JAMIE LaREAU

Staffing to meet expected sales is pure speculation

Jamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive NewsJamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive News
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When does a workload become so great, it's time to hire more people?

I posed that issue to a dealer I was chatting with about F&I business.

After a pause, dealer Ray Ciccolo explained that it's a hard question to answer.

The reason: sales are so unpredictable.

"It's very tricky to have the maximum amount of people to meet the business you're striving for," said Ciccolo, president of Village Automotive Group in Boston.

Dealers want to keep costs lean.

Yet they still need adequate staffing to service customers efficiently and quickly. And no dealer has the perfect solution yet because the amount of showroom traffic is so unpredictable.

Some analysts say U.S. light vehicle sales could hit 14 million units this year. In 2011, automakers sold 12.8 million units.

If that happens, it's possible that dealers could be busier processing more sales orders and trying to do so faster.

And, one of the hurdles dealers face is shortening those increasingly long delivery times. Heightened regulatory rules mean many customers spend more time signing additional paperwork with their purchase.

Also, many vehicles are technologically more complex compared to five years ago. In-vehicle telematics systems need to be demonstrated to the customer.

So what used to be a 30-minute delivery five years ago, can easily take close to two hours now, many dealers say.

Then there's the F&I process and allowing time to pitch various highly profitable service contracts and insurance policies.

Ciccolo typically has two F&I managers at each of his stores. Each manager can handle about 50 sales a month, he says.

He, like most dealers, wants to keep his costs lean.

So Ciccolo's solution to any increase in sales above that 50 is simple: "I have a sales manager trained as a back-up F&I manager in the event there's a big rush in business."

But again, after a pause, Ciccolo admits: "It's not a perfect solution, but this is what we try to do."

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter

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