Posted on Apr 3, 2018

In the life cycle of any auto dealership, there will be times when cash flow is tight. Buy here pay here dealers in particular face complexity to ensure enough inventory is on hand to attract buyers — and offset that investment with a healthy flow through collections and debt management. This balance is never perfect. Dealers need strong banking and/or equity relationships that will extend credit to fill in the cash flow gaps.

Debt Management is Proactive

Even if their balance sheet is healthy, dealers on the shy side of $1 million in receivables will likely get a less favorable interest rate on credit than more established or larger dealers. This does not mean that smaller dealers should accept rates of 10 to 15 percent. It pays to shop around and to understand how the bank or private equity firm will consider the characteristics explained above to justify their terms.

By working with your CPA, you can provide the lender with financial statements and accounting that aligns with their expectations. As part of the terms of the loan, dealers may be required to provide reviewed or audited financial statements. Because of this additional expense and also to get more favorable terms, it’s important for dealers to actively seek lower interest rates. It is perfectly acceptable to shop around. Contact competing banks as well as your existing lender and ask about new credit options. Talk to colleagues about the banks they are using. Request multiple offers.

Strong accounting, tax and compliance practices help with this process. On the accounting side, owners need regular financial statement preparation to view trends and forecast cash flow — helping them prepare for lending conversations and extensions of credit at the right time each year. On the tax side, the number one tax planning technique for buy here pay here dealers is the discount (or loss) on the sale of notes from the dealership to the RFC, which requires cash. Dealers may also qualify for opportunities such as bonus depreciation and deductions with regard to employee perks and compensation.

Management may also consider a review of operational efficiencies or gaps in controls that can affect cash flow. Keep in mind that every dealership is different when it comes to managing cash flow, so best practices must occur within your own dealership.

As buy here pay here dealerships grow to portfolios of $4 million and above, more favorable financing opens up. But it’s not a guaranteed scenario. Dealers should weigh the benefits of obtaining more financing against the extra administrative costs of public accounting services.

Once you have the credit you need, there are various ways to reinvest in your business. Some dealers may decide to purchase their location — adding real estate holdings that support the extension of credit in the future. If the dealership also has a service department, cash flow can be set aside to cover repairs and maintenance on recently sold cars. Some dealers choose to cover repairs on cars shortly after purchase in order to support the customer’s ability and willingness to keep making monthly payments. For example, a repair may cost $800, but it leads to another six to 12 months of customer payments.

Compensation is another area that cash flow can support. Attracting and keeping good back office personnel supports collections, which in turn supports the business. Dealers may also consider additional compensation for good salespeople.

Let’s say you’ve done as much proactive management that you can. At certain points in the life of a dealership, you will still experience challenges. Some of these challenges can’t be handled alone. Whether you’re with a big bank and have secured a favorable interest rate or your dealership is still considered high risk for lenders, don’t ignore cash flow problems. Your CPA can help you formulate a plan to show numbers and communicate effectively with lenders in a way that is focused on solutions rather than the immediate problem. Lenders don’t like to call a loan for a short-term issue, and there is usually room for negotiation on loan modifications that will support cash flow as well as repayment.

However, year-over-year problems make lenders less willing to keep taking a risk on default. As soon as an issue comes to light, prepare your strategy to keep a strong lender relationship. Work through it like you and your lender are on the same side.  It’s in the best interests of you and the lender to find a solution.

Debt Management Supports Valuation

It is also in the best interests of the dealership long-term to show a consistent history of loan financing, healthy cash flow and debt management. Owners want to show a return on investment and consistent profitability, tied to valuation of the business.

There are different approaches to valuation. A key component, however, is determining equity value, which is the market value of the dealership assets minus the market value of its liabilities.

Assets include such things as the dealership’s auto inventory and fixed assets including real estate. They can include intangible assets such as the goodwill value of the dealership’s name and location, sales and service agreements, and also synergies such as multiple locations and strong management.

Liabilities will include debt, any excess compensation, tax and rent issues, inventories and contingent liabilities such as environmental issues related to the storage and disposal of fuel, oil or batteries.

