When that happens and a customer asks whether Sonic can do better, Jackson says he can go to a sales manager and ask to up the offer by as much as $500. But the central trade office must approve it. If not, even if the customer threatens to take the trade down the street and offer it to, say, CarMax Inc., "we take that chance," says Jackson, a 22-year-old finishing his bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He made $19,000 a year at Best Buy before joining Sonic in June. At the time, he was told he should be able to triple that amount selling cars. He sold 18 cars in August.
I accept the trade offer, and we move to the deal builder tool on Jackson's iPad. After starting to work on loan terms, we find out the silver RAV4 is now marked as sold.
Jackson says the system had been experiencing a few bugs that day and the day before, such as VIN numbers not matching properly. He says the store gets so many cars in and they turn so fast that sometimes they show up on the virtual lot and a customer can select it, but the car is not really available.
Time to pick another car and start the clock again. I quickly select a similar gray RAV4.
That glitch erased 28 minutes of work, but no biggie. We go back to the deal builder and work on loan terms.
A few F&I products are suggested to me, including an extended-service contract and a vehicle etch product. I say no but tell Jackson I do want tire and wheel coverage -- I've had bad luck with potholes and nails. We add it to the deal. Dyke later tells me that answers to lifestyle questions and demographic information determine the software's initial F&I product suggestions.
When it's time to finish the deal, the paperwork comes out. Though the process is mostly electronic, the typical buyer still has to sign six or seven pieces of paper, and I'm no different.
By early October, the number of paper documents had dropped to three for a typical deal, Sonic told me later. In November, another one, the paper contract, will go away when all lenders finish approvals of electronic contracts, store General Manager Sanjay Prakash says.
While my deal took 31 minutes to complete, it was probably speeded up by the fact that I'd already gone over some of the options on terms and lenders during the first aborted attempt to buy the silver RAV4. Then again, it may have been slowed by my many questions. As a reporter, I grill Jackson and others about what's going on in ways a regular buyer wouldn't.
Sonic measures transaction time from the moment the iPad's deal builder app is opened until the vehicle has been readied by the detail team. The Saturday before my visit, the average deal took 43 minutes. By Saturday, Oct. 25, that had dropped to 38.5 minutes. Some go much faster, said Dyke, recalling one completed in 15 minutes on a busy Saturday.
If my RAV4 transaction had been real, I would have been the store's 12th buyer that day. One of the real buyers was a couple who'd come all the way from Texas.
As of last week, the store's plan is 95 percent rolled out, Prakash said. He's still waiting for a new photo booth, for the imagine bar screen to be connected to the store's new website and for his redesigned delivery rooms to be completed.
With replenished inventory of 330 cars going into the new month, he predicted, "November is going to be crazy."