Champs Sell Accessories All Day; Every Day
The folks at Fitzgerald Auto Malls don't leave the sale of vehicle accessories to chance.
They leave it to the accessory champions: employees whose jobs it is to show every customer the factory and aftermarket accessories that are available to trick out, personalize and enhance the comfort and security of their new car or truck.
About half of Fitzgerald's 18 stores -- those that sell at least 200 new vehicles a month -- have accessory "champions" who sell accessories all day, all the time. Sales managers double as accessory champions at lower-volume stores.
In both cases, the champions' goal, with assistance from other salespeople, is to sell accessories to every new-vehicle customer, says Larry Branche, aftermarket sales manager at Fitzgerald Auto Malls. He says the company sells at least one accessory to 40 to 50 percent of its customers. Those accessories include sunroofs, satellite radios, window tinting and body-side molding.
Nationwide, accessory sales is a $30 billion industry that can help dealers bolster dwindling margins, says Jack Fitzgerald, the group's owner.
"Manufacturers have taken what was a 25 percent discount and made it into as little as 1 percent,'' says Fitzgerald, who owns stores in Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania. "The average is 4 percent. It shrinks a little bit every year. I don't know what they're going to do when it gets down to zero."
Sales, profits up
Branche says the group's sales in the last two years "have grown exponentially. In the first three months of this year, we're tracking about 15 to 20 percent more than in the previous year" in terms of profits.
Fitzgerald Auto Malls is No. 44 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups in the United States, with new-vehicle retail sales of 15,163 units in 2012. The group also retailed 9,212 used units.
Branche says accessories sales can enhance customer satisfaction because buyers can get exactly what they want without spending money for other equipment in vehicle packages they may not want or need.
"A lot of times people will buy a vehicle and they want a certain option, but to get that option they have to go up a couple of vehicle model trim levels," Branche says. "If all they want is a sunroof, we have the opportunity to give them that without spending the $2,000 or $3,000 more for the package.''
Branche says Fitzgerald Auto learned that accessories sales are most successful when talked about "early and often" by the salesperson as part of the new-vehicle sale.
The accessory champion steps in near the end of the sales process, just before the customer sits down to discuss financing and insurance. The salesperson will have alerted the champion about which accessories are of interest to the customer.
Making the sale
The champion shows customers how accessories can enhance and add a personal touch to their vehicles.
Champions have online financial calculators that tally accessory and labor prices and show consumers how much their monthly payments would increase based on the items they buy.
Champions point out that purchasing and financing accessories along with the new vehicle creates a single, convenient payment.
They also note that the new-vehicle warranty -- which is typically 3 years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first -- covers factory accessories when the accessories are purchased with the vehicle. Warranty coverage for those same factory accessories when bought after the new-vehicle purchase is typically 12 months.
The dealership group has always been involved in the sale of accessories, Branche says, but the process wasn't seamless. In the middle of the sales presentation, salespeople would have to call the parts department and the service department to price an accessory and its installation labor charge.
It was cumbersome, and some salespeople just didn't bother.
But that changed in 2007, when the dealership group enlisted the help of Insignia Group, a company that helps dealerships set up accessory sales systems and provides training for salespersons, managers and champions.
The Fitz Way
It starts with what the group calls training in "The Fitz Way," says Branche. The Fitz Way, which grew out of the group's ISO 9001:2008 certification, is a management approach that is dedicated to making the customer experience pleasant.
Salespeople are taught how help customers find accessories to fit their needs and their budgets.
Accessories' popularity varies, for example, by region and customer gender, says Scott Ascher, the group's director of vehicle operations. For example, remote starters are popular in the Northeast, while window tint and exterior sealants to protect vehicle paint get the nod in Florida.
Dealerships that sell a lot of trucks sell a lot of running boards or side steps, bed liners and trailer hitches.
"Women are more interested in things that are more soft, safety and comfort-related," says Ascher, such as "hands-free Bluetooth, seat warmers, navigation and backup cameras."
On the other hand, he says, "navigation isn't as popular as it once was. Now everyone has a cell phone they can use for navigation."
You can reach Arlena Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on improving dealership profits by selling more accessories, please contact Insignia Group.
By: Arlena Sawyers