Her gasp radiated throughout the Paris Las Vegas’ Champagne Ballroom. Joe Amendola of The Warranty Group had just announced F&I and Showroom’s 2016 F&I Dealer of the Year. And for a stunned Sue Bowman, Sam Pack’s Five Star Ford of Lewisville (Texas) had arrived.
As the No. 43 Ford retail outlet in the nation, the dealership was more than deserving of the award. But in a group that includes the No. 5 Ford store in the nation and two multiyear winners of the Ford Triple Crown award, the Lewisville store’s accomplishments often go unnoticed. In fact, Bowman has gotten used to the blank stares whenever she tells someone she works there and not at the group’s more famous Carrollton or North Richland Hills Ford stores.
“They say with a confused look, ‘Oh, you’re in Lewisville,’” she says. “So, yeah, I would say we’ve now put ourselves on the map.”
That’s been Bowman’s goal since she arrived three years ago as the dealership’s community relationship manager. She serves as ambassador for five chambers of commerce, wakes up at the crack of dawn to be at ribbon-cutting ceremonies or to deliver scholarship and donation checks, and coordinates volunteer groups for golf tournaments, church fundraisers, school events and more.
“If you saw my calendar, you would not believe it,” she says. “But you’ve got to build relationships, and you have to be out there in the community.”
Bowman stresses that it is her job to tell the story of the dealership and the people who drive it. Their extended victory lap began late last year, when the dealership earned Ford Motor Credit’s Partners in Quality award — the captive’s highest honor for customer satisfaction and loyalty.
And hours before Amendola called the dealership’s name, Bowman received a text from the editor of Murray Media Group’s “Best of Denton County,” a list of the top businesses as voted on by residents of more than 20 towns. Sam Pack’s Five Star Ford of Lewisville took top honors in the best new-car dealership and truck dealership categories.
“When they texted me, I was in the room getting ready to come to the awards ceremony,” Bowman says. “The editor of that magazine texted the link and said, ‘I think you’ll be pleased.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’”
The Go-To Guy
Bowman was texting dealership employees about the Denton County awards when she entered the Champagne Ballroom. But all the F&I team wanted to know about was the F&I Dealer of the Year award. She admits she had her doubts, especially when the accomplishments of the other finalists were recognized.
When Sam Pack was announced as the winner, “I was definitely a girl at that moment — at least I screamed like one,” Bowman says. “Tom was the very first one I tagged. He’s my go-to guy. He’s very dedicated to the dealership, his job, and his faith.”
Tom Andrews is the F&I director at the Lewisville location. The 30-year industry veteran left his hometown of Boston 15 years ago to join the Sam Pack organization. People who know him describe him as a consummate professional who is true to his word.
“He’s been with us since the time we bought the dealership,” says dealer Sam Pack. “He’s the epitome of a professional, and he takes his Christianity very seriously.”
Andrews says he was still at his desk around 7 p.m. when he received Bowman’s text. “The first thing I thought about was my guys,” he says. “Yes, they work for me, but they are the ones in the trenches dealing with customers every day.”
Andrews’ F&I team consists of Luke Bosco, Dru Kaba, and Kyle Clark. They’re a relatively new team, with the longest-tenured producer, Bosco, having been there for just over a year. Andrews says he is very selective, utilizing a hiring process that includes a background check and three manager interviews.
“We say, ‘You’re gonna get to know me and I’m gonna get to know you, and you have to be a match for our team. We might find out that you have great numbers, but when it comes to being a team player or taking care of the customer, that’s not one of your strong points,’” Andrews shares. “So it’s a process just to be hired.”
Once a Competitor
The Sam Pack organization operates four Ford stores, a Chevrolet point, and a soon-to-be-opened Subaru store in the sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. They all carry Pack’s Five Star brand. Pack and longtime friend Don Thornton also operate six highline franchises at five locations in Tulsa, Okla. The dealer also partnered with Texas dealer Jose Pozos on a Honda dealership in Gonzales, La. Altogether, Pack is involved in 12 dealerships representing 13 brands.
The Fort Worth locations alone have collected a host of accolades over the last three decades, including Pack’s TIME Quality Dealer of the Year award in 1988, multiple Ford President’s Awards, 28 Triple Crown awards, and the automaker’s NACE Award and Distinguished Achievement Award, among others.
