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No Way But the Dangerfield Way: Reviving a GMC, Pontiac, Buick Store with BDC Expertise

When Johnny Dangerfield added the GMC/Pontiac/Buick store to his turbo-charged, highly successful sales operation in South Carolina in 2006, you could have been excused for feeling a little sorry for him. It’s no secret that domestic vehicle sales in particular have been languishing around the country. His timing was clearly bad.

But then, you would have overlooked the Dangerfield factor.

Dangerfield doesn’t lose, and he doesn’t take prisoners. He is all can-do thrust with an outspoken commitment to the unending mission of teaching sales Dangerfield’s way, backed up with an insatiable thirst for the day-to-day numbers that tell him in no uncertain terms if he’s winning or – God help the weak link in his operation – losing.

It’s doubtful words like failure or losing even figure into his vocabulary. And he won’t tolerate the presence of anyone who doesn’t speak the same language. If any of the salespeople in his organization see their sales fall below eight vehicles in a given month, they have a month to get their stats back up to the mark. If they still can’t connect with customers, they’re terminated. There are no third chances, no permanent retainers. “We have zero tolerance for people hanging around,” he said flatly.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t get a chance to prove themselves, or that they’re left to flounder in the dark, uncertain about their performance. Salespeople have been carefully selected, groomed and trained. Everyone selling cars gets at least three days of training a week in every store, in sessions lasting 35 to 45 minutes. If they’re starting to flag, Dangerfield and his team captains say they can start working with them weeks before other dealers would ever find that a problem exists.

“We track every number in the store,” he said, “and when we see people falling below that number, we find out what’s causing that number to fall. Most dealers don’t know until the end of the month. We pull daily and weekly reports and we try to fix the problem.”

But woe to the staffer marking time on a Dangerfield job.

“Dave Anderson called them five-car Charlies,” said the dealer. “One will breed five, people just picking up a check.”

That doesn’t happen at a Dangerfield store. What he wants to breed are more salespeople just like himself. That means more people who can come close to keeping up with his 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. work schedules, know how to connect with customers, make good things happen everyday, add positive energy to the store and, perhaps most importantly, add to the success of Dangerfield’s seven stores.

“Not all stores are setting records,” said Dangerfield. “But we’ve improved in the down market that everybody keeps screaming about.”

Some of his stores, though, are setting national records. Dangerfield’s Suzuki sales frequently figure among the top operations in the country. That track record also includes a four-month streak at the top of his district for the GMC/Pontiac/Buick dealership. Dangerfield attributes that quick turnaround to bringing in the same system that makes every one of his other stores a star.

“I think it’s about process, systems, the BDC room, lead generation, and I think it’s making sure you don’t miss anything.”

Generating Calls, Closing Sales
The BDC aims high and hits a hard target. Of the people who call in to his BDC, Dangerfield said, 80 percent set an appointment, and 55 percent of those will show up. Of the people who show up, 30 percent buy a vehicle.

“It’s very high,” he confirmed. “To give you an idea, out of 39,500 leads to the BDC…. We funded 10 percent of all the leads that went to the room, which is astronomical. Most rooms run five to six percent.”

A lot of that success, said the dealer, came after he honed his advertising strategy to one that continues to pay off with a steady stream of leads.

“Eighty percent of our advertising money is in television advertising,” he said. “We have 30-minute infomercials, and they do a great job of generating calls.”

The audience gets a consistent message: “One of the things we focus on is information. It’s hard to understand until you see it. It’s not livestock and crazy crap. We’re down-to-earth. We offer free service for a year, free tires for life. We offer a three-day love-it-or-leave-it program; if they’re unsatisfied, they get 100 percent of their money returned. It’s been that way since 1996, the same exact promise to the customer. It’s not about this sale and that sale. And we stay consistent on 10 reasons on buying from Johnny’s.”

Consistency works. Since June of 2006, when he bought the local GMC/Pontiac/Buick dealership, that same approach has been working for his domestic vehicles.

“From June ‘06 to the end of the year we increased productivity 300 percent by GM standards,” said the dealer. “Last year we were the number-one dealer in the Greenville district for GMC/Pontiac/Buick. We average a gross profit of over $3,400 a car.”

The first person a customer sees at one of Dangerfield’s stores is a greeter. This is a relatively new approach, but it isn’t rocket science. He wants a greeter to meet each new arrival and make sure the first thing that person sees are the 10 advantages of buying from Johnny’s.

The greeter then gathers the personal information his stores thrive on. Greeters get 25 cents for each e-mail they log, another two bits for a proper name, 25 cents for two phone numbers, which are all bonuses that go on top of their hourly wage. Dangerfield also wants to know what ad prompted customers to drop by. All the data gathered by the greeter goes into the company’s Promax system. Customers then move on to a salesperson.

