David Wilson's Villa Ford in Orange, Calif., pays its service crew members when they get the ball rolling on sales from the repair shop.
The formula required the store to transform the service lane into a gateway where consumers can learn about vehicles they can upgrade to, even as their current vehicles get fixed.
Money was the motivator that built bridges between the showroom and service lane.
"The key was to get the service and sales departments to work together in this environment. The one thing that does help in overcoming that challenge is money. What's in it for me?" Scott Wade, general manager of Villa Ford, told Automotive News.
Initiating sales from the service lane is a team effort.
When a customer pulls into the service department, the adviser prepares a repair order for the work needed, and then puts the customer in contact with an agent from the shop's vehicle exchange program.
The agents aren't salespeople. Their job is to provide vehicle information to customers and gauge their interest in a potential purchase. The agents, who also are greeters, are often the first people customers see when they enter the service lane.
The agents offer vehicle test drives and give feedback on the cars or trucks. They also check with customers to see if they would like an analysis -- which is completed by the vehicle exchange program manager -- to see if they're eligible for an upgrade. If the customers say yes, the manager reviews their credit, the amount required to pay off their loan and their eligibility for incentives to determine whether they can be upgraded to a different vehicle for the same monthly payment or very little more than they're paying now.
The service advisers get rewarded if the customers they introduce to the agents end up buying another vehicle, whether it's the same day, a few weeks or even months later in some cases. The customers are tracked through Villa Ford's customer relationship management system.
Wade said around 30 to 40 vehicle sales per month are attributable to the service lane, which accounts for about 15 percent of the dealership's monthly total. The pay for service advisers can range from an extra $300 to $1,000 in their checks each month.
The service manager gets a share of the sales gross from those 30 to 40 vehicles that are credited to the service lane each month. The vehicle exchange agents, who are paid hourly, get bonuses from sales that originated in the service lane as well.
Wade said the dealership is careful to prevent the service lane from taking on a saleslike atmosphere.
Before Villa Ford started using vehicle exchange agents around two years ago, salespeople sometimes hung around the service shop to interact with customers. That no longer happens.
The store tries to be fair to longtime salespeople when their regular customers visit the service lane.
If a customer mentions that he or she normally works with a particular salesperson, the agents connect them.
Wade says he doesn't want to pressure service customers into deals if they aren't interested. But he believes there's an opening in the service lane to pique curiosity in an era when people are being conditioned to upgrade their smartphones to the latest models.
He said applying this upgrade mentality to the car business was a natural fit.
The agents and service advisers use the term "upgrade" to entice customers.
Wade said: "People are always upgrading their phones. They want the next upgrade. They feel that way with the vehicle, too."