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?
If recessions have a silver lining, it’s the fact that they force smart companies to reassess their processes and streamline operations. This is certainly true when it comes to small fleet operations, which often have tremendous potential for savings. One of the most important aspects of the small fleet procurement and disposal process is the relationship they forge with their local dealer.
Are you getting all you need out of your fleet dealer? To help answer, we spoke with a number of fleet dealers and small fleet operators. All of them feel they’re holding up their end of the bargain, and the insights they offered in to their fleet/dealer relationship should help to determine the strength of yours.
1. A Dedicated Fleet Department
Are you working with a “fleet dealer” in name only, or does the dealership truly serve the fleet market?
“You need to find out if you’re dealing with a true fleet manager or a sales manager doing a fleet manager’s role,” says Joe David Pacifico, president of Pacifico Marple Ford Lincoln outside of Philadelphia. “Fleet personnel should have business cards that say ‘Fleet Commercial Manager.’”
“We have our own dedicated sales office and sales team, so when they walk in here, the first person they talk to is a commercial salesperson. They won’t see a retail salesperson,” says Ken Thompson, fleet and commercial accounts manager for the Thompson Group at Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, Texas.
The three domestic brands each have a network of dealers and corresponding dealer programs for small fleets. General Motors Co. (Business Central), Chrysler LLC (Dodge BusinessLink) and Ford Motor Co. (Business Preferred) have fleet-certified dealer networks and dedicated Web sites.
These dealers must adhere to a set of requirements to ensure they can serve the commercial market. All three programs require dedicated commercial sales personnel, priority servicing and a wide selection of commercial inventory in stock. The programs also offer cash back or upfit discounts on top of published fleet rebates.
Most fleet dealers are single-branded, but some operate multiple franchises. Multibrand dealer groups can offer small fleet customer many more choices for their commercial vehicle needs.
True fleet departments should have longevity and consistency of personnel, which translates to trust and longstanding relationships with fleets.
Tony Sfreddo is the owner of Triple S Services, a pest control provider based in Manassas, Va. and a loyal customer of Battlefield Ford of Manassas. “We’ve dealt with three people at the same dealership [Battlefield Ford of Manassas] for 20 years,” Sfreddo says. “I like that consistency. They seem to understand that I’m buying all these vehicles from them.”
Humphrey & Associates, an electrical and mechanical contractor based in Grapevine, Texas, has been dealing with the Thompson Group for more than 30 years. “It’s not just, ‘Here’s your Chevy and you’re out,’” says owner Randy Humphrey, “but ‘we want to be integrated in everything you do, and help you in your whole process.’”
2. Inventory: On the Ground or a Phone Call Away
Business Fleet preaches factory ordering, but small fleets often have little choice but to buy out of dealer inventory. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that there are fewer vehicles in stock as a result of the recession.
Retail-minded dealers will have pickup trucks geared toward the leisure customer. “A loaded Lariat won’t help the guy needing a basic work truck,” says Pacifico.
A good fleet dealer has a wide selection of inventory — as many as 600 units at larger stores — on the ground and upfitted with typical vocational packages. Walk the dealer’s lot and check the dealer’s Web site to get a handle on units in stock, says Thompson.
If a particular unit is not readily available, the dealer should have resources to get the right vehicle from another dealer.
“We needed two vehicles, and the two they found were at a dealer in Florida,” says Sfreddo. “Three guys drove down that night to Florida and within three days they were back with our vehicles — at no additional cost.”
For fleets smart enough to factory order, the dealer should be able to update the customer on the build and delivery status of his or her vehicles.