“We run a team system,” said Dangerfield. “The last to sell is the first to catch the next one up. The more you sell, the more opportunity you get. And let me tell you, when a guy waits three hours to get one, he works it hard. We have three team captains per store, five or six salesmen per team, and we sell 125 to 130 cars a month at the GM store.”

Salespeople are responsible for the proper vehicle demonstration, and that includes getting the customer to the right car—one they can afford to buy.

“If they go to the wrong car, we can’t switch them,” said the dealer. “We show them the least expensive car and then we take them up.” Trying the opposite method doesn’t work. And salespeople stick to a script when working with the customer.

After the test drive, the salesperson takes a grease pencil and writes the customer’s name on it before he talks numbers. “It’s just a mind game,” Dangerfield said, “a tool we use to get the customer more committed to buy the car. Objections come up before they go into the building. If there’s a problem with the color, the leather in the car, whatever, we want to find out outside before we go inside to quote figures. We need to make sure they’re committed on the right car and committed before we talk numbers.”

Then it’s up to the team captains to close. Dangerfield said, “The manager closes 100 percent of sales. The reason is simple: If I owned the New York Yankees, who do I want to bat every time? I want A-Rod. The closers close 100 percent of deals.”

Scripted to the Last Detail
Dangerfield’s sales operation doesn’t leave anything to chance. Everything a customer sees or hears has been thought through, down to the smallest details.

When Dangerfield’s people talk numbers to customers, for example, they don’t use any even numbers. When they quote the monthly payment, it’s better to say “$313 a month for 60 months” instead of “$300 a month for 60 months.”

Why? People can quickly do the math on even numbers – a sure method for getting them to balk at the deal, said the dealer. Use an odd number and increase the dealership’s chances that they’ll close a deal.

Stay away from writing in the wrong colors, he advises. Red signals stop. Black means death. Those are the wrong signals. Blue or green – stimulating, positive colors – are the only colors you should use to write with. That’s something he’s believed since learning from Jackie B. Cooper (1939-2001) back in the early 80s. Dangerfield added, “Colors are huge in the mind’s perception of things.”

With obvious relish, he talks about a recent Saturday sales event in which he scored eight of the 22 sales. “It’s easier when you tell customers your name is Johnny,” said the dealer, whose first name is on every store. But then he added: “I don’t ever compare myself to anybody else. I look in the mirror and ask if I got the job done or not. But I never ask if I’m a person that’s going to win.”

He doesn’t have to. He knows the answer already.

It’s a relentlessly positive attitude that he wants to make infectious, spreading like a prairie fire not only to his staff, but to all the customers who come into his stores. “The attitude of your company, I think, makes all the difference,” said Dangerfield. “If you feel bad, that’s what the customer feels. Customers are like sharks in the water. They can smell blood … From what I’ve seen, 70 percent of the showrooms I’ve been in don’t have any energy in them. There has to be energy. Whether it’s balloons in the lot, signs in windows. We turn the blinkers on at night. There’s always something happening. But a lot of people sit back versus making them happen.”

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Dangerfield said he was learning on the job even while working for other dealers, and the learning process has continued since he’s been in charge.

“I made some huge mistakes early on by making the wrong hiring decisions. We’ve streamlined the interview process, put applicants through background checks, and we do a more extensive interview.” He wants to know more about applicants’ work record, along with telling details like the last book they read, gleaning information to piece together a more complete picture of the person.

“In my core operation, the turnover is not there at all,” he said. “We do have some turnover in salespeople because of the restrictions we put on them. We fight hard to make sure we hire the right people and we tell them up front what we require. We teach the salesperson how to get to that number of eight cars, or they’re fired.”

He’s not necessarily looking for a lot of experience, especially if they’ve been picking up a lot of bad habits at other dealerships. What Dangerfield wants is a common attitude.

“We hire a lot of rookies, sales and car rookies, people that have never been in the car business,” he added. “We run an eighth-of-a-page ad, and we get them to meet us at hotel conference rooms. We provide drinks and eats. We’ll get 30 or 40 in a room, hire 15 for training, and there are usually about eight left after that.”

Add up all his various processes, Dangerfield added, and you can see what separates the winners from the losers in this business. And the year ahead will see plenty of the latter.

“We’ve got to buckle the chin strap,” said the dealer. “This year we’re definitely in for some huge challenges. Dealers without a BDC room, no lead-generating system, are really going to get hurt in 08.”

Vol 5, Issue 4


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