Purchasing work vehicles can be a daunting, expensive and time-consuming task. No one can ignore the rising costs of a new vehicle, the hassle of haggling with a dealer and the time it takes away from more important business concerns. Many small business professionals do not think of their work vehicles as a “fleet.” When the time comes to buy a new vehicle they think and act like the retail consumer. They visit their local dealer and buy something off of the lot, negotiating a separate deal for every purchase. This mindset can and usually does cost unnecessary money on the purchase—and unnecessary time as well. Stop Thinking Retail The small businessman or woman needs to establish a working relationship with a dealer as a fleet customer. But how can you ascertain which dealerships cater to the small fleet? For some insider’s advice we turned to Russ Cass, fleet director at Piemonte National Fleet, a multi-franchised dealer based in the Chicago area, and Bert Grayson, fleet sales manager for Bennage Chevrolet in West Memphis, Ark. Cass and Grayson have many years of dealer experience in the fleet market. Both helped compile a list of questions you’ll want to ask dealers to determine how well they handle the fleet-minded customer. Questions for Your Fleet Dealer 1 Do you set prices in relation to factory invoice for vehicles ordered from the factory by your small-fleet customers? Cass: “Any dealer who wants to earn the trust of a small fleet customer needs to set a fixed mark-up/discount on factory orders per the manufacturers’ factory invoice and stick with this figure for the whole model year. This way the client has a comfort level knowing that each time a vehicle is purchased, they need not ‘haggle’ every time.” 2 Do you set prices in relation to factory invoice for vehicles purchased out of your existing vehicle inventory? Cass: “Stock units should be treated the same as factory orders regarding a fixed discount. It may be different than an ordered unit, but it should still be a fixed figure.” 3 Do you operate multiple franchises, thereby offering a choice between several makes and models? Cass: “Owning multiple franchises gives a dealer flexibility to offer the best vehicle for the application.” 4 Do you operate a national drop-ship system, allowing a small-fleet customer to factory-order vehicles through your dealership and take delivery of those vehicles anywhere in the U.S.? Cass: “A good fleet dealer should have a drop-ship system in place before telling a customer they can do this. Not knowing the pitfalls of drop shipping can cause major headaches for all parties involved.” 5 When factory ordering through your dealership, do you update the customer on the build and delivery status of his vehicle through vehicle status reports? Cass: “Status reports should be available any time a client wants them, either by phone, or as in our case, online at any time via our Web site.” {+PAGEBREAK+} 6 Do you have any small-fleet lease and finance packages offered through your dealership? Cass: “A good fleet dealer should have contacts with the manufacturers’ credit companies (commercial divisions) and larger bank and finance sources for volume deals.” 7 Do you have any programs that can handle out-of-state sales of retired fleet vehicles? Cass: “Fleet-minded dealerships can handle out-of-state trade-ins by having the drop-ship dealer offer a purchase price, a wholesaler appraise the unit for trade, or by sending it to the local auto auction.” 8 Can you handle Internet auctions for fleet vehicle sales to employees? Cass: “Internet auctions are best handled by the source that will be handling the used vehicle disposal.” 9 For customers with FIN’s/FAN’s, do you have a system that automatically affords the highest rebate possible, either fleet or retail? Cass: “Guaranteeing the best available rebate or incentive also gives clients a comfort level that they are always getting the best deal.” 10 Can you get me rifleshot money, and do you have a program to track rifleshots and customer volume rebates? Grayson: “Yes, a small fleet can get manufacturer’s rifleshot (competitive allowance adjustment) money. I expect the fleet-minded dealer to arrange it for the customer. It costs the dealer nothing and the customer saves even more money.” 11 Do you keep abreast of component rebates to suggest to customers? Grayson: “Winch, hitch and other special equipment (component) producers often offer special discounts.” 12 Do you suggest factory upfit packages rather than have customers upfit locally? Grayson: “Factory upfits are almost always better quality and cost less. The best example is a free rack and bin program. The non-educated fleet buyer wouldn’t even know they exist.” 13 Do you suggest Ship To and Ship Thru programs when upfits on trucks make this a good idea? Grayson: “A ‘Ship To’ situation happens when a vehicle, usually a medium- or heavy-duty truck, won’t fit on a transporter truck. Those vehicles incur double freight charges, but even then the customer can negotiate savings.” {+PAGEBREAK+} 14 Do you stock fleet vehicles with options geared to fleet customers? Grayson: “Bring a list of specs you want on the vehicle to the dealership and be sure not to exceed the options. Tell them what you need, nothing more. Options are expensive.” Other Important Questions: 15 Are your service department personnel ASE certified? 16 Do you offer factory fleet centralized billing programs for service and parts? 17 Do you offer fleet discounts on parts and service? 18 Do you have specific fleet personnel who attend factory meetings on fleet matters and serve fleets exclusively? 19 What national fleet companies utilize your dealership for drop ships and service? 20 Do you offer license and title services for fleet customers and what fees do you charge? 21 Do you actively solicit fleet business? Ready to Negotiate Not many dealerships can answer yes to all of the above questions, but their answers will serve as a benchmark to help you choose your fleet-minded dealership. Now that you’ve chosen a dealership, see our Sept/Oct issue on how to negotiate with the dealer to get uniform pricing and all dealers’ and manufacturers’ discounts and programs available. See this list of nationwide, multi-franchised fleet dealers.