A Meeting of the Best Minds in the Business

“Amazing,” “wonderfully executed,” “super,” “great,” “fabulous,” “educational”—all of these are words used to describe the 2011 Special Finance Conference. Conference attendees walked away with several new ideas and processes to implement, new products and services, finance companies to add to their portfolios, and new friends who are dealers and finance managers to network and share ideas with in the future.

The SF Conference – held in conjunction with the F&I Conference as a part of the Industry Summit – took place at the Las Vegas Hilton from Sept. 26 to 28. The Summit drew more than 1,000 attendees, including many dealers, general managers, finance managers and special finance managers who attended the many industry-expert-led education sessions, dealer-only finance company sessions, dealer panels, networking receptions and breaks, and exhibit hall booths.

 Dealers came for a variety of reasons. Some wanted a refresher course, while others are trying to just start SF departments. Marcio Vasconcelos, the dealer of Direct Auto Mall in Framingham, Mass., attended because he’s wants to grow his SF business. “We’ve seen a lot more people with bad credit, and we’re not ready to get those deals done. I think we send a lot of people away, and I think we can maximize it if we know the processes and how to work a deal properly.”

The conference opened with an expert-led session helmed by Greg Goebel, the conference chairman and CEO of Auto Dealer Monthly, who set the tone of the conference by discussing “The State of Today’s Special Finance Industry and the Numbers Behind It.” He covered the current SF market (which he described as “wide open”) and his expectations for the coming year (increased SF business and opportunity for profit). Also discussed were:

• the SF operational averages of the 2011 Special Finance Conference attendees

• SF operational averages from the past five annual conferences

• 2011 SF benchmarks (operational statistics of the 75th percentile dealers in the nation)

• five-year comparison of national SF benchmarks

Chris Romanowski, SF Manager of the Arnell Auto Group in Burns Harbor, Ind., attended the opening session and said, “With Greg’s presentation of all the benchmarks, you kind of set your goals on where you should be, where you want to be, and you see how everybody else is doing. You want to make sure you’re performing up to the industry standards.”

In addition to dissecting the numbers, Goebel also encouraged conversations between dealers because when two successful dealers talk to one another, both of their operations will profit. He added, “The people that really get this industry are in this room,” as evidenced by the conference averages this year. He said he’s never seen conference averages so close to the national benchmark data. A couple noteworthy things he pointed out were increases in lead count and dealer spending on advertising (and not just in digital—radio, direct mail, Internet leads and digital all saw increases).

On Tuesday, information overload began. SF Conference attendees could choose to attend up to six of 13 different education sessions offered on Day Two of the conference. One highlight of the day was the dealer panel, “Special Finance Marketing that Works” with Jill Dulitsky, Key Hyundai; Josh Nacht, Port Charlotte Auto Mall; and Scott Elder, Dream Cars Credit.

Dulitsky spent time talking about the large volume of leads her two Hyundai stores generate via squeeze pages strategically placed in front of the inventory pages. Nacht explained how he converts more of his website traffic into leads with games that grab customers’ attention and entice them to play, win and provide contact information. Nacht also brought along some direct mail samples and shared information on his success with that medium. Elder discussed his 100-percent Internet-based advertising approach and how he now has two websites—one is SF-focused and the other is more of an everyman’s site with no bad-credit message. Several of the attendees asked questions, shared information about their own strategies and walked away several new ideas.

As Jeff Wiley, theSF manager at New Prague Auto Group in New Prague, Minn., was leaving the dealer panel on advertising and marketing, he stated, “That was worth the whole trip right there.”

Another highlight of the education that took place on Day Two was Goebel’s session on matching inventory to your dealership’s customer base, during which he covered the different credit tiers and niches dealers serve, the importance of being able to determine the makeup of the customers in each niche and tier, and how this information directly impacts the inventory dealers need to stock. Dealer Scott Elder of Dream Cars Credit in Austin, Texas, attended this session and said, “One of the big things we were looking at coming in[to the conference] is … trying to tier-out our inventory and basically manage our mix of different cars for the different subprime tiers … Some of the presentations from Greg really just helped clarify exactly how we should do that … We came into the conference with a fuzzy idea of where we wanted to go. Now we’re coming out with an exact roadmap of what we need to do.”

Additionally, many dealer attendees walked away from the inventory session with a new niche to look into—the bankruptcy niche. Romanowski said, “I’ve never gone after open Chapter 7 [bankruptcies]. I did not realize that was such a big market, so I will push for those now.”

John Palmer, the CEO of ProMax Unlimited, was on hand to present a session on “Being Compliant and Profitable at The Same Time,” during which he discussed easy-to-use-and-follow compliance processes that can also dramatically improve the consistency of the sales process and increase profits.

The GM Financial/AmeriCredit presentation for dealers was led by Paul Gillespie, the company’s senior vice president of dealer services. In addition to answering attendees’ questions, he explained the latest dealer programs including their subprime leasing program and how to cultivate a great partnership with GM Financial/Americredit.
Joe Courrege, the president and CEO of CarTVNetwork, discussed how dealers can effectively use infomercials and high-profile personalities to increase a dealership’s visibility and grow business.

