Scott Fink has been busy over the past decade. After working his way up the regional ladder at Lincoln Mercury's New Jersey office, Fink decided he didn't want to take the next step and move to Dearborn.
Instead, he jumped to retail, buying a Mitsubishi dealership in Clearwater, Fla., and adding Toyota shortly thereafter. After selling both dealerships in 1998, Fink worked for Sonic Automotive for a short time, then opened a small chain of collision centers.
In 2001, Fink grabbed an open Hyundai point and ran with it. The planning volume for the store was 47 units a month. In his first month in business, Fink's store sold 141 units. Fink never looked back. His store is Hyundai's fourth largest dealership, in terms of new-car sales, through November, and was No. 1 in the nation in November.
Now he is chairman of Hyundai's National Dealer Council.
In a December interview with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin, Fink laughingly said: "We move everyone to new cars. We don't have a lot of used cars to sell because we're such a new dealership. We're a bit off NADA planning guidelines."
What is Hyundai's hot product? What's not?
Right now, it's the Sonata coming from Alabama. The public perception is very positive and the car is getting some footing. Dealers are generating better quality traffic on the car. I can't say that we have a cold product. The Santa Fe is being phased out, so it's not where we want it to be. We are getting some incentive support, so we are selling through the car. As we all know, Tucson is creeping up on it.
What new products are on the way?
The new Santa Fe is going to be a home run. It is putting us in a full-sized SUV segment we have never sold before. I got my first Azera (full-sized sedan) yesterday, and it's beautiful. It's big, it's powerful, and it's priced right. To me, as a high-volume dealer, we get a lot of customers who buy a Hyundai and wish we had a minivan as well. So we're excited to be getting into that large, lucrative segment with Entourage. And the new Elantra is a beautiful car, with styling cues like the Sonata, which will help us get some more volume.
Is there anything else dealers want in the lineup or would like to see faded out?
Some dealers are on the pickup side of the business and wish we had one, but I don't hear a whole lot of that. I know we're moving toward some crossovers a couple years out.
What is your reaction to Hyundai bouncing CEO Bob Cosmai?
I'm kind of surprised. As involved as I am and some dealers are, we are still just dealers. The company makes their decision, and we support the decisions they make. We're just bound and determined to go out and sell Hyundais. Bob was very much a dealer guy, very much supported by the dealer body. There were no issues between Bob and the dealers.
What do you know about new COO Keith Duckworth?
I don't know a whole lot. I've met him at the Alabama assembly plant a couple times. He seems like a sharp guy, but my exposure has been limited.
What challenges do Hyundai dealers face in the next year?
Launching all those cars is a challenge. We have talked about it at the national dealer council level. We feel confident that Hyundai Motor America budgets are in place and that we are up to the challenge.
Does Hyundai listen to its dealer council?
I have only been on the council for a year. What happened with the Entourage shows that the factory listens to the dealer council. The factory went back and forth on whether they were going to bring it, finally deciding no.
I'm not saying that the dealer council was the only reason the factory decided to do the minivan after all, but the dealer council got involved and was very active.
What is the No. 1 thing the factory can do to help dealers?
Product. At the end of the day, if dealers have the product that consumers want to buy, and it is of high quality, that's the best thing. If you have inferior product with great marketing, you can sell some cars, but in the long run you lose. And Hyundai has been building some great quality cars. The product in the pipeline is great, and they won't deliver it unless the quality is there.
What are the dealer council's top three concerns?
First is dealer profitability. The backbone of the franchise is driven by the dealer's ability to make money, because then he can spend and expand the viability of the franchise.
We have to ensure that we work with the manufacturer to get these product launches off as best we can.
We want to work with the factory to ensure that we have the stair-step bonuses in place, that the factory focuses on programs so dealers can work on their volume.
So you are in favor of stair-step volume incentive bonuses. Doesn't that hurt smaller dealers?
I understand that there is some squawk about that, but I believe the stair-step program, combined with the 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty and the improvement in quality, has helped drive the rebirth of this franchise.
What is Hyundai's pricing strategy? Do dealers like it?
Hyundai's pricing strategy is of a ratio to Toyota and Honda. It shows us to be a price-value lineup, and consumers continue to recognize that more and more. With stair-step bonuses and other means to gain incentives, it gives dealers the ways to structure deals in the showroom.
Can you get the vehicles you want? Do you have to take many that you don't want?
Overall, we get the vehicles we want. We don't get ones that are difficult to sell. The mix has been good, with very sellable product. The franchise is moving in a real positive direction. You know dealers. Sometimes we want all that we want. But dealing with the manufacturer, these guys are easy to deal with.
Have you seen a decline in customers wanting fuel-chugging vehicles? Are you seeing a shift toward more people sacrificing performance for fuel economy?
We've seen that. When gas spiked at $3 a gallon, we were taking full-sized trucks as trades on Sonatas. Some of that was a consumer lifestyle change, but some of that was driven by gas prices. Now that gas is down to $2 a gallon, we're still seeing that. The Elantra is a very gas-sensitive car. Same with the four-cylinder Sonata. Customers are asking the fuel economy question more than in the past. We are fortunate in that we don't depend on big trucks and SUVs for our sales and profits.
How important to consumers are safety features compared to vehicle attributes such as styling and performance?
They are starting to ask for it a whole lot more. A woman I met at the gym told me that her father saw the safety features on Hyundai's Web site and decided to get a Sonata instead of a Camry or Accord. It was all safety driven, everything else being equal. But looking at safety alone, if the car is ugly or overpriced, that won't sell the car.
Is your brand trying to reposition itself?
The new Azera and Santa Fe are priced higher and (are) more upscale. But we also have a new Accent that is a home run and a new Elantra coming, so by no means are we abandoning entry-level car lines. The new Sonata is paving the way to sell more vehicles at premium pricing.
There is talk that Hyundai will launch a luxury brand. What do you think about that?
I'd like to see the products given to the Hyundai dealers to enhance the value of our franchise. I'm not an advocate of sprouting a luxury brand.
Is Hyundai asking for stand-alone dealerships?
That really depends on the specific market, but the stand-alone dealers sell more cars. Hyundai is a real player, and it needs to be treated like a real player. So stand-alone dealerships, when viable based on the specific market, is the way to go.
When Hyundai says it wants to sell 1 million vehicles in America by 2010, what do you think in terms of its dealer representation? Should it add more stores or try to make its existing dealers larger?
You can't add dealers to every corner and have dealers make money selling 10 cars a month. However, we are missing out in some markets. Existing dealers are going to have to sell more cars, and there is no reason we can't do that as we enter new product segments. People are not coming in deciding between a Sonata and an Entourage. People are coming in looking for a minivan, and we never would have had a shot at them before.
Does the advertising work? Do you think Hyundai did the right thing promoting the plant in Alabama as much as the new Sonata built there?
It was important that the word get out that Sonata is an American car built in Alabama. That commercial did a good job explaining that, and it reversed an image people might have had. I got a lot of positive feedback about that factory spot - more than for any retail spot I've ever had.
Are you seeing any quality difference between Sonatas made in Korea as opposed to those from Alabama?
We're not seeing a difference. The quality of the two cars are parallel and very, very strong.