“When products are similar, the dealer makes the difference.” It’s a slogan Kerrville, Texas, dealer Cecil Atkission came up with 25 years ago, and it has guided the Vietnam veteran’s six-rooftop, seven franchise dealer group ever since.
Tate Richburg joined the group’s finance department around the time Atkission coined the slogan. He freely admits the group’s F&I teams run “a whole lot better than I was ever able to.” He now serves as the group’s vice president, and describes Atkission, the son of a West Texas cattleman, as down-to-earth and appreciative of people who do their jobs well.
“We’ve got production reports for every facet of our business, and whenever he’s at a store, he’ll go find the guy who is producing at a high level and tell him he appreciates what he’s doing,” says Richburg. “For him, it’s about doing the job well, but with the customer in mind.”
With most of his dealerships located in small towns, Atkission’s stores are engrained in the communities they serve, whether it’s sponsoring the local Little League team or hosting high school football coaches for a local radio show that broadcasts from one of his showrooms.
“Most people say cash is king,” Richburg says. “Here we say football is king.”
In 2016, Atkission was named Citizen of the Year by the city of Kerrville, where he serves on the boards of directors for the Peterson Regional Medical Center, the PRMC Foundation, Schreiner University, and Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce. Richburg and Atkission’s son, Trey, are also active in the communities and in charitable foundations.
Richburg describes the group’s sales and F&I processes as “predictable,” meaning the organization values consistency over wowing customers and demands a high level of professionalism and courtesy in sales and F&I.
“We’re not trying to wow every customer, but we do want to give them good service,” he says. “Not everything is a wow-type moment, either. Some of it can be, but what people really want is to be greeted with a smile, to be thanked for doing business here, and to be in and off in their car in a reasonably timely manner.”
That’s why Richburg believes F&I success starts with the salesperson’s meet-and-greet, showing them the vehicle, talking about the car, penciling the deal, and creating opportunities. He says his group is very rigid when it comes to deal structure and presentation.
“We want that process to look and feel the same with every customer, whether it’s a lease, finance, or paying cash,” he says, noting that his F&I team does pretty well in terms of service contract penetration on cash deals. “We’re in the 40% range on cash deals. We just operate with the assumption that, if you come to our store and buy a car, you’re going to want a service contract.”
Selling the service contract is his F&I team’s No. 1 priority, driving their penetration rate on all deals to 82.3%. Other priorities include GAP (36.6%), tire-and-wheel (35.9%), theft (86.7%), and windshield repair (31%). The group is currently averaging well above $1,500 PRU for both new and used — despite a heavy credit union presence — and a sub-10% chargeback rate.
Richburg credits his F&I team’s success to the limited number of products offered. He analyzes chargebacks to identify trends. “The only chargeback that concerns us is a cancelation. If that’s the case, we’re going to revisit the deal and talk through it. Are we focusing too hard? Are we pushing the envelope? Do we need to adjust our pricing cap?”
Richburg also credits the group’s F&I product provider, American Financial & Automotive Services, for the success of his F&I operations. “We wouldn’t be able to do any of it without those guys. It’s truly a hand-in-glove relationship.”
The dealer executive also has praise for Darwin Automotive’s F&I selling system, which he says equips his producers with “You told me …” ammunition to answer customer objections and concerns. He believes the survey and product recommendation features put the focus on the value, rather than the price, of each product. The F&I tool’s remote presentation feature also keeps his producers in the game for remote deals and drives product sales in the service drive.
“I also think we have really smart and talented people in our F&I departments,” Richburg adds. “And we’ve got processes that are easy to commit to. But it all starts with Cecil. He’s in the dealerships regularly, reminding them to be good to the customer.”