LAS VEGAS — Operators discussing best operating practices took the stage this week at the National Alliance of Buy-Here, Pay-Here Dealers convention.

Several operating managers came together this week to share insights with the audience in the panel titled "Best Operating Practices Panel."

These executives included Clay Cooley, of Clay Cooley Motor Co., in Dallas; John Linnehan, of Credit Now Auto Co.; in Ellsworth, Maine; Julian Codding, of Eldorado Motors, in Oklahoma City, Okla.; Kurt Holmes, of Heritage Financial Corp, in Elkart, Ind.; and Bob Okeley, of Indiana Finance Co., in Anderson, Ind.

One of the operators noted, "I'm able to offer a better car today. I'm able to buy more inventory and get a higher quality. Basically, I can get more car for my money. Vehicles above $5,000 have less competition."

However, "For vehicles from about $3,000 to $4,000, more competition remains," he added.

As consumers who are traditionally approved by auto lenders are getting turned down, many are turning to used-car lots for help. With many of these consumers wanting late-models, another operator highlighted an idea to drive business.

"I put higher quality cars on the front of my lot to get buyers to turn in," he explained.

One of the biggest challenges for the operators is getting the down payment. The actual average down payments tended to vary by operator.

"I used to require $400 to $500 in down payment, but they ended up more likely to be problem customers," one operator said. "Now I require $1,000 on $5,000 to $6,000 vehicles."

The executives also discussed tracking devices, such as GPS, in addition to talking about starter-interrupt devices.

"We used to use them a few years ago, but now with our business model we just use them sometimes," an executive reported.

Another recommended, "Talk to a dealer who has used these devices for two to three years. Don't just talk to the vendor."

One of the operators said the cost of putting these units on all the vehicles doesn't offset loss so he prefers not to utilize them.

"The one (starter-interrupt device) with the code works just great. I don't use them as much now because I ended up spending too much each month," a panelist pointed out.

Discussing the impact the consumer rebates may have on business, the operators appear optimistic.

"I think it's going to increase my business," indicated one.

Meanwhile, one of his fellow panelists said, "We increased inventory levels and advertising. Also, I gave the sales staff a ‘raw, raw.'"

Traffic count will go through the roof during tax time, so rebate time should be the same, a different operator highlighted, noting, "I make sure my collectors are on their game."

Another panelist noted, "Tax return down payments have a 12 percent higher default rate."

Web sites also play an important role in business. The trick to driving traffic to a site is to make sure that site is listed on everything from vehicles to TV ads to print ads and more.

"We get about 1,000 hits a month on our site, but we really push it," an operator explained. "We have it on everything. I believe you have to market your site with billboards and TV."

On the other hand, a different panelist said, "We don't market cars or prices on the Internet."

Linnehan pointed out, "We get about 25 leads a day from the Internet. My son Ryan handles those and he's done a really good job."

Additionally, he added, "Our business development center does everything dealers don't want to do. This way I know it's getting done." This comment receives nods from several other panelists.

One operator, however, said, "We have an Internet manager at every store handling online leads."

The topic of no haggle pricing also came up, with a panelist pointing out, "We don't negotiate anything. Everything is a fixed price except for down payment and monthly payment.

"We guarantee trade-in value so customers do not go into the negative," he continued.

Finally, while practices vary by operator, quite simply, it's important to find what works and doesn't work for you.