He’s the son of a former state senator who, during his younger days, shared the stage with fellow Minnesotans Prince and “The Hitmakers,” Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. He’s also the winner of the magazine’s F&Idol trophy, claiming the best F&I presentation in the industry.
Gregory Paul “GP” Anderson is the F&I manager for Park Rapids, Minn.-based Thielen Motors, a single-store General Motors franchise that averages 78 vehicles per month. And there’s no place he’d rather be than in what he tells his salesmen to call the “House of Happiness.”
“When the customer asks why they call it the ‘House of Happiness,’ the salespeople will say, ‘Because every-body leaves his office happy and completely satisfied,’” says Anderson, whose office is situated so that the customer’s new vehicle sits just outside his windows.
“And when [the customer] comes in, I go, ‘Wow, is that your new ride? Man, that looks sharp.’ And I mean it,” he explains. “And I don’t do the customer interview; I just confirm the information and do the titling and registration while I’m shooting the breeze with them. There’s no sitting in the showroom.”
Anderson, who has worked in F&I for 12 years, won the magazine’s inaugural contest in a landslide. More than 4,500 readers cast a vote, and more than half chose his presentation as the best. Launched in July, the Innovative Aftermarket Systems-sponsored F&Idol contest asked readers to submit their best on-camera presentation in five categories.
He made it to the finals because the contest’s eight judges — a panel that included “Mad” Marv Eleazer, IAS President Bob Corbin and a mix of trainers, menu makers and compliance experts — voted Anderson the top GAP presenter.
The in-person Anderson and the guy on camera handling the three GAP objections — contestants were only required to handle two — are two different people. On camera, Anderson handles the middle-aged mock customer like a consultant who is unafraid of whatever the customer throws his way. His transitions and responses are well practiced. He’s confident in his craft but not cocky.
In person, he’s a line a minute, and just a bit of a showoff. He can switch tones, from proper English to the 18-year-old who giggled his way through a songwriting class with Prince.
“You have to go from zero to a million miles an hour in three one-hundredths of a second,” he says. “And you have to be the best, because only the best actors win.”
Anderson admits he’s a man of many faces, but that’s only because he’s heard it all. There was the turkey breeder he once helped out. When the deal was done, he made the mistake of inquiring about how one becomes a turkey breeder. “After I shook his hand, I went to the bathroom and triple washed my hands,” he says.
Then there was the barfly divorcée who caught Anderson off guard when she brashly asked: “Is this the part where you bend me over and stick it to me?”
His response was: “This isn’t the time for romance, ma’am. I’m just trying to sell you a car.” And she did just that, Anderson says.
Not every story has a punch line. There was the couple who had just lost their 12-year-old daughter to an illness after spending everything they had to keep her alive for 10 of those years. “Even now as I talk about it, I still get shivers down my back — the sorrow and pain in that mother’s eyes,” he says.[PAGEBREAK]
A Senator’s Son
Anderson is comfortable in his own skin, and he has no problem giving his opinion. It’s a trait he picked up watching his father, former Minnesota State Senator Don Anderson, and his grandfather, Paul Anderson, who owned a big concrete business when Minneapolis was mostly potato and hog farms. His grandfather’s business was where the city would turn whenever they needed a new skyscraper, Anderson says.
“Shyness did not run in our family whatsoever,” Anderson notes.
His father also gave Anderson, who could play the piano by the age of three, the wakeup call he needed when he had aspirations of becoming a professional musician in his early twenties. “He said, ‘You want to hunt and fish, you’re probably going to have a family … I don’t know if [music] is a good idea,’” recalls Anderson. “He didn’t know who Prince was or Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were, at the time, in the warm-up band for Prince.”
By the ’80s, Anderson, who is 53, would eventually enter the family’s other business: a 25,000-square-foot grocery store. It was there that he learned how to address the customer segment he says makes up 90 percent of his sales: women. “When I sit across from a couple, the husband will always say, ‘Well, honey, what do you think?’” he says. “And women size you up instantly — your nails, your hands, your professionalism, your eyes, your presentation, your sincerity. It’s just who women are. And all they want is to feel special and taken care of.”
The grocery store closed around 1988, which is when Anderson decided his love for cars made him perfect for a career in automotive retailing. His first gig only lasted two months. He was fired the same day he sold a Cadillac, a customized truck and a Cavalier. Anderson believes he was let go because he preferred to go home to his wife and five kids after work rather than go out drinking with his colleagues.
On his way home, he stopped at a Chevrolet dealership and was hired on the spot. “First month there, I was salesman of the month,” he says. “Then I was salesman of the year every year from that point on.”
Now Entering the House of Happiness
By the time Anderson reached the F&I office, he had attended training sessions led by sales trainers like Jackie Cooper, David Lewis, Paul Cummings and Jim Ziegler. However, the person who impacted his career the most was Frank Abagnale, the inspiration behind the 2002 movie, “Catch Me If You Can.” Abagnale had become famous for cashing more than $2.5 million in forged checks, but Anderson liked his style. “I saw this guy talk and just watched his mannerisms and the confidence just oozed out of his pores,” he says.
But flash isn’t what makes Anderson successful; it’s his dedication to learning. He reads sales books and takes every opportunity to train. He’s punctual, always arriving an hour before an appointment. He’s also proactive, which is why he spent three years and 22 pages of background checks to become what Equifax calls a Direct Resolution Conflict Location.
“I have direct access to the credit bureau,” he says, adding that the designation allows him to fix mistakes on a credit report within 15 minutes with just a call to his credit bureau rep.
“It’s a lost art,” he says of his ability to negotiate with banks based on what he deciphers from a customer’s credit report. “A true F&I professional needs to be able to represent the strengths of the deal to the bank.”
Scripted word-tracks and objection-handling techniques are for “green peas” who have yet to develop their style, he says. Instead, he relies on the stories he’s collected over his more than 20-year career in the business to do his selling. As for how he averages three products per customer — he has a service-contract acceptance rate of more than 52 percent and a finance penetration rate of 78 percent — Anderson’s advice is simple.
“Sell something to everyone. That’s the magic wand right there,” says Anderson, who owns senior-level status as an Association of Finance and Insurance Professionals-certified F&I professional. “Look, the world doesn’t care if your wife left you, if you’re an alcoholic, your race or your position. Money follows service, so be a master in your art. It’s not just a job; you want to be the best.”