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It's Never Too Late For Special Finance

Do you think it’s too late to start a special finance department? Your competitor down the road has been doing it for years, or at least they advertise that they do. Why should you consider entering this market?

First, you need to keep your current customers, even when they run across some credit issues. Next, you must attract new customers by providing more options for financing. Expressway Dodge is counting on both sets of customers.

Expressway Dodge located in Evansville, Ind., started when Bob and Liz Bulkley purchased a local Dodge dealership in 1991. In January of 1992, they moved the dealership to the East side of town and it has grown every year since.

Bob Bulkley started out as a teacher who took a summer job selling cars until his dream job was available in the fall. His dream was a teaching job that also provided a coaching position. The man, who was supposed to resign, ultimately providing the opening for Bulkley, changed his mind. However, by that time Bulkley had discovered he was making more money and loved the auto business. “It’s hard telling what Bob would be doing now if he’d gotten the teaching/coaching job,” his wife says with a laugh.

The Bulkleys, along with their two sons Bryan and Derrick, own 15 acres that now house not only Expressway Dodge but Xpress Lube and the Credit Connection and their most recent addition-Expressway Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and GMC in Mt. Vernon, Ind.

As dealers of only Dodge products in the Chrysler vehicle family, the Bulkelys have earned Chrysler’s Five Star Award as an outstanding franchise. To maintain that standing they must score high on all Chrysler inspections, customer surveys (sales and service), as well as maintaining a required amount of training for all employees.

After 12 years of operation and becoming the 14th ranked stand-alone Dodge dealership in the United States, this new car dealership started looking for another method for getting their customers in their seats.

After operating a Daewoo franchise for more than two years, the Bulkley’s were forced to close it when Daewoo stopped marketing in the United States. Left with an empty building, plenty of lot space and lenders urging them to open a special finance department, they felt special finance deserved another look.

They approached it cautiously due to their inexperience in this area. They were however convinced the need was growing in their market. “Many of our lenders were encouraging us because the number of potential customers with 'compromised credit' has increased dramatically the past few years,” Liz said.

The Bulkley’s took their time in putting it altogether. “We knew that it was more labor intensive than conventional sales, and the hardest part was finding the right people who knew how to handle it properly,” Bulkley commented. It took more than six months investigation and working with the lenders to iron out the details."

In December of 2003, David Wheatley, a seasoned veteran in special finance since 1990, was hired as the credit manager for their young enterprise. Most of Wheatley’s experience had been with a local Ford store just down the street from Expressway. Wheatley helped get the Credit Connection store opened in January 2004.

“When we first started working on the plan, it was 25 units a month. By the time we had everything in place and were ready to open the doors. We had set our goals at 50 units per month,” said Wheatley. “The first month of operation brought 57 sales, and we haven’t looked back since.”

The Credit Connection is currently handling 70 units per month and planning for the 100 unit a month marker in 2005. Wheatley said, “We realize we will have to hire another salesperson to get us to that level. We’re getting more and more customers every day. Most people know if they’ve had credit issues it’s our job to help them get past it.” The Credit Connection works with 10 national and local lenders, using five or six of them regularly.

Having a credit manager who knows special finance isn’t enough. You also need a sales staff that can and will take the time to work with the credit challenged. Wheatley hired Willie Ligon and Tom Nalley. Both are seasoned special finance professionals, who have more than 15 years of selling in special finance between them.

Over the years, circumstances can change for their customers. Those that were credit challenged are back on their feet and are still purchasing vehicles from Ligon, and those that are new to the challenges of purchasing after a major credit incident find that he is eager to help them get back on track.

“One thing about it, people have to have cars. Most folks with credit issues have called ahead and know what documents to bring with them. This cuts down on the amount of time it takes us to put the customer on the road in their new vehicle,” said Ligon.

As for Nalley, he has more experience in desking deals. He has held multiple positions in Special Finance over the years but is enjoying selling again. His experience in special finance, including desking and getting deals bought has brought him an extra bonus. He has access to DealerTrack on his desktop and can input many of his own deals, which can speed up the delivery process for him on a busy day.

The Expressway organization has always been very aggressive in their advertising. “TV, radio, direct mail, and lead provider; we do it all,” says Wheatley. “The Bulkley’s are very good about supporting the advertising initiatives that we want to pursue. We even developed TV spots just for the Credit Connection location and use direct mail to target the customers we want to attract.”

The Expressway Dodge Web site is an extension of their advertising. Their site is designed to provide information which they have found is crucial to their customer base. “Although a customer may complete an application on line, they still want to see and touch the second largest purchase they will make. Our Web site is an information source. If a customer authorizes us to check credit, we review their credit and know right away if the Credit Connection staff needs to step in to help the buyer get the vehicle they can afford,” stated Bulkley.

The close proximity of the two stores has allowed both facilities to reap benefits. The customer is never without an option for financing or for vehicles due to the huge volume of vehicles that are available. At any given time there are nearly 400 used vehicles available as well as 600 to 700 new vehicles between the Expressway lots.

If a customer arrives at the Dodge store and has significant credit issues, the sales person drives them the two blocks to the Credit Connection and introduces them to someone who can assist with their special needs. This turnover earns the original salesman a bird dog for his efforts to keep the customer at Expressway.

The Credit Connection facility has definitely increased the company’s gross sales during 2004, according to Liz Bulkley. “We have a lot of repeat customers in Evansville. It’s a fantastic customer base,” Bulkley said. “Customers get a good price on a vehicle, and they keep coming back.” Coming back they do, to the tune of more than 4,000 vehicles annually.
Vol 2, Issue 1