Staci Patch is the special finance manager at Karl Malone Toyota in Salt Lake City, one of 38 dealerships in the Larry H. Miller Group, the nation’s 10th-largest auto retailer. Like many other dealership professionals, Patch took a circuitous route to her current position. That journey included stops at two other stores as well as several years as a marketing executive at LHM’s subprime lending arm, Prestige Financial.
Her bosses are co-owners Andy Madsen — who also serves as general manager — and Karl “The Mailman” Malone, the NBA’s No. 2 all-time scorer, who was a perennial All-Star selection and earned two MVP awards in his 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz. Madsen says he depends on Patch and her years of experience to keep their special finance department humming.
“Staci’s the best,” Madsen says. “Because of her background, she performs.”
Both ends of the court
Patch’s first dealership job was an administrative position, assisting the head of the credit resource center (a.k.a. special finance department) at Larry H. Miller Chevrolet in Murray,Utah, near Salt Lake City.
“I learned everything on the job,” she says. “Everybody says I have the gift of gab. I love sitting down with customers, finding common ground and helping them out if I can. That approach works when you’re building relationships with banks, too.”
It wasn’t long before Patch heard that a Ken Garff Mitsubishi franchise across town was looking for a special finance manager. Although she had only been in the game a short time, she couldn’t pass up the chance to run her own department.
“I felt I deserved a shot,” she says now. “What I didn’t realize was that Garff was where my education would really begin. I had to learn how to form new relationships with lenders.” In her first few weeks on the job, Patch was visited by reps from several leading subprime finance sources. But as she got closer to building a workable lender spread, she couldn’t help but remember how well Prestige Financial had served her at the Chevy store.
At the time, in Utah, Prestige’s program was still only available to its parent company’s dealers. Patch was determined to persuade the lender to take a chance on her, and Garff Mitsubishi became the first non-LHM dealership in the state to join the Prestige program. She couldn’t have known at the time that her persistence would lead to an opportunity to cross over to the finance side of the business.
Part of Patch’s campaign to get her dealership on board with Prestige was a visit to the lender’s Salt Lake City headquarters, where she met with Prestige’s executive team. Two years later, the CEO called Patch with an invitation to join the company. She accepted, and in her six years working for the lender, she took on several roles.
“Prestige’s lowest rate at the time was 21 percent,” she says, “so we were getting a lot of looks that Prestige itself didn’t buy. We established relationships with other lenders to take the lower-APR paper, and that was my main responsibility. After that, I did internal support for our reps and put out fires on problem deals; then, I moved on to outside marketing for 13 of our dealers, all in Utah, who needed to increase their subprime origination volume.”
Patch found herself back in the trenches, spending several hours a week at each dealership’s F&I office. She trained finance staffers on Prestige’s program, shared marketing strategies and sales processes and worked on hard-to-close deals.
“The dealers would save their toughest folders for me,” Patch says. “By that time, I was a single mother with two kids. I began to realize that, if I were to go back to full-time dealership work, I could do just as well and work normal hours.”
Running a fast break
Like Patch, Andy Madsen worked his way up the auto retail ladder. At the company’s request, he left an LHM store in Salt Lake City to work at Karl Malone’s first dealership, a Toyota franchise in Albuquerque, N.M. Legend has it that it was Larry H. Miller himself, owner of the Utah Jazz from 1986 to his passing earlier this year, who convinced Malone to get into the car business.
“At that point, Karl was still a few years away from the end of his basketball career,” Madsen says. “But as the story goes, Larry walked right up to Karl in the showers after a home game and said, ‘Karl, I’d like to offer you one of the best business deals of your life.’”
Malone took the offer seriously and, according to Madsen, lends more than his name to his business ventures.
“Karl is very much involved in the day-to-day here,” he says. “He checks in constantly, knows the numbers, wants to know what we need. He is a very caring guy and he would do anything for our staff. His name and personality helps to attract credit challenged customers.”
To handle the influx, Madsen knew he would need a dynamic special finance manager, and Staci Patch was his first choice.
“Andy is my all-time favorite boss,” Patch says. “He wants his staff to work hard, and he’s not afraid to challenge me or anybody else to do better. Andy and Karl both understand the potential of SF. They also know it can’t thrive on walk-in traffic alone, so they give me a generous advertising budget.”
Patch leveraged her years of experience on both sides of the deal to get Karl Malone Toyota’s special finance department off to a fast start. She had a plan for every aspect of subprime sales, including the metal on the lot.
“Managing the inventory is probably my least favorite part of the job,” she says, “but being part of a larger group makes it easier. We have the ability to pull in used units from other dealerships, and vice versa. We keep about 60 used units on hand, mostly trade-ins.”
To find drivers for those units, Patch built a marketing plan around one word.
“Repetition. That’s the key. So many dealers have pulled away from direct mail. I never did. We are constantly producing new mailers. If there’s anybody in Salt Lake Metro who has credit issues and needs to buy a vehicle, they already know my name.”
Once they’re in the office, Patch’s roster of reliable lenders allows her to offer several options. Of course, that part was easier before the current downturn.
“The first year and a half was a breeze,” she says. “Now, the scorecards are tighter. The lenders are taking a personal interest in learning about every customer. You can’t ‘push’ on anything anymore. If they’re not biting, there’s a reason. I love my customers, and I hate when I can’t make it work. But I have to build trust with the banks as well. I won’t compromise my relationship with them for one deal.”
Slumping new-car sales and tight credit markets have spurred dealerships across the country to consider segments they may have avoided in the past, subprime included. But, like Prestige, Patch is no stranger to special finance, and the bankruptcy segment is no exception.
“If they’re in bankruptcy court, they have mail from us,” she says. “I trade referrals with reputable bankruptcy attorneys in the area. The objective is to let them know what I can offer before they hear from anybody else.”
Heading into overtime
“We can’t control the economy, and I don’t know that things are going to improve anytime soon,” Patch says. “We’ve seen some humbled customers. I recently worked with a customer who had invested in real estate. Five mortgages for five rental properties, and he lost them all.”
To take care of the customers who need her most, Patch relies on the same strategies she developed in her first dealership job and imparted to the dealers she worked with as a marketing executive.
“Get to know your lenders and maximize their programs,” she says. “Your customers have a genuine need to buy a reliable vehicle. In most cases, they also need to rebuild their credit. In the special finance department, we have the ability to help them do both.”
With the support of her finance sources, her staff and Madsen and Malone, Patch will continue to work toward that goal.
“Nobody takes care of these customers better than Staci,” Madsen says. “She works hard to get them financed because she really cares. She wants to get them into a good car and improve their credit. That’s what makes this a great business.”
Lawrence Horne Miller
Apr. 26, 1944 – Feb. 20, 2009
Larry H. Miller had a 1.77 high school GPA and only lasted six weeks at the University of Utah. But by the time he succumbed to type 2 diabetes earlier this year, the automotive mogul had built one of the largest privately held business empires in the western United States.
Best known as the owner of the nation’s tenth largest dealership group as well as the NBA’s Utah Jazz, Larry also created success as the owner of movie theaters, auto finance and insurance companies, a baseball team, a television station, retail stores and numerous real estate properties. His businesses span nine states, with over 7,000 employees and annual revenues approaching $3 billion.
His tireless work ethic was fueled by his passion for “the deal” and a deep commitment to the communities in which he did business, as evidenced by his extensive philanthropic efforts. Larry was succeeded as Miller Group CEO by his eldest son, Greg, last July.