Dealer Spotlight - Tom Lane

The Art of the Interview

After watching his father create a successful career in the automotive retailing industry, Tom Lane says he wanted in.

“Not many people want to grow up to be a car salesman,” says the chief executive officer of Dwayne Lane’s Family of Auto Centers in Everett, Washington. “My mom, specifically, asked if I was sure I wanted to do this. I wanted to give it a try.”

The Lane family has a long history in the automotive industry. Tom’s father, Dwayne, started in auto retailing as a high school lot attendant at a Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership. He worked his way through the departments after school and during summer vacations. After college, he came back to the store and worked full-time and eventually bought out his former employers. 

Today, Dwayne Lane’s Family of Auto Centers has three locations selling Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, RAM, Chevy and Ford. Together, the stores have about 180 full-time equivalent employees and sell approximately 3,500 new and used vehicles a year.

“You hear stories growing up and realize that this is a fun business,” Tom says, despite the fact that “we went through two Chrysler bankruptcies and a GM bankruptcy.”  

Tom says navigating those tumultuous times helped keep his team motivated and committed to the enduring success of the dealership. 

“We have many people who have been here for 15 or 20 years,” he says. “We have six people who have been here more than 25 years. One of our service technicians has been here for 42 years — and he is our highest-performing technician.”

That kind of tenure is unusual in the automotive world, but Lane attributes part of that longevity to his “slow to hire, slow to fire” policy. When hiring, he looks for individuals with good communication and interpersonal skills who fit in well with the company’s culture. Managers must be unanimous in the hiring decision, he says, and they all have veto power. 

New sales and administrative staff members are also given the opportunity to be guided through the onboarding process by a mentor, who helps oversee their training. 

“Our mentoring program has been a real benefit,” he says. “We know (the new hire is) being directed to be a real team member. Some people fire on performance a bit too quickly. We tend to really give people opportunities. Some people need different direction or a different opportunity in the store — other people in the store notice that.” 

In addition to understanding the value of having long-term team members, Lane says it is important to work with an experienced F&I team that is committed to his success. 

“I can’t take the time to focus on F&I,” he said. “It’s so much regulation, but you have to have a high-performing F&I department to be a high-performing dealership.”

At the time, he says he was operating under the thought that his F&I department was compliant, but he wasn’t absolutely sure. He noticed that several high-performing dealerships were JM&A Group customers and decided to look at what the company had to offer.  

“They’re disciplined,” he says. “They help me manage my department the way I would have it done, to a higher level than I could. It’s like having a very well-trained business partner I don’t have to share ownership with.” 

Over the years, his F&I managers felt most comfortable selling service contracts. JM&A Group’s field representatives offered ongoing training and support for additional products. As a result, revenue increased several hundred dollars per car, according to Lane.

“That made all the difference for us,” he says. “They don’t train our people to raise prices. They train our people to present a spectrum of products and help them see the value in the products.” 

Jan 27, 2015