NORTH HILLS, CA — Galpin Ford, using a staff 1-2 punch, has exceeded $1,300 in finance & insurance sales per vehicle sold.

The top-volume Ford dealer in both total revenues and new vehicles sold achieves leadership in F&I incomeas well by letting vehicle salespeople complete the financing process before turning customers over to Brian Gelt's 20-person F&I team.

“This runs counter to the notion that F&I managers should handle the loan or lease,” Gelt says in an interview at Galpin's southern California complex. “But we have found that customer satisfaction and F&I revenues increase dramatically when salespeople and sales managers finalize the vehicle financing.

“Payments are such an integral part of the transaction that customers like it better when they go into the F&I offices after they are approved for the loan or lease — not before.”

The proof of the Galpin approach lies in its numbers. The Ward's Dealer Business 500 shows Galpin Ford as No. 3 on the final compilation. It raised its F&I yield per vehicle sold — new and used — to $1,338 in 2002 from $1,252 in 2001.

The busy San Fernando Valley store, north of Los Angeles, reports a record $31.1 million in F&I income last year, including about $12 million in lease and rental revenues. The F&I yield of $1,338, also a Galpin record, is based on F&I income minus the rental-lease factor.

Galpin uses a menu approach for services and products presented by the F&I staff, says Gelt, 38, a University of Southern California public administration graduate who has headed F&I at the bustling Ford store for seven of his 16 years with Galpin.

He says, “I heard over and over what a great reputation owner Bert Boeckmann has as a dealer and employer. So I came here and haven't regretted it for a minute.”

Among other innovations in the F&I process at Galpin are quarterly in-house training sessions led by veteran F&I trainer Ron Kirely. The Galpin menu leads off with service contracts, and the dealership is the sales leader in Ford extended service agreements, says Gelt, with a penetration of about 55%.

Other brisk sellers on Galpin's F&I menu include prepaid maintenance policies, LoJack and Tyron theft protection and gap coverage. No credit life or health insurance is included on the menu. Ford Credit ESPs dominate the new-vehicle portfolio, with Universal Underwriters policies favored for used units. Gelt has also installed a dedicated F&I staff for subprime.

In its compensation package, says Gelt, F&I managers are paid on the gross profit of each transaction, plus bonuses for accuracy, speed of closing, timeliness and customer satisfaction. Half of the F&I staff are women who, says Gelt, “do quite well in a seven-day market where hours are extremely long. That allows flexible schedules, which the women like.”

This past spring and summer, Galpin Ford staged several weekend sales in which, for the first time, it offered new vehicles for five-year Ford Credit loans with no payments for the first year.

“The traffic was great — and the fact that the buyers didn't have to make a payment for 12 months helped sell a lot of F&I products,” Gelt said.

A Ford spokesman says Galpin Ford was chosen as one of a handful of dealers testing the non-payments-for-a-year concept. Only applicants with top-tier credit records were accepted for the loans.

“It's not something we're looking at for a big rollout,” says the spokesman. “As our top-volume dealer in F&I and new vehicle sales, Galpin is an ideal dealership to explore these ideas because their customer base is so loyal and reaches all parts of the L.A. market.”

Galpin's creativity extends to pre-owned vehicles, on which it pioneered its own certified program for several years before auto makers developed their own systems. Galpin's North Hills complex includes an elegant new Premier Automotive Group building with Lincoln Mercury, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo franchises, plus a stand-alone Saturn dealership.