At Holman Ford Lincoln Turnersville (HFLTV) and Holman Automotive there is much to be proud of. Topping the list is a dedicated team of employees working well together for the success of the entire company.
"I will do everything I can for my customers. Earning their trust and never losing it is what is most important to me.”
Gregory Soden, a finance manager at HFLTV, stands out as an outstanding member of the team charged with building loyalty and exceeding customer expectations at HFLTV.
HFLTV General Manager Anthony Stone says, “Greg gets involved in every deal. He is usually found on the sales floor working with the sales team and often speaking to customers with the salespeople. Everything he does, he does with passion, energy and enthusiasm. He really is something else. He’s a very genuine unassuming person and always working in the best interest of the customer.”
Soden leads conversations about himself a little differently than Stone. He starts by sharing impressive information about the company and its employees. But he’s far humbler when the conversation turns to himself. He won’t tell you that he has stellar F&I numbers, or that he kept them high even during the pandemic.
Instead, he shares that he started at HFLTV, one of 41 dealerships owned by Holman Enterprises, several years ago. He sold cars for seven months before being promoted to finance where he’s worked ever since. But he says his longevity is not unusual for the company.
“The average person has been in our store for at least 15 years. Our general sales manager Scott Gallaher has been here 38 years, my associate finance managers have been here 30 years, and two sales managers have been here around 20 years,” he says. In contrast, employee turnover at most dealerships averages 40% annually, according to NADA numbers.
“Everyone here sees this as a long-term career. When you get a position here, you don’t leave, everyone is like family” he says.
He then emphasizes that Holman Automotive sets up every employee for success. The company, he says, trains, empowers and rewards exceptional employees, and that’s what keeps them there for the long haul.
But when asked how he knocks sales out of the park, Soden again returns to the team. “It’s a collaborative effort,” he says, “between me, my fellow finance consultants, and the sales team.”
He credits the sales management team as well for providing “great support for the finance department. They involve us in the deal from the beginning stages.”
Here, Stone steps in to insert the accolades Soden has overlooked. “Greg elevates the professionalism of F&I consulting. His efforts have helped influence and elevate the performance of F&I at all of our stores. He is a great example of leadership and has demonstrated what can be done when you engage with your customers and the sales team on every deal.”
A Team Player
It’s said there’s no “I” in team. There is also no “I” in Soden’s achievements. He credits his success to a company culture that fosters a team atmosphere where every member of the team matters and contributes. A philosophy Stone strives to permeate throughout the store.
“Everyone is happy to come to work and tries to help each other succeed. Everyone works together as a team, rather than individually,” Soden says.
The team atmosphere, he says, transcends to customers who encounter a relaxed atmosphere. “The sales process is open and transparent,” he says. “There’s no tension and customers don’t feel pressured into buying anything.”
Soden overlooks his reputation for positivity and instead ascribes the trait to every employee. A cheerful outlook is necessary for success, he explains. “If a customer feels desperation in your tone, it is a turn off. You must stay positive, and you must believe in the products you offer,” he says. “You cannot just sell them a bag of goods.”
Holman Automotive contributes to the positive culture by hosting team building opportunities throughout the year. “They bring in ice cream and food trucks, host BBQs, and other team building events, so that everyone comes to work to have fun,” he says.
A positive atmosphere must start at the door, he adds. Soden sometimes greets customers as they walk in then matches them with a salesperson. He’s the familiar face that starts the sales process and customers recognize him as a friend by the time it ends. The result is a happy customer served by a happy employee.
Ditch the Pitch
F&I sales advanced when dealerships moved to using a menu to present products. This measure ensures sellers offer every customer, every product, every time. But all too often, dealerships present this menu after a deal’s already made.
This is too late, says Soden. Holman Ford Lincoln Turnersville’s sales consultants involve Soden with customers as soon as they return from a test drive. “We get involved and go over products with them right away,” he says. “It’s a lot less stressful for customers if we get involved earlier.”
Soden also ditches the pitch and instead focuses on the individual on the other side of the desk. He interviews every customer: How long do you keep your vehicles? How many miles do you drive a day, a week, a year? Where do you live? Do you have pets or children? What kinds of things happened to your old vehicle? Why did you choose this vehicle and how do you plan to use it?
Through this interview, he arrives at the best products for each customer’s unique situation. The analysis tells specifics, such as how long to set the term for a Vehicle Service Contract (VSC). “I provide options that are most beneficial to them rather than try to sell them things that make us the most money,” he says. “I tell them, ‘You don’t need all the products we offer. Some are beneficial to you, and some are not.’ When they see that I am transparent, they feel more comfortable.”
Soden also introduces competitive financing rates upon qualifying from the get-go and different payment options and terms to keep payments within comfortable ranges as F&I products are added. “I’ll work with our lending sources to try matching their bank or credit union’s rates, I keep them interested in us,” he says. “This gives customers an opportunity to purchase the F&I products that they want because they are not financing through their bank.”
By presenting different payment options, Soden says customers can include three to four F&I products, especially if they plan to keep their vehicles a long time. “It doesn’t really affect their monthly budget if you give them additional options on the terms that may work for them,” he says.
“By doing these things, I give them knowledge and let them decide what they want,” he adds. “They have options to choose from instead of me selling them.”
Soden’s process nets big dividends in repeat business and customer retention. His VSC penetration hits 73%. Again, Soden puts the praise elsewhere; here, it’s the quality F&I products offered by the dealership.
“They feel protected by our products; they’ve had amazing experiences with them,” he says. “There are no issues when they file a claim. As a result, our customers are happy. And when they return to buy another vehicle, they plan to add VSC, tire and wheel protection or gap insurance.”
StoneEagle data through May showed soaring F&I profits. The average F&I profit per vehicle sold in May 2021 was $400 higher per unit than in May 2019. Soden says he’s seen the same at Holman Automotive.
“People want to take fewer risks now and protect themselves better. They understand that anything can happen.” he says. “But it’s still important not to ‘sell’ the customer but rather provide them with protection product options that they see value in.”
The Holman Automotive mission statement includes: “To provide the industry’s best automotive-related services by training, empowering and rewarding exceptional people”
The company accomplishes this with its Holman University, which regularly rolls out training to all employees. Typically, every employee attends one to two courses a quarter. Leaders design courses for individual departments and offer training that helps employees understand other department operations too.
“This training familiarizes salespeople with F&I products so that they can talk about them during the sales process,” Soden says. “In training, we even do Zoom calls and role play to improve our process.”
Soden adds company leaders empower employees to do their jobs and make decisions. “They understand everyone has a job to do and that everybody is capable of doing that job. They train us then trust we will do the right thing.”
And though there are high expectations, Soden says the company rewards excellence through its Partners in Excellence program. Here, top employees from each region are recognized each year with an all-expenses paid excursion to a lavish 5-Star resort where their accomplishments are celebrated amongst their peers and Holman’s excutive leadership.
Though hard work and achievement might net a 5-Star reward for a job well done, Soden keeps his focus on the true prize. “The customer is the most important thing,” he says. “I will do everything I can for my customers. Earning their trust and never losing it is what is most important to me.”
Ronnie Wendt is an editor at ADT and owns In Good Company Communications, a business focused on writing for the automotive and RV industries.