This year, Warren Henry Automotive Group took a chance on an unusual job applicant and ended up discovering an untapped source of sales leads.
It started with an unsolicited cover letter and resume sent in by 29-year-old Jack Rozanov, who had come to the U.S. from Ukraine two years before. He worked for several years in logistics and had a deep knowledge of data analysis but no experience in auto retail.
The Miami-based group was undeterred and offered him an unpaid internship. Within a few weeks, Rozanov dove into Warren Henry's data systems and noticed something: The service department brings in a lot of customers who aren't actively shopping but easily could be converted into hot sales prospects.
Warren Henry has since taken Rozanov on full time. Stationed in the service department at Warren Henry Infiniti, he mines each day's schedule to find customers who are coming in and may be in a position to buy, even if they don't know it themselves.
"I look for people who have a lot of equity in their car, and they can get into something new with about the same payment," Rozanov explained. "Or their warranty is running out or they're over the miles on their lease. If you explain that, some of them decide maybe they would be interested in something new."
He approaches customers as they drop off their cars for service, and the effect has been dramatic. In a 90-day trial, the effort generated sales of 25 new vehicles -- all deals that ordinarily would not have taken place. He also has sold extended service contracts and mileage extensions. Warren Henry Infiniti sells about 1,200 new vehicles a year.
All told, Rozanov's project increased gross profit by more than $100,000, said Larry Zinn, general manager for Warren Henry Automotive. "We gave him the space to give it a try, and he just ran with it," Zinn said.
The dealership group is now in the process of creating a similar position at its Jaguar and Land Rover stores.
The idea that service can be a source of sales leads is only one moral of the Rozanov story. Another is that it can pay off to bring in people with diverse skill sets from outside the retailing world.
In Rozanov, Warren Henry acquired an ability to study data and unearth connections and implications that aren't always obvious. When he arrived, Rozanov spent time helping out in different departments and learned to use AutoAlert, a data mining system, as well as Warren Henry's inventory and appraisal tools.
He came to suspect sales opportunities were lurking in the service drive and made a presentation to Larry Zinn, CEO Warren Zinn and the group's CFO, Erik Day. They signed off on the three-month trial at the Infiniti store, starting July 1.
The first two weeks yielded leads but no sales. Then, a customer brought in her 2013 G37 convertible for an oil change, and Rozanov let her know she was bumping up to her lease's mileage limit.
She agreed to talk to a salesman to hear some options, and a few hours later, she drove out in a new QX60.
Other customers expressed interest in new vehicles but weren't prepared to buy immediately. In those cases, the leads were turned over to the sales department for follow-up, and a number led to deals.
Rozanov said about 16 percent of the customers approached during service visits have been converted to sales. Many service customers are receptive to sales pitches, he added, because the conversation starts with their service adviser -- a person customers often trust to point out a good deal.
Another benefit of the initiative: It adds high-quality vehicles to the used inventory, and gross profit tends to be good because the customer isn't actively shopping for the best deal possible.
Rozanov said he is eager to see how his idea plays out for the Jaguar and Land Rover stores.
"I'm very excited and very happy to be able to show some results for our company," he said.