March 2011, Business Fleet - Feature
7 Tenets of a Good Fleet Dealer
The best fleet dealers offer fair pricing, dedicated staff and multiple options for selection, trade-in and upfitting. Does your dealership make the grade?
3. Transparency on Price
Small fleets should not expect factory-invoice, “triple-net” pricing reserved for large factory orders. Rather, prices based off of the vehicle’s advertised stock invoice are more common. In the bigger picture, fair and consistent pricing from the fleet dealer is the most important factor for small fleets.
“The value of the vehicle is not the purchase price,” says Humphrey. “It’s over the life of the vehicle, and the service you get after the sale.”
Nonetheless, pricing can get confusing. Small fleet buyers often have a menu of discounts and rebates to choose from. All fleets with FIN/FAN numbers can choose the fleet or retail rebate, whichever is higher. Manufacturers’ small fleet programs have further discounts, as do many industry associations.
With still other discounts on parts and service, upfits and financing, sorting through the possibilities takes some work. A good fleet dealer will know the options and routinely “do the math” to come up with the best price scenario.
“Whatever discounts are available to that customer in the particular industry he’s in, we’ll know what they are and make them available,” says Thompson. “And then we make sure they get all the rebates and money on that vehicle.”
“I’m confident I’m not missing any potential savings because of [the dealer’s] lack of knowledge of what’s out there,” says Humphrey.
Nonetheless, it is every fleet’s right to look for a better deal every once in awhile. “If we did go out and find a deal that was significantly better, we’d go back to our [primary] dealer and say ‘We found it for less, what can you do?’” says Sfreddo. “In essence, you’re keeping them honest.”
However, comparison shopping must always be balanced with maintaining goodwill with the dealer. “Even if somebody else gets close [on price], you need to weigh whether it’s worth jeopardizing the relationship,” Sfreddo says, noting that sales floor negotiations on each transaction are not part of the deal. “We just want the truck,” he says. “I don’t want to be sold all the bells and whistles. When we sign, it’s just a formality.”
True fleet dealers will have a dedicated commercial finance manager — or a fleet salesperson — handle the paperwork. They will know “how to finance a $30,000 truck with a $20,000 upfit on it,” as Thompson puts it.
In addition to financing possibilities, a good fleet dealer should offer manufacturer or independent lease finance packages specifically for fleets.
4. A Painless Transaction
Over time, that earned trust level leads to a “sign-and-go” relationship. Fleet dealers routinely deliver vehicles to the customer with the paperwork missing only a signature.
“They come to my office with the vehicle. They have the paperwork ready; all we have to do is sign,” Sfreddo says. “It’s a very smooth, painless transaction.”
“Most of the time, I’ll give the dealer an address and they’ll deliver after hours or on a weekend,” Humphrey says. “We cover 64 counties in Northeast Texas. I’ve never had anyone in the Thompson Group tell me, ‘No, we can’t get that delivered for you.’”
Fleet dealers also handle upfits of third-party equipment to deliver the vehicles in work-ready condition.
For small fleets that factory order and have out-of-state drivers, fleet dealers should be able to arrange to drop ship the vehicle to a grounding dealer in the driver’s area.
5. An Outsourced Fleet Manager
Small fleet operators who have CEO, chief cook and bottle washer responsibilities must often rely on their fleet dealer as an outsourced fleet manager.
“My dealer not only sets up the courtesy deliveries, but makes sure our vehicles are titled and licensed. My drivers only need to pick up the cars [at the grounding dealers],” says Anita Salazar, fleet and risk manager for Makita Tools USA.
This service becomes especially helpful for fleets with drivers in different states. “I deal nationwide, and each state has different requirements,” says Salazar, who works with Roy Durham Jr. of RP Automotive, a multi-franchise Penske company based in West Covina, Calif. “A dealership has to be up to speed with the new tax laws [in each state].”
Salazar deals with many dealerships for drop ships, but she is able to go through RP Automotive for one invoice. That alleviates the need to fill out W-9 tax forms for multiple dealerships.
Small fleets also use their dealer’s staff to help with spec’ing, upfitting and new-model research. Sfreddo’s dealer installed a heavier duty suspension on his new trucks to properly handle the payload. When Humphrey was ready to replace an older one-ton truck, his dealer showed him how the new half-tons could handle the same payload and get better fuel economy for less money.
Better yet, Humphrey says his dealer has given him trustworthy information on other products not sold at that dealership.