Leveraging the team's strengths, refining the sales process and putting people first are what John Schenden's Pro Chrysler Jeep dealership did to earn the magazine's 2008 F&I Dealer of the Year award.
By Joan Shim
If he had it his way, John Schenden's business card would say "team captain" rather than owner of Pro Chrysler Jeep. And after hearing him describe his approach to managing his Denver-based business, one quickly understands why.
As a leader, Schenden doesn't unilaterally devise plans and practices his staff is forced to carry out. Instead, he invites all his employees to be part of the decision-making process, even if they're not directly impacted by the decision. That's why most improvements and changes at the dealership are made as a team effort. It's a strategy for success, he says.
"Everyone in the dealership is responsible for participating in the decision-making process. So everybody takes ownership," says Glen Tuscan, owner of Dealer Commitment Services, an independent agency representing CNA National. "Decisions are well thought out, planned and executed. And because everyone is involved in the decisions, they all buy into them and commit to them long term."
That's why Schenden leans on his staff to glean maximum insight prior to making decisions or prior to changing the way things are done.
"If we have a service issue, I want people from the business office, sales, parts and service talking about it. Why? Because some people see things — even though it's not part of their department — that are important," he says.
At the same time, Schenden supplies the vision and wisdom required to motivate and mobilize his people.
"He has a management skill that's beyond anything I've ever seen," Tuscan says. "I leave every meeting I have with him feeling inspired, and I've been doing business with him for more than 15 years."
Schenden's business skill and integrity are widely recognized. "John is the quintessential entrepreneur who combines tremendous business acumen with professional flair," says Mark Korman of the Denver Business Center for Chrysler Financial. "His hallmark is having a keen sense of business, understanding the knowledge and providing first-class customer service.
"This [F&I Dealer of the Year] award is the result of Pro Chrysler Jeep's overall dedication to being customer-focused while upholding the highest of ethical standards," Korman adds.
Schenden has made believers out of his staff when it comes to the dealership's customer-friendly sales process. From the minute a customer steps onto the lot, he or she is escorted through a well-devised sales process that reduces time and hassle for the customer.
"My managers and I are very process- driven," Schenden says, "and our goal is to make it a comfortable, easy, non-confrontational type of buying process."
What anchors this process is an information sheet the customer fills out upon arrival. It consists of the customer's personal information, the vehicle he or she is shopping for, and whether he or she expects to trade-in a prior vehicle. Schenden says 90 percent of his new and used customers are willing to fill out the sheet.
Based on what it says on the sheet, a manager will select three vehicles for the customer to choose from. This eliminates the time spent by the customer wandering the lot looking for a vehicle to purchase.
"Knowing right away what the customer is looking for makes it easier for us and cuts down on the buying process," Schenden says.
If the customer selects a vehicle, he or she is taken through an efficient and compliant finance process. Schenden describes it as more of an education process than a selling job. "We don't give a sales pitch," he explains. "What we do is educate customers on the advantages of the different products. And when they see the value, they tend to buy it."
The dealership accomplishes this using a presentation sheet that ensures customers are shown every F&I product every time. Once the products are presented, the F&I manager and customer are then required to sign off on every product presented, regardless of whether it is accepted by the customer or not. Schenden then audits these deals himself, pulling 25 random deals each month to make sure they are fully compliant.
He credits this process for his dealership's 83-percent and 50-percent acceptance rates on finance and service contracts, respectively.
"If a customer declines a product, often they just don't understand what it is," he says. "And if we present it correctly and educate the customer on the product and its benefits, we have a better chance of selling it."
The practice of not separating special finance from regular finance also helps the customer feel more welcome and comfortable, Schenden says. Handling credit-challenged customers on the same show floor and by the same sales and F&I managers means "no one in the showroom can tell if the customer has an 800 credit score or a 550 credit score," he says.
The dealership also offers special finance customers late-model, one- to two-year-old vehicles that still have factory warranties. Schenden does this so the customer doesn't wind up paying for expensive repairs a few years later.
Judging by the dealership's 98 percent customer sales satisfaction rating in December 2007 — the highest rating for a Chrysler dealership of its size — the sales process is working.
"If you treat customers right and make it an easy process for them, they'll come back and give us another opportunity," Schenden says. That's why 34 percent of the dealer's business are repeat customers.
Schenden has put a lot of thought and planning into how to get his employees working as a team.
"I don't want everyone running around doing their own thing. I want everybody working together toward a common goal, because I think it works better that way," Schenden explains. To that end, he has different departments meet together to brainstorm and work out problems. For example, the finance manager can work with the sales manager to figure out how to structure a deal for someone with questionable credit.
Pay plans are also structured to promote interdepartmental collaboration. Managers' salaries are not based on sales quotas within their individual departments. Instead, their pay plans rely on the group's success at meeting requirements and targets in both sales and F&I. For example, sales managers have conservative sales numbers they are required to hit, while F&I managers must present all finance deals to Chrysler Financial. They must also have a minimum 50-percent service contract penetration. Additionally, the used-car manager must not have any used cars on the lot past 60 days. And the dealership must have a CSI rating of more than 95 percent.
"That way, all the managers are tied to each other and they're working together to make sure that everybody does their little piece of the pie," Schenden says.
Training the team is also a top priority at Pro Chrysler Jeep. Schenden says he spends more money on training than other dealers in his 20 Group, as well as other Chrysler dealers his size.
F&I managers have also been required to get AFIP certification for several years. They are also sent regularly to training classes provided by CNA National, Chrysler Financial, the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association and others. Even if the training is repetitive, Schenden believes employees always come away with "something that makes them better."
Schenden sums up his formula for success in this way: "It's all about doing the process, taking care of the customers and taking care of the employees. It's not a real complicated business."
That's because he's got the program down pat.