How The JM&A Group is Helping Dealers Stay Current in the Ever-Evolving Auto Retail Industry


On today’s show, we’re pleased to welcome Chris May, Director of Performance Development Center at JM&A Group, a comprehensive dealer solutions company that has been in the industry for over 40 years. 


Jim Fitzpatrick: Hi, everyone. Jim Fitzpatrick. Thanks so much for joining me on another edition of CBT News. Today we’re excited to have with us Mr. Chris May who is director of Performance Development Performance Center at JM&A Group. I know that you know that name for sure. So, Chris welcome into the show.

Chris May: A pleasure to be here Jim.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. So, lets kind of talk a little bit about the industry as a whole. As you know we just came off of a great year in 2019. What were some of the trends that you saw out there that you felt, “Hey, that could lead into 2020. We could do something with that.”

Chris May: Yeah, absolutely. JM&A Group had a fantastic 2019, and we sold the most contracts that we ever sold-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Really?

Chris May: A lot of our big partnerships hit record PVR numbers, so nothing but great success in 2019. And a lot of the trends that you talk about on this show are starting to gain some momentum, gain some traction. And we’re ready to kind of grab the bull by the horns, and make sure that we’re prepared for 2020 and beyond by addressing those on the forefront.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Cool. Cool. So, lets jump in here. JM&A’s a huge company. Everybody knows that JM&A brand. I mean, you have to be living under a rock, as I always say, if you don’t know the JM&A brand. But specifically what’s the Performance Development Center all about? How does that help dealers?

Chris May: Yeah. So, we’re the training and solutions arm within the JM&A Group, so we’ve actually been around for close to 25 years. Just for context last year we each had over 7000 students in a face to face setting in a classroom.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow. That’s incredible. So, you’re training today’s F&I managers?

Chris May: About 40% of our students are in the F&I office, so we’ve branched out a lot over the last 25 years into other avenues. We touched over 1300 dealerships, 47 states our students represented-

Jim Fitzpatrick: My gosh. Wow.

Chris May: So, we have a pretty big scale. But of course we’re mostly known as JM&A’s training company, which we’re extremely proud of. But we had a great 2019 and looking to improve our ability to impact our students in 2020.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Can only JM&A clients come to the Performance Development Center?

Chris May: No. The majority of our clients, especially F&I related, are focused within the JM&A network, but we work with a lot of dealers.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow, that’s great.

Chris May: There’s a lot of different challenges that people are facing that are non F&I related that we’ve been able to build some great relationships and make a real impact out there.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Very cool. So, JM&A works, as you just mentioned, with so many dealers across the country. Talk to use a little bit about some of the unique advantages, and maybe the disadvantages of your position.

Chris May: Yeah. Well, I guess the disadvantages the branding is thing that we’re never going to catch up to JM Family or JM&A Group. We’ll just have to live with that one. But on the advantages our core value proposition, as a training company, is the impact that we can make on our students, and we’re highly confident in the classes that we produce, material that we go through whether its old school or new school whatever it is that the dealer’s asking for. But we all know in the learning world that there’s a forgetting curve that over time you go to a class, you come out, you have all this fervor and energy and all this knowledge. 30 days, 90 days later things start to fall off.

Chris May: One of the biggest advantages that we have with our market position is that JM&A network. We work with a lot of great dealers that understand the need for reinforcement, and there’s a lot of JM&A reps across country today that understand when their students go to class there’s that constant reinforcement. So, when it does stay within our network we do see an uptick in kind of that retention and performance over time. That’s one of the key advantages.

Chris May: The second one, which I think is probably most overlooked here, is our ability to learn. So, we talk a lot around the evolving trends in our space, and how fast the industry is changing, and we’re not going to sit back and pretend that we know it all. But when you talk about a network that is 3500 dealers, when you have that many people on your team with such retail experience-

Jim Fitzpatrick: No question about it.

Chris May: As long as we’re vulnerable, we’re listening, we’re talking to dealers we have the ability to kind of see and address trends before they even become a trend.

Chris May: And it’s not just about the tool itself we can see the challenges that people are having implementing that tool, utilizing that tool, training against that tool. So, we have this amazing ability, which we’ve done a great job over the last few years, on keeping our ear to the ground, and really understanding what’s in the market and how we can help.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So, we have a lot of people on this show discussing different auto trends, F&I technology, single point of contact, online transacting. How have you had to evolve over the last few years to keep up with all of this? I mean, there’s a lot happening in this space right now, right?

