Purchasing a new or used vehicle can fill the heart with dread.
The make and model can be narrowed down with research via the Internet, shopping guides and Sunday visits to car lots.
That’s the fun part.
But once that’s done and a choice has been made, it’s game time.
Lafourche Ford Lincoln Mercury General Manager Jude Chiquet doesn’t believe in wearing his customers down. When a customer enters the showroom it’s not the vehicle that has to impress, it’s his dealership.
“I’m a consumer myself and just like my customers, I expect to be treated right. Treat the customer well and the stereotypical car salesman goes away,” Chiquet said.
Yeah right. Easy to say but no one actually works that way.
Chiquet says he does.
“We have a system I’ve never seen at another dealership. The salesman finds the customer a vehicle. Then you talk to one person about your note, interest rate, price, warranty, everything. It makes for a better shopping experience,” Chiquet said.
If a customer doesn’t understand some aspect of the sale, Chiquet will explain the process.
“Once you understand, you feel a lot more comfortable than when you first walked in,” the Galliano native said.
For the dealer, the process begins by stocking vehicles shoppers are looking for.
Chiquet explained the assortment and quantity of vehicles available for sale depends on whether the dealership is a contact or select dealership.
A select dealership can choose which and how many vehicles to stock.
“We happen to be a select dealer so they don’t really push too much on us. We order what we want,” Chiquet said.
A contact dealership is usually larger and will take on more inventory.
New vehicles are ordered from the manufacturer based on what has been popular in the past as well as what new models look promising.
Lafourche Ford Lincoln Mercury’s top sellers are trucks with the “F” series leading the way.
When the vehicle arrives at the dealership, the window sticker detailing the retail price is already in place.
The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) between two identical looking vehicles fluctuates depending on what options have been installed.
“The manufacturer does that. The sticker price is regulated by the government,” Chiquet explained.
“Ford gets paid when we get the vehicle. Whether we make or lose $500 on the sale is none of their concern,” Chiquet said.
Various sources including a look at the competition’s prices go into determining the retail price.
“I check a lot of sources and research other dealers’ websites to see what they’re priced at. I then try to be cheaper than they are,” Chiquet said.
For the best price head to the big city dealerships, right?
“That’s the most untrue statement. We all pay the same amount for a vehicle from the manufacturer. It all depends on who wants to give you a good deal,” Chiquet said.
Much of Lafourche Ford Lincoln Mercury’s business comes from Raceland to Grand Isle. But the dealer is also getting customers from Terrebonne Parish, Thibodaux, St. Charles, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
“Our new slogan is before you buy; give Lafourche Ford Lincoln Mercury in Lockport a try. Our customers like the way we treat them. We’re retaining their business and they drive from the New Orleans area and West Bank to do business with us,” Chiquet said.
Many shoppers have a hard time believing auto dealerships aren’t making a fortune from their purchase.
“What gets misconstrued is how much they think we make. If I made as much as people think I’ve made in the 14 years I’ve been in the business, I’d be retired. There’s just not that kind of mark up,” Chiquet said.
Incentives and rebates can soften the sticker shock for the customer but offer no additional profit to the dealership.
“The incentives come from the manufacturer. I can show you the cost of a car when it first came in to months later. The cost to me doesn’t change. What changes the price are the incentives coming in from the manufacturer,” Chiquet explained.
If the vehicle is purchased, the customer – not the dealership – reaps the benefits.
“If a rebate is used, we submit a claim to the manufacturer for reimbursement. We break even on rebates,” Chiquet said.
Another factor that affects the bottom line is the trade-in.
“As a consumer I get disgusted with the value of them. But it’s the market – we don’t make the rules. We use the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Official Used Car Guide,” Chiquet explained.
The dealer also calls three wholesalers in three different areas to collect re-sale values.
“That’s how we come up with the best trade-in value. If a certain vehicle is hot at the time, it might be worth more,” Chiquet said.
Financing at Lafourche Ford Lincoln Mercury is usually through Ford Motor Credit. Some rebates or incentives become invalid if the vehicle is financed elsewhere.
The dealership does the shopping for the best financing deal.
“If I can get you a better interest rate at one bank versus the other, I’m sending you to the one that’s lower,” Chiquet said.
The dealer explained interest rates are determined by credit history, debt to income and Beacon Scores – a number generated by the Equifax Credit Bureau to rank an individual’s credit-worthiness.
“They have different levels for different credit scores and that determines your interest rate. You have a good score; you get a lower interest rate,” Chiquet said.
With so much money on the line, GAP – Guaranteed Auto Protection – helps protect the consumer in the event of a loss of the vehicle.
“Say you owe $30,000 on a vehicle that’s only worth $25,000 and it gets totaled. Your insurance company will only cover the vehicle’s actual value -$25,000. GAP pays the difference – $5,000 less your deductible. It’s good for people who owe more on a vehicle than what it’s worth,” Chiquet said.
The final decision to make is whether or not to purchase the extended warranty.
The original manufacturer’s warranty will cover the first few years of a vehicle’s life. Extended warranties will do just that – extend that protection for several more years.
“Parts that normally wear out aren’t covered. Windshield wiper blades, brake pads, tires – those are wear and tear items. But things like your air conditioner, motor, power locks, CD player, transmission, all that’s covered,” Chiquet said.
His advice is to buy a warranty from a dealer.
“It matters who you buy a warranty from. There are a lot of fly-by-night warranty companies out there and people are getting burnt. I had a customer who bought a $3,000 warranty that we sell for $1,500. She couldn’t get a refund because they were about to go out of business and couldn’t use it because it’s not one we accept,” Chiquet said.
What good is a warranty with a dealer who has closed?
The local rumor mill would have shoppers believe Lafourche Ford Lincoln Mercury is on the ropes and about to shutter their doors.
“In answer to those rumors – we’re about to go through a major renovation of the dealership. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” Chiquet said.
The front of the dealership will get a major facelift. Plans also include the addition of about 40 feet to the service department, a new customer lounge and a total redesign of the interior.
“I think that’s going to help us let people see that we’re here to stay. A lot of dealerships have been closing lately. The economy is scary sometimes and I think when you buy from someone, you want to make sure they’re going to be around to service your vehicle and be there for you,” Chiquet said.
With the BP oil spill and uncertain economy the logical choice would seem to be to sit tight – not start a renovation.
“Where some people might be decreasing inventory and letting employees go we’re increasing. I’m a positive person and I’m a firm believer in that if you believe you will achieve. I have to concentrate on now – this dealership – these employees. I believe, and hopefully I will achieve. So far we have,” Chiquet said.
While other businesses are keeping a cautious eye on the economy, Lafourche Ford Lincoln Mercury’s General Manager Jude Chiquet is confident his dealership will continue to prosper. JENNIE CHILDS