It can take a lifetime to learn to be a top-notch dealer, but Fiat Chrysler is trying to cram much of that critical knowledge into the heads of prospective retailers in 15 to 18 months.
This month, FCA US will launch the fourth class of students in its Future Dealer Development Program -- a 15- to 18-month course on what it takes to do such things as manage inventory, run a full-line service operation and stay out of legal hot water.
Most of the roughly 75 students who have signed up for the program are children of existing dealers or top managers who have expressed an interest in becoming dealers.
For FCA, the training program is about stability in its dealer network.
"Talking to dealers from a succession standpoint, you could tell there was a need to prepare people either in their family or key people in their organization," said John Fox, FCA's director of dealer training. The program was developed with the help of the National Automobile Dealers Association, Fox said.
Students in the $11,750 program meet one week per quarter in Auburn Hills, Mich., and use their own dealerships' financials and operations as study guides. Over the course of the program, they study different areas of the business, including service, operations, human resources, contract and labor law, marketing and e-commerce. The instructors are outside experts, such as instructors from Walsh College in Troy, Mich., who teach the contract and labor law classes, Fox said.
The initial class of 20 started in May 2014 and graduated in August. One member of that class was Julie Chapman, controller at Joey Accardi Auto Group, a small, family-owned group in Pompano Beach, Fla.
Chapman, 38, said each quarter the class would drill down into one area of dealership operations. The specialized instructors didn't always toe the factory line.
"Spending a week on each of those different subjects opened a lot of eyes for a lot of people," said Chapman, who has worked at Florida dealerships since she was a teenager. "What was great was that it was not just the manufacturer's point of view."
FCA previously held the dealer training program for minority dealer candidates but saw a need to expand the program after getting requests from dealers.
"We've taken the program and expanded it," Fox said. "The more people we see in these classrooms, the better it is" for FCA's dealer network.