Even more impressive is the list of charities, schools and community organizations the group supports. They include St. Jude Catholic Church, the Journey to Dream program for troubled teens, the Special Olympics, the Christian Community Action group for needy families, and the Chris Kyle Foundation, among others.
The one organization Pack holds near and dear to his heart, however, is Holy Angels, a Shreveport, La.-based residential facility for individuals with developmental disabilities. The group has supported the organization since Labor Day weekend of 1985. That’s when Pack’s second son, Todd, became a resident. Since then, the dealer and his wife have helped raise more than $25 million for the home.
“That’s been a second home for Todd, so we’re trying to make sure the school has the funding it needs to staff it with exceptional caregivers,” Pack says. “And our management team has really done a great job of supporting our family and our mission.”
And it all started with Carrollton Ford, a 12-time Triple Crown winner. Pack was coming off an 18-year career with Ford Motor Credit when he purchased the location from Lee Jarmon Ford in 1980. He then added the North Richland Hills location in 1991. That dealership quickly rose to the national ranks, winning Ford’s Triple Crown Award every year since the program’s inception 16 years ago.
The Lewisville location was Pack’s third store. He says it was his fiercest competitor when he purchased it in 2001. “The dealership has performed at a very high level, but I don’t think it gets the recognition of the Carrollton dealership, and certainly not the North Richland Hills dealership,” he says. “Fortunately for us, the Lewisville location was a great acquisition, because it allowed us to compete with ourselves rather than someone else. And if you didn’t pick up on it, Tom is also very, very competitive.”
Andrews’ day starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends when the last deal is delivered. The first and third Tuesdays of every month are the exceptions. That’s when he drives straight from work to minister to inmates at a youth prison about an hour away. He describes it as his “best hour of the week.”
Andrews speaks with a counselor’s voice, never bragging and always quick to credit Pack, the dealer’s son, Tony, who serves as the group’s CEO, and COO Terry Rich for their leadership and the culture they’ve created. “Everyone is here for the same common goal: take care of the customer, good CSI, make sure the customer leaves finance happy,” he says, proudly touting the 94% CSI score that delivered the dealership’s first Ford Partners in Quality award.
But it’s not just about creating an enjoyable work environment; it’s about empowering employees. An example of that is the dealership’s no-questions-asked policy, which gives employees up to $100 to handle a customer’s issue without involving a manager. Policies like that made the dealership a perfect candidate to pilot Ford’s Consumer Experience Movement three years ago.
The support program is designed to help managers become better coaches. Once a month, a group of managers and non-managers meet for eight hours to work on different assignments addressing the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. “It’s about the relationships we have with one another, within the company, with the community, and obviously with the consumer,” Pack says. “And one of the things we try to do is engage our employees in the decision making.”
Looking at his Lewisville location’s customer experience scorecard, Pack shares that the dealership’s overall sales experience score currently sits at 95.9%. The overall payment experience is 100%, he adds, while the overall delivery process is 96.4%. “These scores are reflective of Tom and his team,” he says.
Those scores are also reflective of how in sync the dealership’s sales and F&I teams are. The compliance process, for instance, begins the moment the customer is ready for a test drive. Their driver’s license and proof of insurance card is scanned into Dealer Safeguard Solutions’ compliance management system, which performs a quick OFAC check and serves up the dealership’s privacy notice for the customer to e-sign.
Once the customer agrees to buy, the salesperson will again use the compliance software for the credit pull. The system also performs an identity check, serving up five out-of-wallet questions the customer must answer if a variance is spotted. The system also delivers the credit score exception notice to satisfy the Risked-Based Pricing Rule and issues Adverse Action notices if they can’t deliver a deal on the customer’s terms. Finally, the desk managers serve as a backstop, reviewing deals before they reach F&I.
Andrews says the F&I process begins with the following introduction: “I’m gonna be your business manager today, and we’re gonna do three things. One, I’m gonna verify all your personal information. Second, I’m gonna put together a financial package for you and your family. And third, I’m gonna do it in a timely manner. Before we get started, do you have any questions?”
After reviewing the application and asking five questions pertaining to usage and ownership, The Impact Group’s Fusion menu takes over. Producers simply turn their computer screen toward the customer to review the terms. Andrews says he likes the transparency of the menu system, particularly the graphs his producers use to review the factory warranty, depreciation and cost of ownership, and to illustrate how products like GAP work.