Chris May: Yes.

Jim Fitzpatrick: In the auto space the digital retailing alone is just kind of dealers are, “Where is this going? Am I prepared for it? Is this something we really want to do? Are we pushing it or is the consuming pushing it?” So, talk to us about that.

Chris May: Absolutely. And I want to thank you because it’s the hype that shows, like yourself, create that; for a little while put us on our heels a little bit about what was coming down the pike.

Chris May: I think we’ve done a great job evolving. I guess the first wave focusing on the F&I space was all the technology that happens in the F&I box. So, whether it was the DocuPADs, the Darwins, the CDKs, the Coxes, they’re all coming out with new tools. So, we’ve had to evolve our training to be less script based and more of a model. So, when you train to a model it’s allowing flexibility and adaptability that can wrap around any tool or any situation. So, that was probably the big major trend a few years back on how we had to adjust kind of our core courses. And then I would say over the last two or three years we’ve really had to build out our solutions brand.

Chris May: What I mean by that is when we engage with a large client, and they’re asking for training they’re not necessarily asking for training, they’re asking for a result, they’re asking for a solution.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, they want a solution. Right.

Chris May: Exactly. So, training is a huge portion of what that solution is, but we’ve had to kind of branch out our kind of span of influence to help to make sure that we’re making the impact that we want to make. And I can probably give you a story or two to give you some concrete details on what that means.

Chris May: So, digital retailing you mentioned. We had a to 20 dealer group call us, and when I went into the Performance Development Center two years ago we created process maps, documentation around digital retailing knowing it was going to be a trend. The phone call was, “Hey, Chris. I want to do digital retailing. Can you help?” I said, “Hey, great. We have a class we can put on.” He goes, “No. I want to do digital retailing. I don’t even know where to begin.” So-

Jim Fitzpatrick: “What is digital retailing? What does it mean?”

Chris May: Like, “I hear it. We talk about it. My CEO says it’s important, so we need help there.” So, throughout the 2018 and rolling into 2019 we sat with their leadership team, we helped them map like what their priorities were, kind of understand their culture, introduced them to a few different technologies, helped them maybe make the selection. We go their leadership team in a room, and helped them create their own process, and that helps with the buy-in at the management level. We can help them create communication plans, implementation plans, and ultimately a training guide. So, a training was a big piece of that, but-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Of course.

Chris May: We’re starting to talk a lot more in solutions because there’s a lot of ways that we can help that are just outside of the training, the myopic training arm.

Chris May: So, whatever the change is changing the behavior of the human being is probably the hardest thing that any of use try to do, and it takes multiple touch points, and it takes multiple types of attempts to make sure it’s going to be successful.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. That’s right. But to your point it is inevitable. I mean, the consumers want it, and millennials want it. Talk to us about that this younger millennial generation, these young kids today they have us all screwed up, right?

Chris May: Yep.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Where us baby boomers in the industry are trying to get our heads around this, but there’s a great number of them that see those commercials and say, “I could buy a car that way. I don’t need to go into a dealership.” Of course, now the dealers have spent … Now that they’re finished spending 40 million dollars on these gorgeous dealerships that the OEMs required them to build, they’re like, “Really, we’re now delivering cars and the customer never has to hit the show room?” But talk to us about the millennial types, and how dealers have to adapt to that.

Chris May: Yeah. I think millennials they get a bad rap for a few reasons, but they certainly engage and interact differently. And I think that, going back to digital retailing trend, there’s a disconnect today with how people engage in their everyday lives using their mobile devices, how they buy everything every single day that they’re not experiencing from the automotive business. The other most underlooked aspect is also the people that are employed in your dealership today are also used to transacting that way. So, you have two people who are trying to transact to each other-

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s a good point.

Chris May: And there’s a major friction point because the way that process in dealerships are structured today are just not supportive of the way that people want to do things.

Jim Fitzpatrick: There does seem to be a trend, I guess it’s a trend. There’s enough dealers out there that I know first hand are doing it where they’re using just one person to handle the whole transaction. When you meet a salesperson that person’s also trained on how to handle the F&I process of the deal. What’s your take on that? First of all, do you see that out there as a trend, and then what’s your take? Do you think that’s the future of the auto industry?

