, the dealer group’s charge-back rate fell from 20 percent to 9 percent.

Secret Weapon: The group’s F&I director, Ralph Larson, a former general agent. Since joining Dick Hannah in March 2007, he has put the group through sales training and helped reorganize its F&I department.

Larson also standardized the processes by which his department operates. He implemented a new selling approach that sells and discloses all of the F&I products throughout the buying process. The menu is used to confirm that the customer is committed to the product. Building value, he says, is key.

“We try to get the customers familiar with the features and benefits of the F&I products and their associated costs upfront, even before the formal F&I process even begins,” he says. “No one likes to be sold anything, but people like to buy stuff.”

Compliance Check: Located in a state famous for its active attorneys general, Dick Hannah has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to noncompliance. The group records all F&I interactions via Innovative Aftermarket System’s SmartEye video and audio recording system.

Larson also instituted fixed profit models for F&I products. The group also invested in Compli’s compliance and HR software to automate its employee training program. The dealership also employs MenuVantage’s selling system to verify disclosures and ensure that its pricing model is followed by all producers. The dealer group also is an Association of Finance and Insurance Professionals (AFIP) Industry Partner.

Industry Involvement: Dealer principal served as past president of the Washington State Automobile Dealers Association, and currently sits on the board of the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association.

Giving Back: Among its many community outreach activities, Dick Hannah plants a tree for every vehicle sold in support of the Arbor Day Foundation. The dealer group also partners with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington, Southwest Washington Medical Center and the United Way.

Fremont Motors

Background Check: This Lander, Wyo.-based dealer group was founded in 1938 by Clyde Guschewsky. Today, the 13-store operation represents the largest dealer group in the state under the leadership of Charles Guschewsky.

The Numbers: F&I gross so far this year is 151 percent ahead of 2010. Total retail is up 132 percent.

Secret Weapon: Understanding the importance of relationships. Twice a year, the dealer group invites all of its lender reps and buyers to meet with management and its F&I team. The event serves as both a relationship builder and a chance for reps to provide feedback.

“The relationship we have with buyers played a huge role in our ability to navigate the downturn,” says Robert Laird, director of finance for Fremont Motors.

F&I producers are taught a no-pressure approach to F&I sales. Three years ago, the group installed MenuVantage’s F&I selling system. Laird likes the system because it allows him to monitor his team.

“When we present product, we want to make sure we’re making it clear to customers how our products will benefit them. And we present them as options, show them how they work and then leave it the customer to decide,” he says.

Laird adds that sales managers are paid the same amount on F&I income as F&I managers, which he says has created a real team atmosphere between the two departments. It also has led to better F&I performance.

Compliance Check: For Fremont, there’s just no option when it comes to compliance. “All our stores are in small markets, which means we need to be able to sell to a couple of generations of customers,” Laird says. “We don’t survive if we don’t have repeat customers.”

The dealership also is active in the Wyoming Automobile Dealer Association, from which it sources most of its compliance policies and procedures. It also sources information from the AFIP. Laird also conducts quarterly audits of customer files.

Industry Involvement and Trophy Room: The operation’s president and CEO, Charles Guschewsky, sits on the board of directors for the Wyoming Automobile Dealers Association. The group’s Ford store earned Blue Oval certification, and its Toyota store is a four-time winner of the Toyota President’s Award. Its Chrysler/Dodge dealership also was awarded Chrysler’s Five Star distinction.

Giving Back: The dealership provides $400,000 in annual support to local causes throughout Wyoming and Nebraska.

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