Here’s to 2009

Clank—I could hear the heavy sound of the dead bolt locking the front door after the last customer of 2008 drove off. As the handful of us sat watching the taillights cross the curb, I thought the showroom windows would fog up from everyone letting out a collective sigh of relief.

Ah yes, the year is over, and what a year it was!

I don’t think anyone bargained for the magnitude of what was in store for us in 2008. From big finance companies closing down or running for their lives and manufacturers needing bailouts to the disappearance of dealers who had been in business forever and massive lay-offs, it all seemed so surreal. This was a true industry tsunami, but as with any major storm, there are losses, damages, casualties, lessons learned and a few people left standing. The tough always survive and morph into something stronger, smarter and better.

If there was ever a time to learn from the past, this would be it. It is so important in the aftermath of a storm to take a very hard look at where we came from, what happened and where we are going. It’s the only way we can heal and move on.

Back in the early ‘90s when subprime was making its full-blown debut, it was such an exciting time. We were all learning about this type of financing and what it would take to make it work, and work it was! We had to have our ducks in a row—clean deals, all our stips and please do not forget the hand-written letters from the customers explaining their derogatory credit in their own words. Now, for some of you younger readers this will be a surprise, but we had to fax all this over and actually include a copy of the credit report. Oh, and then we had to pick up the phone to talk to the buyer and know what we were talking about! It was about an honest, clean deal, having our facts in order and relationship. Yep, I said it the “R” word, relationship! The mantra back in the day was not, “It is all about me.”

Funny though, things have a way of coming full circle, kind of like platform shoes, polyester and bell bottoms. The day of the hand-written customer explanation has turned into a thorough credit interview by trained finance managers. We have Dealer Track and Route One to make our lives move at the speed of light. Plus, we have text, instant messaging, e-mail, scanned docs, special programs to check for pay stub fraud, reverse online look-ups for references and business listings, and the list goes on and on. Technology has sure made all this a lot easier but the fact is we have come back to our roots. I find all this very exciting once again.

We have to do things the right way; there is no more room for errors. Systems have to be put in place and training can no longer be optional. Special finance is now on the cutting edge once again. We have to earn the finance companies’ trust and cultivate relationships. We need to do what we have done extremely well in the past—sell customers the opportunity for new credit. The old-school rule of supply and demand holds true.. We all need to earn the deal, every last one of us. The most awesome part of this is, special finance is far from dead. We are now on to new beginnings and hopefully a better way of doing business.

My New Year’s wish for all of us is that we remember what has happened and how we got here and that those of us who have been around for a while never allow ourselves to meet a professional expiration date. We can and must keep learning as well as teaching and leading those who need our help. The best to all you special finance warriors, and here’s to a fresh, new beginning in 2009.

Special Finance Insider Vol. 3, Issue 1