“The New Rules of Automotive Marketing” were covered by Travis Miller and Jimmy Vee, the partners of Rich Dealers. They spoke on how to stand out from the crowd and have fun selling cars to grateful buyers. They explained that a dealer’s goals should be to transform the dealership from a product-pusher into a business of trusted advisors who sell solutions rather than cars.

Two other finance company sessions were held on Day Two—JP Morgan Chase’s presentation and that of Capital One Auto Finance. JP Morgan Chase’s representatives broke down their four distinct programs in detail for dealers and reiterated that rehashing a deal with Chase underwriters is perfectly acceptable.

Amy Nunley of Capital One Auto Finance explained the focus of company and the market they look to serve. Additionally, she walked dealers through Capital One’s latest programs and answered questions from those in attendance.

Annually a popular seminar is the Special Finance Legal and Compliance Review, led by Hudson Cook Partners Thomas B. Hudson and Patty Covington. Romanowski said, “Another great class you have is with the two lawyers from Hudson [Cook]. It’s outstanding every year.” This year, they discussed the latest events surrounding the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, a broad-sweeping agency created by the Dodd-Frank Act, and then played a rousing game of “Stump the Attorney” (or “Stump the Chump,” as Hudson referred to it), during which he and Covington fielded legal questions from convention attendees.

Another dealer panel that was center-stage on Day Two was, “Proper Sales Flow and Deal Structure to Assure Maximum Deal Gross Profit,” with Tom White, general manager of Suzuki of Wichita, and Scott Falcone, dealer of World Hyundai Matteson. It featured a question-and-answer session moderated by Goebel, and panelists discussed how their dealerships handle the sales flow of subprime credit customers, deal structure, and how they are able to maximize their gross profits through proper processes. 
Paul Potratz, the COO of Potratz (an ad agency for auto dealers that integrates interactive and traditional marketing to drive more traffic and sales), led the session on “Generating Your Own Leads” and discussed how to create high-producing (but low–cost) SEM, retargeting and video search campaigns to drive traffic and leads. 

To round out the day of education before the evening networking reception and dinner, Goebel returned to the podium to discuss “Which Finance Companies are Hot and Who’s Not in the SF World.” This particular session is always a highly-attended and interactive one. Goebel presented the best auto finance companies serving each of the different non-prime tiers and niches based on the collective opinions of some of the best SF dealers across the country. They talked about who’s buying, who’s not and whom dealers might need to add to their finance company portfolios.

The education sessions on Day Three of the 2011 Special Finance Conference commenced with a dealer panel and a finance company presentation. The panel discussion, “Talking Them In – Keys to Making a BDC Work,” featured three dealers with extremely successful business development centers: Courtney Cole of Hare Chevrolet, Chris Kahrs of Amato Automotive and Ted Heater of CarSmart. They covered how their BDCs are structured, the compensation of their BDC employees, the goals of different employees, how they work different kinds of leads, the types of scripts they follow, the frequency and forms of follow-up they utilize, and the technological tools they use to help facilitate their BDCs’ functions. Several of the dealers in attendance operated BDCs in their dealerships and were asking questions to improve their current operations. Many, including the panelist themselves, were fervently taking notes throughout the session.

The opening finance company presentation featured Mike Kane, vice president of consumer credit operations at Ally Financial, who discussed the latest retail financing programs from Ally across the full credit spectrum. He also spoke about Ally Dealer Rewards and how auto financing and related services can help dealers maximize their sales and profitability
One session that had all the dealers in the room taking notes was, “Using Technology to Help Source Inventory for your SF Department,” which was another session led by conference chairman, Greg Goebel. Joe Galvin, the GM of the finance company owned by Apple Automotive in York, Pa., said, “Oh, I took a lot of notes … I couldn’t write fast enough.” Many dealers were even using their cell phones and iPads to take photos of the slides shown during this session, particularly of the slides that identified how to track inventory by tier. The dealers also discussed inventory sources and technological tools that help streamline the used-car buying process.

Palmer of ProMax Unlimited returned on Day Three to present “10 Low-Cost, Successful, Proven Tools to Generate More Leads, Traffic and Sales.” He discussed 10 advertising and marketing tools and provided examples to help show how dealers can generate more leads, sales and profits.

George Dans, president of the George Dans Group, fired up attendees during his session entitled, “20 More Sales Without Spending A Fortune! Either Train Them or Hope They Quit.” He said most dealerships rely on their sales processes to help them grow their business and explained how dealers can capitalize on every selling opportunity from Internet, walk-in and service traffic.

The final education session of the SF Conference was Goebel’s presentation, “It’s All About the People,” about staffing, hiring, paying and training SF employees, which are topics many dealers had questions about because the bottom line is the special finance business is still a people business.

Beyond the various educational sessions dealers attended, they had ample time to network with other dealers and exhibitors during the session breaks, lunches and evening receptions. Auto Dealer Monthly would like to thank all the conference sponsors, exhibitors and attendees for their support and for making this year’s show a success!

Vol. 8, Issue 11