Sandler has been Asbury's national director of financial services since June 2010. Before that he was regional finance director for Coggin Automotive Group and Courtesy Automotive Group in Florida, a major part of the Asbury dealership group.
Special Correspondent Jim Henry spoke with Sandler on Jan. 5.
Asbury has been selling extended service contracts in the service lane for a while. What's working, and what's not?
We have customer service representatives that have offices back in the service department to sell service contracts and offer payment options. We have different payment plans through the warranty providers or companies that they contract, including 0 percent programs.
Is it mostly about extended service contracts?
We see some of the main benefits as return business and customer satisfaction. And [extended-service contracts are] probably the primary product for F&I. There are so many products out there it's easy to get lost. We are trying to get focused back on the basics, on the heart and soul of F&I, which is the service contract.
How does that work?
A service writer doesn't want to have to walk up to sales to see if there's an F&I manager available to answer the customers' questions. That could take a half-hour or an hour. It could be a very choppy process. Having a dedicated person who can spend as much time as you need with the customer gives the service writer some added confidence that the customer is going to get their questions answered, and there's not that awkward turnover. The customer experience is a lot better.
What's your service contract penetration?
That would be about a four-day research project for me because you need both a numerator and a denominator. I will say service contract penetration nationally is moving in the right direction. The lenders are starting to get a little more forgiving as far as advancing is concerned, and that makes it easier.
How many extended service contract providers do you use?
We have a primary provider, which is JM&A. For the different brands, we also have the factory policy available. It's up to the customer; that lets the customer decide.
You mentioned 0 percent financing earlier.
JM&A [provides it]. Some of the factories do, too, but not every single one.
How are your training programs going? Is everybody at Asbury on board with that, or is it still rolling out?
As a matter of fact, that's what I'm doing today. We're doing training today in our new stores. For the most part, everybody's been exposed to it at varying levels. Once we get everybody immersed in it, it's going to be a perpetual thing. If you mean are some stores into it more than others, the region I came out of has been exposed to it for several years.
I came out of Florida before I took the national position. I've spent a lot of time in North Carolina, and I'm in South Carolina now. I travel a lot, also to Florida, that's where my residence is.
Besides the revenues from the contracts themselves, can you say for sure that extended service contracts help with service retention?
It's really hard to quantify, but if somebody's got a service contract it's going to further that connection between the customer and the dealership. It's hard to say whether it has increased retention because, obviously, they prefer to come here in the first place for service.
That's how we approached them about buying a service contract. They were already here. It's not like we're trying to get them [to switch] from somebody else. But, sure, it closes one more loophole where you can lose people. Obviously, if they have a contract with us, they're going to take it to us.