Jay Alosa was fuming about a slow-paying customer four years ago when inspiration struck.
Alosa, a third-generation retailer who runs the Freightliner truck operations of his family's New Hampshire auto chain, already had instructed the parts department not to let the laggard customer buy on credit anymore. But going through the dealership's receipts at the end of one month, Alosa found another big credit purchase from the individual.
"I thought, what I want is to be notified before this ever happens again," says the dealer, now 39, who studied computer science on his way to a business degree from the University of New Hampshire. "I don't want to find out about a problem three weeks after it happened. I want to find out in time to walk over and stop it from happening."
From that fiery urge was born DealerAlert, a software system designed to identify problems and business opportunities before they happen. The software lets a dealer specify procedures and policies throughout his operations and then immediately receive an e-mail warning any time an employee begins to vary from them.
The e-mails can be sent to whomever the dealer chooses and can cover a range of issues. For example, dealers can learn which customer is just pulling into the service department, whether a parts manager is about to sell a part for less than the desired profit margin or whether someone is proposing a vehicle sale at less than a specified gross margin.
Working with Dave Schneider, his dealer rep for the retail software vendor ADP Dealer Services, Alosa created a monitoring program that would overlay the dealership's existing ADP system.
It works like the software on an industrial robot. As with the robot, a report is issued as soon as something strays "out of spec" at the dealership. The program can patrol the store's activity on a minute-by-minute basis, e-mailing red flags as they are happening. Or the settings can be ratcheted down to be more selective, sending out notices only on major mistakes. For instance, the dealer could receive an e-mail saying that the store's warranty reimbursements are running 30 days late.