F&I manager welcomes dogs, closes deals

Sancho, right, and his guardian, Johnna Vargas, middle, with their new 2015 Subaru Forester. The two posed with salesman Rex Bubacz after signing the purchase paperwork.

Finance and insurance manager Jennifer Belisle’s “to do” list includes an unusual task: Order more poop bags.

Belisle often babysits customers’ dogs while the customers are on test drives. Sometimes the dogs make a deposit of their own, hence the bags.

Some would snicker, but it would be a mistake to believe these customers are barking up the wrong tree when bringing their dogs on car-shopping trips.

Belisle said it’s “a weekly occurrence” where she works, Bryan Subaru in New Orleans. “It’s mostly our service customers, and every once in a while a customer brings a dog in for test driving, too,” she said, adding: “It’s part of the whole Subaru marketing campaign of ‘Dog Tested. Dog Approved,’” which began in February 2011.

Facebook plea

Belisle used to work at a Chevrolet store where no dogs entered. But when she joined the Subaru store in early 2011, her dog-sitting duties kicked into high gear. They’re so frequent, she queried her peers about their experiences this week on a Facebook F&I manager page: “Any other F&I managers here double as dog-sitters for customers on test drives, or is this just a Subaru thing?”

The Monday post, which included a shot of a black Formosan Mountain Dog named Sancho seated in Belisle’s office, prompted about a dozen responses from other F&I managers. Most of them agreed that dog-friendly environments are limited to Subaru stores.

Wrote Jamie Hart: “It’s definitely a Subaru thing. I used to keep treats in a jar on my desk. Best Subaru promo items ever were the collapsible water bowls and the bone-shaped poop bag.”

Prompting Belisle to respond: “That reminds me, need to order more poop bags. We have the dog tag engraver in the service waiting area, too, which everyone seems to love.”

A customer’s poodle wears a Bryan Subaru bandana. The poodle’s owner says the dog sports the bandana at every dealership visit.

‘I wish’

F&I managers from brands other than Subaru chimed in, most reporting that while they’ve seen trade-in vehicles loaded with pet fur, they’ve seen no pets inside their showrooms.

One F&I manager insisted he would demand the customer return without the dog to take a test drive if a customer did bring an animal to the store. But another said she often babysat dogs when she worked at a Fiat store, saying Fiat and Subaru customers share a love of canine companionship.

Perhaps the most wistful comment in the dog-sitting string was from F&I manager Mitch Evans in St. Cloud, Minn. He wrote: “I wish. That would be my favorite part of my job.”

Canine craze

Belisle keeps Bryan Subaru-labeled dog bandanas and pooper-scoopers on hand to give to customers with canines. In return, she asks for photos of the dogs to put on the dealership’s Facebook page.

The response on social media to the dog photos has been amazing, according to Belisle, who is also the dealership’s Internet manager. She said a standard marketing post on the dealership’s Facebook page gets an average of about six views. A dog post gets more than 130. “It’s crazy,” she said.

Belisle said the canine customers do not disrupt business. In fact, she believes the dealership better serves its customers by welcoming the canines. “It’s better for the dog than leaving the dog sitting at home for 3 or 4 hours,” she said.

Take Sancho, for example. His humans spent about 3½ hours on Monday test driving and completing the purchase of a 2015 Forester, Belisle said.

“Sancho was in my office for their test drive, then he hung out in the showroom for a while, and then he was back in my office again when we did the finance part of it,” she said. “Now he’s happily in the back seat of a new Forester.”

She jokingly added: “He put his paw print on the contract.”

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@autonews.com -- Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jlareauan

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