Redefining value within a changing customer journey.
Car dealerships have historically acted as gatekeepers of information and inventory for auto sales. People would walk into a showroom simply to find the information they needed to start the car buying or selling process. In recent years, more of the process has moved online, and COVID-19 and social distancing rules have accelerated this trend. But while car sales plummeted to 47% in April 2020, the auto industry remains resilient.1 After making the rapid transition to fully digital retailing, 61% of dealers now report improved efficiency.2 And this strategy may be here to stay—online car sales are expected to double by 2025.3
2 out of 3 shoppers were more likely to buy a vehicle entirely online in the early months of the pandemic.4
Don Flow acknowledges the need to change, too. “As dealers, we have to be looking at how we create value in new ways—and think about this in much more creative terms than we had to in the past.”
Providing a positive shopping experience may be another good place to start. In fact, 67% of people report they’d pay more for something in exchange for a better retail experience.5 To create that kind of valuable experience, Flow Automotive developed a set of five core values to drive every process decision in the company: trust, respect, fun, convenience, and choice. These principles translate to a transparent, frictionless, enjoyable, fast, and easy sales process.
Truist was prepared to support Flow Automotive’s progressive approach.
“It’s extremely important that we have financial relationships that help us develop distinctive and innovative products that address customers’ specific desires,” Flow says. “That means being thoughtful about the interaction of terms, advances, and risk in a way that’s quick and easy to do, with an immediate response time. Truist has done a great job leading with new programs and being innovative in coming to market and crafting solutions.”
Reimagining a business strategy.
Customer-facing products and solutions are just a small part of Flow Automotive’s relationship with Truist. Flow also relies on a team of Truist specialists who focus on planning, portfolio and capital management, and insight into the automotive dealership sector to deeply understand his business and help structure customized growth.
“We are committed to staying in the business for the long term and growing our company,” Flow declares. “We need a financial partner that sees the world the same way, wants to invest in our growth, and understands the dynamics of the associated capital that’s required for this growth.”
Flow can have a single conversation with industry experts to determine what steps to take and the role that Truist will play. He also receives input on new ideas for generating revenue streams or maximizing existing investments.
“It’s a very holistic approach for us, looking at the overall business. We’re looking at real estate acquisitions, dealership acquisitions, indirect financing programs, new innovative programs ... all those efforts help us have a real partnership with Truist,” describes Flow. “Additionally, their long-term view of the business enables us to say, ‘Okay, what about 10 years from now? What does it look like for us to envision the future? What might we do to go from here to there?’”
Supporting Flow Automotive and its employee leaders.
For Flow Automotive, business growth must be deliberate—even as the industry shifts, new opportunities arise, and the pandemic subsides. As such, the pace of developing leaders who can operate the businesses in line with the company’s core values must be internally sustainable.
That means significant investment in Flow Automotive’s employees as future leaders. For example, two nurses and a counselor on staff help with his employees’ medical and emotional needs. The company has also been paying for the college education of its employees’ children for 20 years, sending hundreds to college.
As Flow tells it, “We look at employees’ investment in our company as something that we must steward.” He adds, “We have a deep responsibility to ensure that if they invest their scarce labor capital into our company, we offer a fantastic return.”
As part of that mission, Flow made a commitment to advance financial literacy among his employees. “We wanted to be able to help our employees with personal issues like choosing insurance, buying a home, setting aside money for retirement, and many of the things associated with navigating the world today,” Flow explains.
His team studied a number of workplace financial wellness programs and ultimately selected Truist’s Momentum program, a values-based financial education curriculum. He offers employees a $250 contribution into their 401(k) for completing the program, and it has proven widely successful—in terms of both adoption and impact. Flow reiterates, “Giving folks the framework they need to make wise decisions is an important part of our responsibility as a company.”
Partnering financially for whatever the future holds.
Looking ahead, Flow Automotive plans to engage with customers to fill a wide range of transportation needs—well beyond traditional financing and leasing of vehicles. These offerings will involve developing innovative and flexible leasing programs, comprehensive subscription services, rental cars to address specific short-term needs, and concierge services.
“At the end of the day, we will be in the customer management business: managing customers’ experiences and matching the transportation requirements to them,” resolves Flow. “We think this opens the door to thinking about us as transportation service centers.” Achieving this goal will require a new level of investment in technology for both customer engagement and asset management.
Truist’s top-to-bottom support of Flow Automotive allows the relationship to pivot exactly as needed. As new business models eclipse the old, Truist is ready to use its deep industrial and financial knowledge to advise Flow Automotive, helping the auto dealer react quickly to changes and position itself for future success.
“The best automobile dealer groups will be able to provide all of those transportation services for their customers,” Flow says. “And they will need a financial partner like Truist to do that.”