Located in historic Quakertown, Pa., which claims about 9,000 residents, Faulkner-Ciocca Ford is moving the metal at a pace that would rival stores located in neighboring metropolitan markets. The performance of the dealership’s F&I department is equally impressive. It’s secret: customer satisfaction.
The dealership does shoot for high satisfaction scores from each customer, but that’s not who the store’s leadership team is referring to when they talk about the importance of customer satisfaction. They’re referring to the sales team.
“The salesperson is our No. 1 customer,” says Finance Director Kyle Egge. “Without happy employees, you can’t have happy customers.”
That philosophy has been adopted and applied throughout the dealership, which is part of the Faulkner-Ciocca family of dealerships, a nine-store group with locations spread throughout southeast Pennsylvania. The result is a store that’s not only tops in its group but in its region as well.
“My store should sell 370 cars a year,” notes General Manager Agyhad Antonios. “We sell 1,200 new a year.”
The success of the store has Dealer Gregg Ciocca eyeing additional locations for the group. The plan is to put Egge and Antonios in charge of training the employees who will staff the new stores. The hope is that the two managers can replicate the success they’ve had at the Quakertown location.
Egge first started working for Ciocca in 2007 after being recruited by an F&I consulting business out of Miami (Ohio) University. He sold cars, worked as an F&I producer, general sales manager and served stints as a new- and used-car manager. He also served as an interim service and parts manager before becoming finance director about two years ago.
Antonios, who became general manager in 2011, had a similar career trajectory after joining the dealer group in 2006 after graduating from Penn State. He and Egge admit that Ciocca is directly responsible for the culture inside their store, but they took it a step further by bringing salesperson satisfaction to the forefront.
“In 2013, we grew our new-car department by 66% over 2012, when the market in this region was up 3% to 4%,” Antonios notes.
That performance earned Faulkner-Ciocca Ford the title of No. 1 store for F-150 sales in the region, which, according to Antonios, counts 114 stores in three states. It also garnered the dealership the title of top overall Ford truck dealer, including the brand’s Super Duty line.
“We’re also the No. 1 Mustang dealer in the entire region and Pennsylvania,” Antonios boasts. He admits geography plays a role in the dealership’s success, with about 80% of its customers traveling from outside the town’s boundaries. In fact, the Ford store has become a destination dealership for buyers from Philadelphia, which is located 30 miles to the south, and Allentown, located 15 miles to the north.
Finance manager Jeff Rowe, 25, notes that the dealership was also No. 1 in the country in sales of the souped-up Mustang RTR, which is predesigned with “upgrades ready to rock.” The self-described “numbers guy” on the team joined Faulkner-Ciocca Ford in March 2013. Like most F&I producers employed by the dealership, he spent several months on the sales floor before joining Egge’s team this past February.
Rowe was raised in the area around Quakertown, which once hid the Liberty Bell from British soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. It was also the location of the anti-tax John Fries’ Rebellion in 1799.
“That’s one of the coolest parts of our store. Quakertown is just being built up now, but it really was a farm town,” Rowe explains. “It still is a blue-collar town, yet we have found a way to achieve big numbers, numbers such as finishing No. 1 in Mustang sales in the state and finishing No. 1 in the region last month in total sales. Yet we still have that hometown dealership kind of feel.”
Rowe credits Egge’s leadership for much of the department’s success, noting that many of the producers the F&I director has trained have gone on to become finance directors at the group’s other locations. But no matter how many top producers Egge loses, his department never seems to lose a step.
“All of our stores run good numbers in F&I, but Quakertown has been the highest in the group month in and month out for the past two years,” Egge says.
But in sticking with the sales-first approach he preaches, Egge refuses to take full credit for the performance of his department. “I have to give the sales managers and desk managers a lot of credit,” says Egge, who has conducted training in those departments as well. “Our store believes in our F&I process and they believe in the potential of F&I and how it can actually help customer satisfaction instead of hindering it. I’m not sure you can say that about other sales departments out there.”
The strength of Faulkner-Ciocca’s F&I process is illustrated by the fact that, even with several finance managers fresh from the sales floor, the Quakertown store averages well north of $1,500 in F&I profit per retail unit (PRU) on about two products per deal. Service contracts lead the way with an acceptance rate of about 55%, followed by GAP at 45%. The store’s road hazard product and bundled offering, which includes dent and ding, tire-and-wheel and windshield protection, penetrate at a rate of 32% combined.
Incredibly, Egge’s department is hitting those numbers while maintaining a charge-back rate of less than 5%.
“We work together with our GM and our finance director to be an F&I-run store,” Rowe says, noting that Ford Motor Credit gets the lion’s share of deals. “It really is an F&I store.”
The store’s 90% finance penetration is a testament to that philosophy, with sales staff trained to turn customers over to F&I as soon they inquire about rates or commit to a purchase. The goal is to get F&I involved before customers seek outside financing.
“We simply try to sell the value of doing business with us,” Rowe says of his approach to cash and credit-union customers. “You’re not just buying a car; you’re buying a whole experience.”
Give and Take
Antonios says a give-and-take relationship drives the connection between the dealership’s sales and F&I departments. He likens the approach to a three-legged stool, with employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and performance working together to support the operation.
“The No. 1 customer in the dealership for the finance department is the salesperson,” Antonios says. “If the salesperson walks in and says he has a customer at eight at night, the finance manager has to have a smile and be excited. Hey, that guy has just worked his butt off to sell a car.”
Antonios acknowledges that approach may not sit well with some F&I professionals. But it works for Faulkner-Ciocca Ford, mainly because the entire F&I team was recruited from the sales floor.
“Since they were just on that sales floor, they have a different level of respect for how long it takes to sell a vehicle,” Antonios says, noting one additional benefit to recruiting newcomers to the F&I trade. “All these people who are learning underneath us don’t know any bad habits, they don’t know bad car stigma, they don’t know attitudes. All they know is you have to be good to your salespeople and you have to be good to your customers. And they know you have to do the right thing when no one is looking.”
And those lessons seem to have stuck with Rowe. “You have to be a good team player and have the right attitude,” he says. “The culture of the store is more important than selling 20 cars a month.”
But it’s not all work and no play. In fact, Rowe does his part to lighten the mood with his daily wardrobe. F&I managers must adhere to white dress shirt, dress pants and tie dress code. Rowe, however, adds a little flair with matching socks and ties.
“It’s fun and it’s professional,” Egge says. “His philosophy is, if he looks good, he feels good, and if he feels good, he’s going to sell good. It’s the little things.”
The pace is about to pick up for Egge and Antonios. With ownership planning to double the size of the nine-store group — Ciocca already having made several property acquisitions — the two managers will be responsible for training the new locations on their blueprint for success. And they look forward to providing a solid career path for the new hires.
“The day your salesperson or manager starts with you, you’re accountable for them and their families to do well,” Antonios says. “It’s not always going to be perfect. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. But if we focus on their strengths, we can take them to a whole new level.”
Egge offers some words of advice to F&I directors looking to improve their departments. “I would encourage F&I to be humble and to focus on the salesperson,” he says. “If you want to change the culture, it’s going to start with you and your mentality.”
Paul Chavez is a freelance writer based in Venice, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected]