Mastria Kia, based in Raynham, Massachusetts, is part of the six-store, award-winning powerhouse Mastria Auto Group. Family-owned and operated, several members of the Mastria family play a role in the company’s success.
According to Mastria Auto Group CEO Ruddy Brito, the group maintains its success by thinking outside the box to stay competitive and ahead of the curve, and by always placing the customer first.
“Our core of excellence is our focus on putting the customer in the forefront of our dealership and, most importantly, taking care of our customers. Our employees are the foundation of everything we do, so we surround ourselves with people who align with our core values and hire people based on those principles to ensure we have the right person first before we put them in the right seat,” said Brito.
Brito feels very fortunate about the group’s forethought and timing in launching its fully digital process months before COVID 19 forced stores to close and affected the economy nationwide.
“Around the start of 2019, we started to see things changing as far as consumers desiring to do more of the transaction online. One constant thing is change. We looked at multiple data points and compared things in different fields such as real estate where the top lender was Rocket Mortgage, and the top buyers were all the millennial generation. There was an increasing trend to do the majority of business online remotely. We also started looking at Tesla, which has increased year-over-year and they went 100% online. And Carvana is a 100% digital company and CarMax also moved more online. We saw a wave of change from businesses looking to improve the way they conducted retail transactions,” Brito stated.
In late 2019, Brito asked management at each of the six stores to nominate an employee who would be willing to fully engage in the process of researching and vetting digital retailing vendors. The idea was to attempt to keep the stores operating 24/7 by enabling a digital retailing process that worked both for the customer and the dealership. Brito selected managers from every department at all of his stores from parts to sales to F&I and service. He wanted input from the entire dealership for the new platform.
Following an extensive seven-month process of research and vetting vendors, the Digital Evolutions Action Team launched an end-to-end digital retailing process with Darwin Automotive throughout the 6 stores, including Kia. Leveraging its vendor relationship with Darwin Automotive, the dealership was able to finalize deals entirely through digital channels called Fast Lane.
According to Brito, Fastlane could not have come at a better time. At the Kia, store deals started going through Fastlane in just the first week.
“I was surprised by the volume of people that went online in March 2020,” Brito said. “Customers simply desired less interaction. The vehicle was prepared, wiped down with Clorox and Lysol wipes. The deal was in effect done.”
Fastlane has continued to grow in success. Brito ran a report from the Fastlane tool for the Kia store for July 2021 and pre-leads, that is customers that went through the whole process, put in all their data, and decided they wanted to pick up the car at dealership or home, was 48%. That is up from around 10% when they first started.
“Almost 50% of our online customers are filling out their data which accelerates the process. When that Internet lead hits our BDC it gives us a huge jump ahead of where we used to be,” said Brito.
Once a customer arrives at a dealership, Brito wants to ensure they are not starting from the beginning, and that their data has been captured in the system. “While several solutions were great digitally when the customer came into the store you still had to get them through the CRM, push that customer to the DMS, print up a menu, and present that menu. This simply takes up too much of the consumer’s time. We wanted to remove the added time. Darwin was the only company that allows the customer to pay 100% online while staying compliant and allowing F&I to present product on the customer’s terms. Regardless of if the customer is in the showroom or begins a conversation online, ideally, the second they are ready to buy, we get them into F&I and out within an hour,” Brito said.
Placing the Customer in the Driver’s Seat
The process is geared to be swift and user-friendly. The shopper can go onto the dealer’s website, select a vehicle, and then click on “Create my Deal.” A short series of questions appear including how many miles per year the consumer will be driving, how long they plan to own the vehicle, and credit score, and from there they can get a trade-in value or enter a manual trade-in value.
Next, the consumer is presented with a set of options: an out-the-door price from a cash perspective; two financing options, and two leasing options. They can either select to transact using one of the available options or customize it, such as by changing the down payment level.
The system then moves the customer onto aftermarket sales. Here they can select options such as maintenance, vehicle service contracts, tire & wheel, and other value-add products for the customer. With Fastlane, at any point in the deal creation process, the consumer can share the deal with their significant other, a parent, or friend, anywhere in the world.
Then, all they have to do is go into the dealership, test drive the vehicle, sign the paperwork, and can drive away in about 15 to 30 minutes.
“We changed a lot of things internally and were ready and ahead of curve so when the pandemic hit we could contract electronically and meet the customer at the exact point in the funnel they want to interact. Most customers want to save time and want to research and do the deal on their terms. But they still want to come in and test drive the car. We have a Fastlane spot where the vehicle is ready and waiting for the customer,” Brito stated.
F&I Online Front and Center
While some dealers worry about losing profits if they put F&I products online, Brito saw the benefit of going all-in with digital retailing and decided to put finance and insurance products online as well, which Darwin Automotive, fully enables. The store can finalize deals entirely through Darwin’s Fastlane tool.
“Consumers want to spend less time in the dealership. Now they want to start that finance process and learn about products earlier on,” Brito said.
The Kia dealership and the group overall had to make big changes to the way F&I worked and employee pay plans, and the change has been for the better.
“Our PRU from an F&I perspective is up,” Brito said. “The F&I process is simpler as the consumer can see the F&I products and choose them before coming into the dealership. My team loves it.”
Brito also likes how Darwin helped the dealership group overcome the internal challenge of margin compression. “With different OEMs F&I became an area of focus for most dealers, being that you have margin compression. We changed the philosophy from trying to sell products to informing consumers about the product benefits, enabling them to see their value,” Brito said.
The group also retrained their F&I employees to help them better understand that consumers today want to transact a little bit differently than before. The training helped them become versed in the benefits of the new F&I processes.
Consistency is Key
According to Brito, Fastlane makes the process consistent every time. “You can ask each dealership if they desk the deal the same way, the answer is usually ‘no.’ Fastlane is akin to having your best desk manager pencil the deal the same way every time. It offers the consumer the best possible payment regardless of if it is incentive-based, or based or other deal variables, and also offers lease and cash deal prices. It places the customer in the driver’s seat. Then when the customer comes in and goes into F&I, a lot of pre-qualification questions have already been answered so it streamlines the entire process,” Brito said.
“If you put a tool out there and assume customers will adapt to that tool, it will not work. You have to challenge your digital retailing tool. Take a look at the car buying experience for the customer. Are they going to show up and the salespeople then change the online price? Whatever we put online has to be the same in the showroom. If you pay by commission that will drive the wrong behavior and that is not a good experience. You are driving staff to behave that way so think about whatever you present online and in the showroom. Can the customer truly show up and buy that car for no more, no less? And if the answer is ‘no’ then you need to change technology,” Brito added.
Meeting the Customer on their Terms
“Some have said that due to the timing I looked like the smartest guy at the time. But I was not. I was just following customer behavior.It is just about meeting our customers where they want to be met. It is not just putting an icon on our site. We had to change internal processes for this to work, Brito stated.
“As Steve Jobs put it so well, you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it,” Brito added.
The New Normal in Automotive Retail
According to Brito, the team put in a lot of work early on and is benefitting from that as everyone has adapted to the new norm.
In closing, Brito stated, “We had to make big changes in the way F&I works and how we pay finance managers and client advisors and our BDC, all for the better. I know this is perhaps not a popular direction. But I am building a company thinking about the customer first and technology after. We have to start by thinking of the customer experience and work our processes internally and the technology behind that for a better experience.
The automotive retail business is changing, and things will not be sustainable if we do not change with it. It is not easy, but we are resilient. The auto industry is the most brilliant industry and anything we can put our mind to we can do.”