In October, Wheel City Auto Sales, Sioux Falls, SD was named the 2003 Buy Here Pay Here (BHPH) Dealer of the Year by Leedom and Associates, LLC at their Eighth Annual Special Finance and BHPH Convention in Las Vegas.
It was the culmination of a journey which started in June 1992 in Rapid City, S.D. together as a family venture. After years with new car dealerships, Bruce Nerison, along with his wife Ruth, and son, B.A. Nerison Jr., decided they needed to give the business a whirl for themselves. As a result, Wheel City Auto Sales became a reality.
In 1996 as the business grew, they expanded to Sioux Falls, S.D. In September 1997, Nerison sold his Rapid City location to his uncle, Paul Geissler, and started construction of the existing dealership property, which sits on three acres and rivals most franchise dealership facilities.
After eight successful years, in 2000, Bruce Nerison handed the reins over to his son. To be sure, Nerison, known affectionately in the community as “Uncle Bruce,” is still very involved in the business, but he squarely credits the growth and success enjoyed by the company in recent years to his son.
Throughout the evolution, their philosophy of doing business has been unbending: “Our goal is to build relationships for life, whether it is with our customers, employees or vendors,” B. A. Nerison said.
By the numbers, Wheel City Auto Sales retails about 120 units per month, 90 via BHPH and another 30 via special finance, a market they entered in late 2002.
Through their own related finance company, the Nerisons maintain approximately 1,000 accounts on the books, meaning they have an enormous amount of traffic through their doors each week.
The Nerisons eagerly invest their profits back into their facilities because they treasure their customers. “We felt it was important for two reasons. First, we wanted our customers and employees to enjoy coming into the dealership,” B.A. Nerison said. “It must be a fun experience. Additionally, we feel that it has helped elevate the public’s perception of Wheel City as an independent dealership.”
Customers arriving at Wheel City are in for a treat. First, they will notice all employees are into the company’s 50s motif. All personnel are adorned in 50s-style Wheel City bowling shirts – some even with “flamed” wing-tip shoes. Next, they will find an in-store diner, where they can get everything from a hot dog to a latte.
Finally, in the showroom, rather than autos, they will find one of the most amazing collections of Harley Davidsons and other exotic motorcycles – and yes, they are for sale.
The latest addition to the facility has been their newest location, an indoor storefront at the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls. Equipped with a computer kiosk, Nerison again feels it has caused public perception to soar, not to mention bringing nearly an additional 7,000 unique visitors to their company’s Web site per month.
B. A. Nerison is quick to give credit to his employees.
“They are the lifeblood to our organization. Because of that, we spend a significant amount of time both hiring and training.
Their 38 employees each went through multiple interviews and personality profile testing before they were invited to become part of the team.
“We typically look for energetic, personable people that have not been in the car business. We want people that have the ability to communicate and the desire to learn. Additionally, they must fit the overall chemistry of the team.”
Once aboard, all employees become part of the ongoing training mission. Five days a week the day begins with a one-hour training meeting.
Sales training is not the only topic covered in these meetings. The Nerisons focus heavily on compliance issues, which are so important in their extremely regulated industry.
The Nerisons also believe in providing training for themselves. They are members of three different Leedom and Associates 20 Groups, one for BHPH dealers, one for special finance dealers and one for Finance Companies.
“People may think it is odd we are in three groups,” B.A. Nerison said. “But we have three distinct operations in our company, and each has different focuses. Additionally, the camaraderie and trust developed among the network of your peers is invaluable. They become like extended family that you can always exchange valuable information and circumstances with.”
Their continuing education does not stop there; they are firm believers in “being involved with the state and national dealer associations,” attending every conference and convention they can. Additionally, Bruce Nerison was elected vice president of Region III of NIADA, while B.A. Nerison attended the Certified Master Dealer program in June 2002.
Wheel City also have invested money in two other services they feel have been very worthwhile. They have sent their entire sales team to Joe Verde and an associates sales training program, which they feel, mixes just fine with their scope of business.
Finally they utilize Who’s Calling to not only track advertising expenditures, but to train their sales team on the telephone, as well. The recorded calls become part of their Who’s Calling Wednesday training, which can be a source of both accolades and constructive criticism to the entire staff.
The BHPH business still comes down to the basics – buying it, reconditioning it, selling it and then collecting it.
Before it is sold, it has to be purchased and made ready. When asked about their reconditioning policies, B. A. Nerison put it simply, “Reconditioning starts with buying. We buy well. We drive everything – even at auctions – before we ever bid on it. If it needs much more than brakes, tires and an oil change, we will pass on it. Our big focus is the vehicle must be safe to drive.”
“With BHPH, the goal is to sell a vehicle that will run the term of the note. Our notes average 68 weeks in length, so if we buy a vehicle that has 50 percent brake or tire life left, we know it ought to run to term, without putting the customer in a financial dilemma.”
Sales have grown steadily, due to strong advertising campaigns and the use of third party Internet lead generators.
“The Internet leads we get through InterActive Financial Marketing Group, Cyberlead and AfterBK Inc. have really done well,” Brad Paulsen, general manager, said.
“We track leads religiously, and we have consistently averaged closing over 20% of the leads that we get from those three providers,” Finance Director Brock Reuter said.
The strategy pays off. Wheel City has an average $6,200 sale price. With the short term financing, contractual delinquencies average just 10 percent to 12 percent (one day or one dollar).
“At the end of the day, we just hire good, honest people, train them, work hard and stick to our plan,” B.A. Nerison said. “The rewards have been a tremendously loyal customer base, loyal employees and a successfully business. Our goal now is to work smarter rather than harder in 2004!”
Finally, B.A. Nerison offers other BHPH dealers two pieces of advice.
“Join a 20 Group. Also, get involved in your state and national dealer associations. Getting involved in all three has propelled us further and faster than we ever imagined!”
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