Big on coaching, Andrews’ team is prepared for any objection. If it’s the menu they object to, the response is, “You don’t have to buy any products or services that we offer. I’ll be happy to do your paperwork at the payment that you discussed with the salesperson. What we found with past customers is there’s a lot of information we need to go over in the business office, and I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t explain some of the features and benefits. … At the end, if you decide you don’t want them, that’s fine.”
If the customer objects to GAP, producers are trained to focus on the buyer’s loss of dues, including the insurance deductible they’ll pay, as well as the sales tax they paid and their down payment. “They know the word-tracks, they know what to say to the customer that’s non-offensive, that’s not gonna pressure them in any way,” Andrews says.
A Familiar Face
Lewisville’s F&I team was averaging a respectable $1,500 per copy on new and between $800 and $900 on used when Bobby Ward was named the dealership’s general manager in March. He had spent the past decade with Group 1 Automotive’s Nissan store in Austin, Texas. Then he got a call from Charlie Nixon with RFJ Auto Partners.
“Charlie called me and said, ‘Do you mind if I give Terry Rich your name and number?’ I said, ‘Well, first of all, who is it?’” Ward recalls. “He said, “Well, let me just tell you this, if I wasn’t in my current position, this would be the group I would go for.’”
When they connected, Ward was immediately impressed with Rich. “I could tell he was a strong man of faith,” he recalls. “We also seemed really aligned in where we were in our careers. I was looking for a place to retire from.”
The two met at the Pack Automotive Museum, which houses part of the dealer’s collection of more than 370 vintage automobiles. “It was shock and awe,” Ward says. “Terry and I spent a lot of time together before Sam came in, and I could just tell the quality of the people. I mean, the tenure in the company is beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”
At a Ford store in a metro area that includes a number of blue-collar residents, Ward knew there was enough talent in the F&I department to be doing $2,000 per copy. Andrews agreed. The problem was the F&I pay plans maxed out at $1,300 per copy, so the two “moved the goalpost a little further out.” They also focused on making sure the desk was working off the right rate matrix so deals weren’t stripped out by the time they reached F&I.
“Everyone bought into it, and that’s what raised our expectations throughout the store,” Ward says, noting that the dealership averages 450 new, used and fleet sales a month. “And since June, we haven’t had a month where we didn’t average under $2,000 a copy on new cars.”
Andrews says Ward has been “a blessing” since he arrived. “He lets me manage my people,” he says. “He trusts me. That’s the biggest thing.”
The F&I director also credits Marcus Mizell and the team at IAS, the group’s F&I product provider for the last 15 years, for the F&I team’s success. He says Mizell has been especially helpful when coaching finance producers on objection-handling and menu presentations.
“He does a great job. The whole company does,” Andrews says.
Building a Dynasty
Eric “Frenchy” Mélon first came into contact with the Sam Pack organization when he joined First Dealer Resources 12 years ago. The income development company merged with IAS in 2014, and Mélon now serves as the firm’s president of sales. He says he was immediately impressed with stores’ culture and Pack’s leadership.
“He treats his people like gold, but he expects diamonds in return,” he says with a hardy laugh. “Sam is building a dynasty, a deep foundation. Nothing is bigger than the enterprise there. They’re the kind of people that do the right things when nobody’s looking”
The group’s caps on F&I product pricing and rate markups, which were in place long before the arrival of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, are examples of that, as is the Lewisville location’s .75% repossession rate with Ford Motor Credit. The captive gets 65% of the dealership’s business.
Gary Byrd, who has worked with Pack’s group for 20 of his 26 years with Ford Motor Credit, offers a similar assessment of the group. “The Sam Pack group is highly regarded by other dealers across the country. My first and lasting impression has been that this is a well-run business.”
But there are challenges ahead, today’s internet shopper being the biggest. In fact, a good portion of the group’s monthly general manager meetings is spent on technology — with the 79-year-old Pack taking a lead in those discussions.
“We’re in the infancy period of technology,” he says, “… We are going to have to have two business models that we will have to embrace: the traditional business model of today and the unknown business model of the future. How we embrace them comes back to us being students of the marketplace, because we have to embrace change.”
It’s clear Pack has no plans to ride off into the sunset, at least not with four separate construction projects underway, his new Subaru store set to open this month, and his recently opened Honda dealership in Louisiana to oversee.
“Slowing down, I guess, is not in the cards for now, though I am preparing our operations for the future,” he says. “I think the advantage we have over our competition is, in fact, our people. And they will tell you that our highest priority is making sure the voice of the customer drives every decision that we make.”