When all seven new-car dealers in town join in a sales program, that's news. When all of them offer 0% financing on used vehicles, that's a rarity.
The dealerships of Findlay, OH did that. A summer promotion of 0% financing on used units was so successful on a dealer-wide basis, it or something similar “might well be repeated some day,” says Jim O'Donnell, used-car business manager for La Riche Chevrolet-Cadillac in Findlay, a northwestern Ohio city of 40,000.
Bank One Credit Company sponsored the promotion. Bank Vice President Timothy P. Turnwald came up with it as a way to help clear an overstock of used cars. Collectively, the dealers sold about 2,500 units.
Dealers whose manufacturers had 0% financing for new vehicles offered that too. But everyone offering 0% for used vehicles ranks as a truly unusual joint effort.
Says O'Donnell, “The key was going into it with a new finance source that covered all our competitors, including our own La Riche Toyota-Subaru. If one of the dealers stayed out, it wouldn't have worked as well as it did.
“When Bank One came by with the 0% idea, we had an inventory of about 150 pre-owned cars and trucks of all different brands. That's slightly above average, even with a growing certified-vehicle program that runs about 40 sales a month.”
An enthusiastic player in the 0% promotion was the city's top-volume dealer, Findlay Ford-Lincoln Mercury. Owner Stan Kujawa says it drew shoppers from “all over northwestern Ohio, southeastern Michigan and even Indiana.”
“Zero% loans haven't really been offered much on used units,” Kujawa tells Ward's Dealer Business, “and we in Findlay have been carrying high used-vehicle inventories. The beauty of all of us doing the promotion at the same time is that shoppers can get the same terms without running back and forth. Bank One made a lot of friends by being the sponsor.”
Other Findlay stores participating in the program are Buick-Nissan, Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep, Pontiac-Oldsmobile-GMC-Honda and Saturn.
La Riche Chevrolet-Cadillac sells about 100 used and 60 new vehicles a month.
At Kujawa's Findlay Ford-Lincoln Mercury, business managers JoAnne Cavedine and Matthew Buck handle financing for about 1,500 new and 1,100 used vehicles sold in the first seven months of 2002.
“Trucks take up about two-thirds of our new-vehicle business and 45% to 55% of our used business,” say Stan Kujawa's brother Ron the dealership's secretary-treasurer.
Findlay Ford-Lincoln Mercury covers 80,000 sq.ft. The current facility opened in 2002. There's a full-service lunchroom for the dealership's 146 employees, customers and the community at large.
“We left a lot of bad habits behind when we opened the new facility,” says Stan Kujawa. “The employees have a better attitude, which means the customers are happier because there's plenty of parking and inventory room — and sales and profits from vehicles, F&I and service are all up.”
At La Riche Chevrolet-Cadillac, O'Donnell is something of a rarity — an F&I manager with a journalism degree, University of Toledo, class of '84.
The switch in interest from newsrooms to showrooms came easy. His father, Bill O'Donnell, was the Chevrolet dealer in Fostoria, OH, after selling cars for Detroit's top-selling Jerry McCarthy Chevrolet. Jim worked there in his teens. Even in his college days, he worked at local dealerships. One of them, Treadway Buick-Nissan, offered him an F&I spot.
“I liked the daily challenge of journalism,” he says. “The F&I challenge is a lot like that, especially here in used cars.”