Prince Automotive Group, which operates six rooftops and seven franchises in the southern Georgia towns of Albany, Douglas, Tifton, and Valdosta, is proof that operating high-performance finance departments while maintaining the highest level of ethical practices is possible.
At the helm of the group’s finance operations is F&I Director Brad Richardson, a former banker who joined Prince Automotive 18 years ago. Last year, his F&I teams generated $5 million in revenue, about 60% of which was made from product income and the rest from reserve. As for chargebacks, the goal is a rate of 6%, but Richardson says the group’s current chargeback rate is 4%.
“We are very selective when it comes to our finance managers. I don’t believe in hiring other people’s problems, so we try to hire from within and mold them,” says Richardson. “And you have got to be a professional individual who can develop rapport with others from different backgrounds immediately.”
Having worked at Bank of America, Richardson makes clear he manages his department with a banker’s mentality. The producing director understands debt ratios and can read credit bureaus, which he audits quarterly to make sure his team is maintaining them.
To minimize reinsurance loss ratios, among other reasons, Richardson tries to stay away from contracts with stretched out terms. In fact, through September, the group’s year-to-date average term was 59 months. When extending terms is the only option, he and management will monitor those contracts closely.
“I do a financial analysis just like I did at the bank,” he says. “Right now our average service contract term is 56 months. And since our average finance contract is at 59, that means our customers are covered the entire time they’re paying the loan.”
Richardson says communication between sales and F&I is the secret to his store’s success. The sales team qualifies customers to uncover their needs. F&I gets involved the moment numbers are presented or whenever rate becomes an issue. Once customers are set and an approval is secured, they enter an F&I office and the discovery interview begins with a review of their credit report and a few pointed questions.
Richardson says Prince’s F&I process is designed to give customers the feeling that they are dealing with a banker. F&I managers also set the customer’s expectations by explaining their process, which helps slow down buyers who want to rush through it. Finance managers are also expected to complete tag and title registration paperwork, verify their own payoffs and insurance. That means no spot deliveries.
“In the 18 years I’ve been here, I’ve never had to take back,” he says.
Once a year, Richardson brings each F&I manager in for role-playing and coaching sessions. New F&I managers shadow Richardson for two weeks — or whenever he feels they’re ready to take a turn on their own. That was the case for John Austin Striping, the grandson of the group’s founder, John B. Prince III. Richardson said Stripling was in high school when he was chosen to mentor the fourth-generation family member.
The group’s F&I product provider, American Financial & Automotive Services, also helps to keep Richardson’s producers trained. The firm also participates in a quarterly meeting between the group’s managers and executive team, including founder John B. Prince III, John B. Prince IV, and heather Prince Stripling, to discuss issues that arise and opportunities to improve.
Richardson’s F&I teams are currently averaging more than $1,400 per copy on new units and more than $1,350 on used. Service contracts are a major point of focus and currently penetrate at a 68% clip. Coming in second is GAP with an acceptance rate of 47%. The group also sells credit life and prepaid maintenance.
“We have only offered four products in the past, but we just added ‘Complete Protection’ — a combo product that includes paintless dent repair, key replacement, and wheel-and-tire,” Richardson says. “Mr. Prince doesn’t want to be known as the dealer who doesn’t give customers something of value.”
Prince isn’t just a household name in the towns in which its dealerships are located. The Georgia Automobile Dealers Association named an award after the dealer group’s founder. Other accolades have included the Cox Enterprise Georgia Family Business of the Year award and recognition as Best New Car Dealer, Best Used Car Dealer, and Best Overall Dealer by the local newspapers covering the communities in which the group serves.
The group is also active on countless chambers of commerce and has contributed millions of dollars to local charities, schools and organizations over its 52-year history.
“We’re respected in the community, and we teach our employees to be respectful — even when they’re not on the clock,” Richardson says. “Mr. Prince teaches us to have an open-door policy, to be a family. He likes to say, ‘You can take my buildings and my money, but you can’t take my people, who made my business.’ It’s why I believe everyone in this area wants to work for Prince Automotive. We just do things differently.”