The magazine entered 2017 with a new sponsor for the F&I Dealer of the Year program and a goal of identifying its 16th winner. The award would go to Star Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram/Hyundai (See Page 14), but there were two other deserving organizations gunning for F&I and Showroom’s annual award.
First, the magazine would like to recognize this year’s sponsor of the F&I Dealer of the Year contest, American Financial & Automotive Services Inc. The F&I development company is a longstanding supporter of F&I and Showroom magazine, and was quick to sign on as this year’s sponsor.
“I’ve been very blessed in the industry,” says Arden Hetland, president of American Financial. “Supporting this year’s F&I Dealer of the Year award was a way for me to support the magazine and give back to the industry I love. I was just honored to be able to be part of it.”
Aside from Star Family of Dealerships, Oklahoma City’s Bob Moore Cadillac of Edmond and Martinez, Ga.-based Gerald Jones Auto Group rounded out this year’s field of finalists, better known as F&I Pacesetters.
Common among each F&I Pacesetter are active management teams, pay plans that balance performance with customer satisfaction, and multilayered compliance procedures. These organizations also demonstrated their dedication to the industry and the communities they serve. The following profiles provide a glimpse at the two runner-ups for the 2017 F&I Dealer of the Year award.
Gerald Jones Auto Group
Background Check: Andy Jones was just 11 years old when his father Gerald and a business partner opened the dealership on which the Gerald Jones Auto Group was founded. The year was 1974. The location was Augusta, Ga., and the original store included just 10 employees.
“Like all dealer kids, I always loved being in the dealership,” says Jones, who now serves as dealer principal for the two-rooftop, eight-brand dealer group. “I looked for any reason to be there.”
And like most dealer kids, Jones did just about every job in the dealership. He swept floors, washed cars, and worked parts and service. He also served as an F&I manager while attending the University of Georgia. At that time, the group consisted of two locations, a Honda dealership and a combined Volkswagen/Volvo outlet. The group’s employee count had also grown to about 40.
During his junior year in college, Jones bought out his father’s business partner. In 1999, Jones bought out his father. Today, his group is based in Martinez, where it operates an auto mall representing eight brands: Audi, Ford, Honda, Lincoln, Subaru, VW, and Volvo. The group also includes Gerald Jones Ford Lincoln in Augusta.
The Numbers: The dealer group’s F&I operations averages 2.5 products per deal and north of $1,200 per copy on about 7,000 units sold annually. Delivering those averages is an eight-person team with backgrounds that range from buy-here, pay-here operations to highline dealerships.
They operate under a dealer who believes service contracts drive customer satisfaction and repeat business. He’s also a dealer who doesn’t believe in pay plans that penalize producers for not selling enough of a certain product.
“As far as what my F&I managers sell, I don’t care which products they sell as long as the profit isn’t coming from reserve,” he adds, noting that he caps rate markups at two points.
The group’s top seller is its theft protection product, which penetrates at a 66% clip, followed by service contracts and GAP with acceptance rates of 46% and 36%, respectively. “I believe what drives customer satisfaction are extended service contracts,” Jones says. “In fact, I’ll sell it at zero if I think it will help a customer.”
F&I producers are required to present a menu on every deal they touch. And if they’re not working with a customer, Jones expects his producers to be at the desk listening in as deals come together, providing input on pricing, or even helping with vehicle selection. It’s just part of the business management style he personally subscribes to: MBWA, or “management by walking around.”
Also guiding his process are checklists for both front- and back-end managers. Their purpose is twofold: They ensure compliance procedures are followed and that F&I is receiving complete and accurate paperwork from the showroom — where every salesperson is armed with a tablet. Service advisors are also equipped with tablets, reflecting Jones’ belief that you either embrace change or you get passed up.
“Anytime I look at a new idea, I go at it with the idea that it’s going to be a success. I’m not a naysayer,” he says. “Some people don’t care; some people prefer [tablets]. I’m just not one to hold on to the old style.”
Jones expects his teams to respond immediately to any funding and credit issues. He’s also a big advocate of constant training. In fact, the best part of his week is his Monday morning sales meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m. and covers everything from CSI scores to tasks that need to be completed by week’s end. Everyone — from his 60 salespeople to his human resources director — is expected to attend.
“Not too many dealers train their own people,” says American Financial’s Hetland. “Andy just gets right in there and does the training.”
Compliance: Hetland’s relationship with the Jones family dates back 20 years. It extends beyond the training and performance management his company provides. “Over the years we built a relationship, and we share motivational books back and forth, training books,” Hetland says. “And he uses them to mentor his entire organization.”
In fact, having every employee at his Monday morning meeting is something he grabbed from reading about Steve Jobs. Then there’s the red phone that’s been sitting in every one of his showrooms for the last 10 years. The line goes straight to his cellphone, and any customer who feels the dealership hasn’t “exceeded their expectations” is urged to pick it up.
“When I get a call, the first thing I say is, ‘This is Andy Jones. I’m glad you called and I’m sorry you had to,’” Jones says, adding he got the idea from a dealer who was profiled in Automotive News. “‘I’m sorry’ goes a long way with people. So even if they’re mad, they’re nice. You just need to let them talk for few minutes and then they’re good.”
Hetland recalls a recent dinner that was interrupted by a call from the red phone. “It’s a tribute to Andy, because he’s truly dedicated to making sure his customers are taken care of,” he says. “It’s the real deal for him.”
Monitoring Jones’ F&I operation for compliance and performance on behalf of American Financial is Dealer Development Manager Keith King. He also supports the onboarding of new business managers. When training is needed, King calls in Scott Wehman, one of the trainers in American Financial’s Automotive Training Academy.
“When Scott comes in, he stays the night. And I’ll entertain him that one night,” Jones says. “Part of that is he’s here by himself, but I also want him to get to know me. I don’t want any gray, because 90% is not good enough. I want it perfect, or as close to perfect as they can be.”
Trophy Case: All that focus on customer service has resulted in an “A+” rating with the Better Business Bureau and several coveted accolades, including DealerRater’s 2016 Consumer Satisfaction Award. The dealership was also voted the “Best Place to Buy a New Car” in 2017 by readers of Columbia County magazine, and is a past recipient of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year award.
Giving Back: The Gerald Jones Auto Group is well known for its work in the community. There’s the series of awards from the Salvation Army the group earned for its Christmas Car Challenge, which raised $34,900 to help the charitable organization keep needy families together during periods of homelessness.
And over the past 10 years, the Jones family has donated millions of dollars to about 80 nonprofit and charitable organizations, including the Salvation Army of Augusta, the American Red Cross, and the Columbia County Humane Society.
The former president of the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association is also an active member of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia Advisory Board, the Honda Dealer Product Advisory Board, the Capital One Finance Advisory Board, and currently serves as chairman of the Salvation Army board.
“The Salvation Army is my passion,” Jones says. “My thing is you live and work in the community, but you have to contribute.”
Then there’s Thunder Over Augusta, a free-admission event he helped found more than 10 years ago with local businessmen Donnie Thompson and the late Dale Phelon. Jones has invested more than $750,000 to support the event, which is designed to celebrate Armed Forces Day and attracts more than 35,000 residents and military families. Today, the event is held in Evans Towne Center Park and is now named Thunder Over Evans.
“Andy is a very giving person. If someone needs something, he’s always there — whether it’s his people or the community,” Hetland says. “So all the support his organization lends in the community, that’s all Andy. That’s something he decided he wanted to do.”