The Ferman family legacy in the transportation industry didn't start with automobiles, but instead bicycles. Prior to mass-produced cars, Fred Ferman turned his interest in bicycle racing into a personal business renting bicycles and buggies to visitors and residents of Tampa, Fla. In 1902, Ferman applied for and won an Oldsmobile sales agency, giving Tampa its first auto dealership.

Skipping ahead more than 100 years, Ferman Motor Car is now affiliated with 24 franchises in West Central Florida. The organization has nearly 1,000 employees, of which 42 work in the finance departments. Throughout its expansion, the family-owned company has used the same test Fred Ferman used before implementing any new programs or services: Does it increase customer satisfaction?

This philosophy has created a business culture that embraces ethics, integrity and honesty while remaining profitable and customer oriented. These traits have earned Ferman Motor Car Co. the title of 2005 F&I Dealer of the Year, awarded by F&I Management & Technology.

Today the business is overseen by CEO James L. Ferman Jr., Fred Ferman's grandson, Steve Straske, vice president and corporate counsel, and Preston Farrior, vice president of operations. Straske and Farrior are sons-in-law of Ferman, truly making the operation a family affair.

Compliance Is a Team Effort

Dealers across the country are on alert to new laws and regulations put in place by state and federal governments. While this is acceptable, dealerships can better adjust by anticipating changes instead of implementing policies reactively.

To address issues of compliance for the sales and F&I departments, the Ferman organization had adopted a full set of policies and procedures. These are overseen by a compliance committee, comprised of a corporate compliance officer, corporate legal counsel, chief financial officer, controller/IT director, systems programmer and a rotating position filled by a dealership general manager.

This team meets weekly to address the status of current compliance-related projects and to develop an agenda for the next spate of compliance initiatives.

"I'd put our F&I directors and managers up against anyone's for their knowledge of compliant business practices and their appreciation for compliance," says Straske, "not simply as a legal requirement or company policy, but how they embrace our compliance objectives in a manner that exudes full disclosure to, and respect for, the customer."

The Ferman organization's corporate compliance officer, David Ray Gaul, conducts regular audits of deal jackets in each dealership as well as periodic audits of compliance with other policies, such as Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

For nearly two years, Gil Van Over, president of gvo3 Consulting, has served as an external auditor who reviews and audits deal jackets on a quarterly basis. In addition to the in-house legal counsel Straske provides, Robert Shimberg of Hill, Ward & Henderson in Tampa, Fla., provides deal review and assistance in the development of compliance-related policies.

As a sponsor of the F&I Dealer of the Year award, DealerTrack's president and CEO, Mark O'Neil, says, "Compliance is no longer a choice. It's just the cost of doing business. It's terrific to see the Ferman organization taking a leadership position in this critical area."


Training Gives Employees Pride

Three generations of leadership have recognized the importance of having a well-trained employee base. This not only makes them perform their jobs better but also gives employees greater pride in their work. Straske credits the low turnover of employees in Ferman dealerships to a supportive work environment focused on each individual.

"We share the goals of organizations such as the Ferman Motor Car Co. in promoting high quality F&I products to car buyers through compliant and effective presentations by well-trained F&I professionals," says Bob Miller, first vice president of Life of the South. The company is also a sponsor of the award.

F&I training goes beyond a basic explanation of the products sold and involves an entire credentialing process. All F&I managers must be AFIP certified, complete the Institute for Ethical Behavior's online automotive F&I ethics course, be commissioned as a notary public and obtain an individual state insurance license to sell service contracts and credit insurance.

"AFIP certification and the NADA Code of Ethics have become important components of our business and operating culture," Straske explains. "They are featured on our business cards and desk nameplates and the graduate's certificates are framed and displayed."

Once outside training is completed, sales and F&I management personnel receive an F&I desk reference compliance manual that forms the basis of an F&I orientation and training program taught by the in-house corporate trainer.

"IAS congratulates Ferman Motor Car Co. and its local IAS representative, Continental-National Services Corp. on this prestigious award," says Bob Corbin, president of IAS. "Our partnership has been mutually successful as they are a great source of feedback from a dealership perspective for SmartMenu and our SmartDealerUniversity training program."

Applying the Golden Rule

The Ferman organization recognizes that a well-trained, compliant staff is a necessity to running a successful business that best serves consumers. "Our procedures are designed to ensure that our customers receive respectful treatment when they choose to do business with us," Straske says.

All Ferman-owned franchises consistently exceed zone averages for sales and service CSI. Many of the dealerships have won national CSI awards, including Ferman MINI of Tampa Bay, which recently earned the MINI Motoring Cup for the second consecutive six-month period. This is awarded for having the highest CSI in the nation.

Beyond high customer satisfaction, the community as a whole benefits from the company's participation in sponsorships and charitable acts. Immeasurable volunteer hours are donated as well as funding that reaches into six figures each year.

Jim Ferman Sr., who led the company for many years, insisted that the Golden Rule guide all employees. Today's management team continues to follow this philosophy and the benefits have been significant.

"Grounded in the Golden Rule, we view compliance as a simple minimum requirement, with respectful and courteous treatment of our customers as our chief motivation," Straske says.