John Eagle Family of Dealerships
Corporate Director of Interactive Sales and Marketing
The old expression about there being no “I” in “team”? You might say it guides Jim Flint in his duties as the first-ever corporate director of interactive sales and marketing for the John Eagle Family of Dealerships.
“A lot of the people who work for our organization have a background in athletics like I do,” he says. “That kind of competitive spirit helps drive the group forward. The idea of working with a team helps you think of the dynamics that’ll help shape our dealerships to be in a better position than the guys just down the street.”
Flint, who began his professional career with a stint in sports marketing for Nike, joined Dallas-based John Eagle in early 2009 when John Eagle and Rene’ Isip identified the opportunities and challenges that the internet was posing for their stores. He moved to the retail side of the business after working at the OEM level with Nissan and Toyota for more than a decade.
With more than 100,000 shoppers per month looking at the group’s virtual inventory, Flint describes his experience so far as, “Exciting and very focused. In this kind of economy, we have to make sure that everything we’re doing helps us sell more cars.”
DealerADvantage recently spoke with Flint to learn more about John Eagle’s online initiatives and how those strategies help to drive business. He said the dealer group, with 14 stores in the Lone Star State and Panama City, Fla., records average monthly sales of approximately 1,800 new and used vehicles. On average, 45 percent of those deals are attributed to the internet.
DealerADvantage: How does a bottom-up approach work at John Eagle?
Flint: My goal always is to secure buy-in. Our general managers and partners drive the business, and my job is to support them. That’s an example that’s set by our leadership team. When you own the store, and you are in the market, you understand the nuances of each community and each OEM. That knowledge helps our partners and our organization to do the things that we need to do to be successful.
DealerADvantage: I understand several of your stores use a BDC. What results are you seeing?
Flint: We have everything from a straight BDC to what I call a hybrid BDC internet group, to a straight internet group at the different stores and each store finds success in different ways.
One of the things that the team looks to improve upon every day is common reporting elements so that people are on the same page as to what it is we’re trying to achieve. We want to understand the financial implications as well, so we track each of our lead providers by our front end, back end and total gross to understand–bottom line: Are we bringing those people in for appointments, getting the shows and then converting them to sales in a profitable way?
I think it works well because we are focused at a store level. We’re decentralized: General Managers and partners of the stores make the decisions. My team–Amanda Eagle, Stephanie White and I, will make recommendations and work with each store to help them build and implement structures that will ensure success, but at the end of the day, it’s the commitment of each of the BDC managers, general managers and directors that deliver the results.
DealerADvantage: How much of the sales process do your BDC agents manage?
Flint: At the traditional BDC stores, they set the appointments and get the shows. At some of the other stores, where we’re more internet-based, they’ll actually work with a customer from beginning to end, all the way up until finance.
DealerADvantage: Are your phone, email and chat processes standardized across the John Eagle network?
Flint: No, but we see an upside in having the right people in place to handle all the different communication scenarios—phone, email, chat, text or otherwise. The car business is a people business and I’ve see bad ideas translate into outstanding success because of the commitment of the people involved. I’ve also seen situations where good processes can be destroyed by people who aren’t committed to what’s going on. The commitment level of the people drives the success or failure of an initiative and is ultimately as — if not more — important as the process.
We’re very focused on listening to what the customers have to say. We try to move past the auto responder stage very quickly into dialogue—text, chat or phone calls. We try to stay connected to what the consumer is asking for so that we can answer their questions directly. I think there’s nothing more frustrating to consumers than giving an answer to something that they don’t necessarily want to know about. We believe in the theory that you have two ears and one mouth, so we try to listen twice as much as we talk.
DealerADvantage: How are your stores merchandising vehicles?
Flint: There are different scenarios at each store. Several stores do in-house photos and descriptions, and ownership of this process typically delivers the best results. We find that we have quicker and more timely publication of pictures and details about the cars we are selling. Other stores are with DealerSpecialties, and the company does a nice job. Typically, once you clear the initial hurdle of bringing the photos in-house, you can do a better job of knowing your cars and then selling them.
DealerADvantage: Do you specify the number of photos per listing?
Flint: There’s not a mandate, but there is direction. We recommend 24 pictures and have a process that we’ve put on paper so that someone new to the process understands the order in which the photos should be taken and published.
DealerADvantage: Are you recommending photos and cell phone listings for new cars?
Flint: We’ve experimented with pictures at one store without clear results. We’ve heard some good feedback though. We’ve visited with Greenway Dodge and Greenway Ford in Orlando because they’re noted for their expertise in this area. Conrad Letson and Theresa Hordge-Miller and their team felt, especially at their Dodge store, that they had a competitive advantage based on taking pictures of the new-car inventory. It helped to make the product less of a commodity. Inherently I believe that. I think it makes sense, so we’ll continue to test the concept on a limited basis.
On the cell phone front, we’re about to jump more deeply in the smartphone space. More and more users are searching our inventory on their cell phones, and we’re working to be well-positioned as this part of the business starts to grow.
DealerADvantage How do you train in a large organization? How do you share ideas about what works?
Flint: Two ways. One, we have biweekly conference calls with the entire team — including the used-car managers. Michael Stanford oversees our corporate used-car meetings, and his team sets the standard for meeting every week. Well, with the impact that the internet has had on the used-car businesss, it makes sense for us to join them and report our web numbers two times a month. So we get on the phone, talk about how everybody is performing and discuss game plans that are being developed. We focus on the things that people are doing well.
Along those same lines we’ve conducted best practices meetings with the help of Ralph Ebersole from Cars.com. With such large groups in Dallas and Houston, we get together in those cities for three or four hours and go through what we see in the industry, in our area, and in our group. Before the meeting we develop an agenda of the different topics that everybody is confronting and are looking to discuss and then we cover-off on the topics in a round table setting–less presentation, more discussion.
While we want to serve as a resource and understand the best practices, we also want the stores to feel comfortable contacting each other directly. They’re starting to grow in that area and it’s fast becoming a competitive advantage for us. By openly talking about the ways we handle shoppers, the way pay plans are driving results – by talking about things in an upfront and matter-of-fact way, we are getting better faster.
DealerADvantage: What about the potentially uncomfortable situations when individuals need coaching?
Flint: We deal with opportunities for improvement in a one-to-one setting. It’s more appropriate, and I think people over time understand that’s where we’re headed. It’s not that, in our group meetings, that everything is perfect. It’s not. The culture with the John Eagle organization though is one of building and improving. Our team is looking for ways to get better each and every day. The goal here is not to break somebody down or tear people down. It’s how do we develop and grow and as long as we’re authentic about that — which we are. The issues tend to be fewer and farther between.
DealerADvantage: John Eagle represents a wide range of manufacturers. Do you work with shoppers differently in a Bentley store than you would, say, at a Scion dealership?
Flint: We do look at the luxury lines a little differently. Customers are making emotional decisions about the product, so there’s much less negotiation. In fact, there are times when the price isn’t discussed until just before the car is delivered. On the other side, price is one of the first items that come up in our more mainstream lines. So we have to work differently to overcome objections in each of the different situations. In every instance though, our job is to communicate clearly, develop trust and sell ourselves and our products.