The bottom line is that a well-performing portfolio, a good location and healthy foot traffic — combined with properly managed debt — will be attractive to a potential buyer. A dealership that is attractive to lenders is also attractive to buyers or outside investors, even with debt factored in.

If your dealership struggles with debt management or cash flow either intermittently or throughout the year, don’t let it hinder opportunities to grow. Talk to the team in Cornwell Jackson’s auto dealership practice group. They will help you understand the proper structure of financial statements to support proactive lender conversations.

Download the Whitepaper: Use Debt to Increase Cash Flow

Scott Bates is an assurance and business services partner for Cornwell Jackson and supports the firms auto dealership practice. His clients include small business owners for whom he directs a team that provides outsourced accounting solutions, assurance, tax compliance services, and strategic advice. If you would like to learn more about how this topic might affect your business, please email or call Scott Bates.

Originally published on February 29, 2016. Updated on April 3, 2018. 

Posted on Jul 28, 2016

Your dealership likely prepares and sends operating reports to your manufacturer every month. How you use the reports beyond sending them to the factory can have a big impact on your dealership’s profitability.

Here are three ideas for using your monthly operating report as a tool to stay on track as the year progresses.

1. Keep an Eye on Revenue.

Every manufacturer’s report is different, but yours likely contains, in some format, a summary of that month’s operating revenue. These figures can quickly tell you which departments are the moneymakers and which lag behind expectations.

Let’s say that the current month’s operating report for a dealership shows that it brought in the following in gross revenues: $2 million in new car sales, $750,000 in used car sales, $140,000 in parts sales, $61,000 in service income and $56,000 in body shop income.

You also can see how income from your store’s various departments compare with the prior month, as well as a year ago, the dealership’s projected budget, benchmarks and so on. Let’s assume that you projected $2.25 million in new car sales for the current month. With sales coming in at only $2 million, you are concerned that first quarter sales are off to a slow start and, thus, choose to move up by several weeks a new car sales promotion you had planned to run in two months.

Another example involves gross revenue versus turnover. Take Dealer A, who buys a vehicle for $20,000, holds it for 90 days and finally sells it making a $3,000 gross profit. Many dealers would be pleased with this outcome. But let’s also consider Dealer B, who spends the same $20,000, sells the vehicle in 30 days but only achieves a 10 percent profit margin or $2,000 gross profit. The difference is that Dealer B does three times the sales in the same 90 days, doubling his total gross income compared to Dealer A.

There are many other ways to use your operating report to analyze front-end operations.

2. Figure Out the Reasons Behind the Numbers.

When you analyze the back end of your operations, for example, you’ll look at income and expenses in the service, parts and body shop departments.

Let’s say that you have a gross profit of $33,000 in the service department. This alarms your manufacturer, because it’s less than 55 percent of your monthly service sales and shows that your gross profit percentage has slipped from the target of 65 percent. But it shouldn’t be a major concern if the reason for the shortfall is that the department was busier than usual refurbishing used cars for sale next month — and profits for that venture won’t start showing up until the following month.

3. Consider other Benchmarks.

Monthly operating reports are also a way for you to measure your dealership’s performance against more complex benchmarks. Consider, for instance, the concept of “service absorption.” This is defined as the sum of total parts, service and body shop gross profits divided by the sum of total fixed expenses plus dealer salary plus parts, service and body shop sales expense. (If your report doesn’t have this category, you could calculate it from the other data provided.)

Let’s say that your store’s benchmark range for service absorption is 85 to 100 percent, but your current operating report shows your store coming in at 83.8 percent for the month. This figure is only slightly below the bottom of your benchmark range. Nonetheless, you might want to take steps to lower expenses or bump up revenue for the next month to be sure your store is in the benchmark range.

Achieving a service absorption of 85 percent or higher will give you a competitive advantage over your competition, because the new and used departments only need to cover 15 percent or less of your dealership’s total fixed expenses. Thus, you can afford to take less gross profit on an individual sale.

Knowledge Can Be Golden

By studying your manufacturer’s operating reports, you can arrive at countless insights, from your day supply of vehicles to the gross profit per technician to determine an adequate employee count in the back end. All of this knowledge can be golden, because it helps you recognize strengths, pinpoint weaknesses and set goals for the rest of the year. Don’t let it go unnoticed.