Chris May: I think it’s a version of the future. I think that it’s always going to have a place. I think over time there’s so much information out there that having the ability to negotiate thousands of dollars swings on cars is just not a viable future. So, at some point in order to reduce friction I think the trends going to go there, and not necessarily be one price or single point of contact, but pricing needs to simplify, and the process needs to simplify. Now what that looks from an individual dealer basis is going to be up to them. But I would say the dealers that we’ve supported going through this process, creating a single point of contact process per se, is actually fairly easy, but the challenge is how do you shift the mind set.

Chris May: And that’s really one of the most overlooked things that dealers going through the transition today struggle with is, “I now have 50 people on my staff that I’m asking them to wake up in the morning, and walk into work with a different frame of mind. My purpose is to help you buy a car in the most easy efficient way possible not to try to make a couple thousand dollars off of you.” And it sounds simple, us having this conversation, but when it comes to application and how human beings are wired it’s not simple. And that’s the biggest challenge. So, that’s a viable solution. Digital retailing is a viable solution. The one thing I would just say is making sure that you’re focused on the human being because this is a people business. It’s going to come down to a human selling a car to a human. It’s just the method and medium with which they do it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. Switching gears a little bit you guys are launching a new program this year, Dealer Talent Services. What is that, and what are you trying to accomplish with this?

Chris May: So, great question. We talked earlier about Jim Moran and his legacy, and talked a lot about, at least coming up through the company, how do we create win-win-win situations, we talk about marginal impression, all of those things. If you look at a dealers balance sheet, and we talked early about the amount of money they spend on people, we talked a lot about inefficiency, and if you do the math each and every dealership there’s 500 to maybe 1.5 million dollars of hidden costs of advertising, recruiting, onboarding. There’s 1000 dollars a day for every time a seat’s empty. You add that up over the course of a year, and it’s substantial.

Chris May: So, we’ve built our business based off of how do we make dealers more successful and more profitable. And we firmly believe, we’ve run some pilots over the last few years, that this is an area that we can take some our expertise, help a dealer make more money by creating a better environment, and getting more skilled at their entire talent management portfolio.

Chris May: So, maybe a little story about what I mean there. So, I was talking with a dealer about two months ago, and he was a little bit behind his sales objective. So, I said, “Okay. What are you going to do about it?” Well, he said, “Chris, I have a sales funnel. I have advertising. I have phones. I have walk-ins. I have a funnel that I know what my conversion rate should be, and I can follow and see where I’m off, and I can tweak.” And it was like a very, very impressive answer. So, I transitioned it to the talent conversation and asked him about his talent funnel, and I didn’t quite get the same depth of answer. And I think we have to look at it in the same manner. So, we think the end goal is if every dealer calculated what a 10% change in retention would be for that bottom line is significant, and that’s our goal.

Chris May: But the challenge we have is it’s not a one time event. It’s a cultural environment you have to set within your organization. So,-

Jim Fitzpatrick: Totally agree.

Chris May: If you want to retain people I’m going to ask you about how you’re developing that person. And if you want to know how to better develop that person I’m going to ask you about your onboarding, and your onboarding leads into recruiting. So, it’s creating alignment between job clarification, around what the roles and responsibilities are, personality profiles, communication types throughout that entire lifecycle that’s really going to be able to make that 10% change.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And that’s the key. Dealers that are listening do yourself a favor go see Chris and his team when you’re out at NADA. We’re trying to bring you these companies beforehand so that you can put them on your list, but JM&A should be at the top of the list because we are in a new normal in the auto industry, and you need to align yourself with vendors that know that, and appreciate it, and have already set up the infrastructure to take care of so many of these different areas for your people and do it for yourself. Visit JM&A for yourself if you say, “I want to make more money, and I want to cut the turnover in half.” You’re shooting for 10% I say we should shoot higher because it’s so incredibly high right now.

Chris May: [crosstalk 00:13:48] expectations here.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Baby steps, right?

Chris May: Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So, Chris director of Performance Development Center at JM&A. Thank you so much for joining us here-

Chris May: It’s a pleasure.

Jim Fitzpatrick: On CBT News. We very much appreciate it. You guys are fighting the good fight. So, dealers do yourself a favor go visit them. They’re out there at NADA, and talk to Chris. Tell him you saw him on CBT News, by the way. So, thanks so much.

Chris May: Thank you.

CBT Automotive Network. The number one most-watched network in retail automotive. This has been a JBF Business Media production.