High-volume Chevy dealership attacks sticking points that slow deals

Grand Rapids, Mich., dealer Matt Berger emphasizes speedy transactions. Photo credit: DAVID BARKHOLZ

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Berger Chevrolet is so busy at 1:15 p.m. the day after Memorial Day that each one of the store's 15 salespeople on duty is occupied with a customer.

The vast majority of those shoppers are walk-ins. The crush of shoppers is about to put to the test the protocols that General Sales Manager John Knaggs has refined for years to efficiently handle overflow volume.

"We're very process-driven," comments General Manager Lenny George, smiling at the controlled chaos unfolding outside his office door.

Berger Chevrolet, a single-point family store under the fourth-generation leadership of dealer principal Matt Berger, pursues speedy transactions of 60 minutes, 90 minutes at the outside, said Knaggs, who joined the company six years ago.

Managers are cross-trained in jobs from appraising trade-ins to new and used vehicle sales so they can jump in quickly to troubleshoot situations. That's the only way Berger is capable of holding stellar customer satisfaction numbers while moving about 400 new and used vehicles per month.

Knaggs said the store has processes in place to smooth transactions where they tend to gum up -- that is, during price negotiations, information-gathering, trade-ins and finance and insurance.

Managers step in

Sales consultants get one or at most two opportunities to negotiate prices with customers before a sales manager takes over the discussion to try to sell the customer. On this busy Tuesday, new-car sales managers Jeremy Rhoton and Apollo Braganini frequently head into the showroom to sit with customers to see if they can overcome objections or sweeten a deal enough to get the sale.

Braganini, who played offensive tackle at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, seems to relish the closer's role. He cuts an imposing figure as he walks out to finalize prices with customers. In the back office, he's a ball of energy, desking numbers with salespeople to meet customers on price. Desking is using a software app to calculate payments for buyers based on trade-ins, interest rates, down payments and other factors

Rhoton's style is quieter but every bit as intense. When he's not desking or negotiating, Rhoton hops into a possible trade-in vehicle to appraise its value. He said all managers have been trained for the task. After a walkaround, Rhoton checks all the electronics, including windows and air conditioner, to see whether they're in working order. Then he does a test drive around the building and parking lots to feel for clunky steering, acceleration and pulsating brakes.

Knaggs said having managers appraise the trade-in on the spot, with his approval, saves precious minutes, maybe even an hour, vs. the old system, in which a salesperson had to drive the vehicle over to the adjacent used-car lot.

'Time kills deals'

Under that scenario, customers not only had to wait but they were left alone to ponder their buying decisions. "They say time kills deals, right?" Rhoton said.

Berger Chevrolet also avoids the time-consuming and annoying problems of having to enter customer and vehicle information multiple times into the store's software, Knapps said.

The store has the same vendor, ADP Dealer Services, for its business software and customer-retention software so the information keyed in either place seamlessly flows to the other, he said.

The first car sold this day was completed in about 50 minutes from the time customer Ray Kretowicz told salesman Greg Haman he wanted the 2014 Impala sedan he had test-driven to the time he exited finance and insurance with his deal jacket.

The price negotiation took about 10 minutes. It was a cash deal so there was no time spent with credit applications or loan offers. The write-up, entry of vehicle data, insurance verification and other information gathering took about a half hour.

When Kretowicz, 84, entered the F&I office of business manager Cathy Hubbard, he was clearly uninterested in an extended service plan or extras.

So Hubbard had him sign the contract and other papers, touched on the products available and sent him on his way to continue planting his garden in Grand Rapids.

Kretowicz was in F&I about 10 minutes.

"He's 84 years old and drove 21,000 miles on the last car he had for 7 years," Hubbard said. "He wasn't going to buy an extended warranty."

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: @barkholzatan

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