CARMEL, Ind. — Marking a solemn occasion, J.D. Byrider executives recently gathered to honor the one-year anniversary of the death of their company's founder and president, Jim DeVoe. Despite losing the power behind the birth of Byrider, company executives said business continues to progress and that they see a bright future in the marketplace.

"My father built this business with his blood and sweat. He built it to last," said Jim DeVoe Jr., Byrider's chief executive officer. "Dad would be very proud of our 2006 results and the trends for growth and profitability."

The company posted record sales and customer satisfaction levels over the past year, licensed an ever-growing number of dealers and even took steps to appeal to an increasing number of new-car dealers as franchises, officials reported.

More specifically, executives said customer satisfaction reached 94.4 percent throughout the nation. To help dealers maintain this level, customer surveys are posted to the company's Byrider Discover Intranet immediately after completed, officials said. This allows dealers to review their performance and improve in areas that may need work.

The company also recently launched another program to assist dealers, a certified online training program designed to improve dealer performance.

"One of the best ways to gauge the attractiveness of our business model is to look at who is a franchise, who wants to be one and how many franchisees are looking to expand," said Steve Wedding, president of Byrider Franchising.

"In 2006, we licensed more than 30 locations to current franchisees, and eight of our nine new store openings were expansion stores," he continued. "Respondents to a recent independent survey of our franchises said that 91 percent of them foresee strong growth for their franchises, and only 3 percent have no current plans to open additional stores. The people who know us best, realize we're the best."

The company recently licensed new stores in areas such as Dallas-Ft. Worth, Charlotte and Denver. Officials went on to point out that they continue to look to expand into new markets with qualified prospects.

Byrider Honors Founder, Jim DeVoe Sr.

Byrider suffered a sudden and tragic loss when its founder, chairman, president and chief executive officer, James DeVoe Sr., was killed in a private plane crash in Florida about a year ago.

In addition to the pilot, also killed in the crash was W. Steele Gudal, DeVoe's son-in-law and a Byrider shareholder and franchisee.

In a statement released just after the news of DeVoe's death, the company said, "With Jim's death, our corporate family has lost a leader, a mentor, and most important – a great friend. We don't use the word 'family' loosely — Jim was fond of referring to us all that way.

"It was the hallmark of the way he did business. Whether it was in dealing with customers or fellow employees, his rule was pretty simple: Treat people with the dignity and respect that you would give a family member.

"With an attitude like that, it's not surprising that he fostered initiative and personal growth within the management of his company. He made us all leaders. As a result, we're confident he always knew that the company was in good hands, and that his legacy of compassionate leadership would be continued.

"We are all proud to carry on Jim's work. The business model that Jim created more than 25 years ago will continue, just the way he would want it.

"Our personal loss is compounded because, along with Jim, Steele Gudal will also no longer be at our side. We valued him as not just as a franchisee and shareholder, but also as a trusted friend and advisor. No less than Jim, he will be missed. We mourn for his family and that of the pilot, the DeVoe family and the extended Byrider family."

PJ Turner, a collection expert with the company, also honored DeVoe at the recent National Alliance of Buy-Here, Pay-Here Dealers Collection Conference in Atlanta.

She has known the elder DeVoe for many years, as he asked her to join his team when he was beginning the company in 1980.

"He (Jim) and his father taught me the car business, and I taught them the finance business," she explained. "A portion of Jim's dream was to be able to help people.

She went on to say, "Jim was my best friend, and I was on a roller-coaster ride with him for 26 years."

"The industry suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of Jim DeVoe," noted Ken Shilson, founder of the NABD, at the same event.

Byrider Exec Offers Collection Advice

At the recent NABD Collection Conference, Turner was on hand to highlight some best collection practices.

Turner has been in the collection industry for 30 years. Currently, she travels to the various J.D. Byrider franchises throughout the country, training the staff and ensuring laws and regulations are met in each state.

For consumers who come in after hours to purchase vehicles, Turner said her staff is very cautious in their underwriting. She said Byrider will deliver the car if the stipulations look OK and the credit bureau report shows the same address.

"We require 12 references on every customer," she added. "And we verify everything between 24 to 48 hours. If a consumer isn't sure he can provide information for 12 references, we hand them a phone book."

Overall, the company services almost 22,000 accounts and has centralized collection agencies in the states it does business in.

"All the payments are due on Friday," Turner said to attendees. "We close each week on Saturday. We never change a due date or give an extension."

Byrider's policy is that a collector can handle 75 delinquent accounts. Turner said the company never re-contracts a customer, with the only exception being if the contract was based on a tax refund and the refund wasn't quite what the customer expected.

Turner went on to explain that the company rarely finances repairs, as it has 793 of these accounts and 476 are delinquent, at the time of the conference.

What was Turner's worst decision? "My worst decision would have been collecting by buckets, or by delinquencies. Meaning, one collector covers accounts one to two days late, another collector covers accounts three to four days late and so on," she said.

Finally, J.D. Byrider does a personality profile for all its employees and has certain characteristics it looks for in the collectors it hires, Turner said.