Archive for February, 2012

Are you happy with the direction your auto repossession company is going? Are you satisfied with the amount of auto repossession orders you receive and the growth of your business? Are you content with the percentage of recoveries your repo company produces? I talk to auto repossession company owners every single day, and I find that some are teachable and some are not. Some like to complain about how bad it is and listen to what I have to say, but do not make one change in their business strategy. The guys I see growing by leaps and bounds in the auto repossession industry all have one thing in common. They are teachable! I ask you, are you teachable? Can you only hear the information given to you, but fail to apply it to your auto repossession business?

Hear me loud and clear! If you want things to change in your business, then you are going to have to make some changes! Just because you have always done something a certain way, does not mean it is the right way to do it. If you continue to do what you have always done, you will always get the same result. If you are not overjoyed with your business growth, then you need to come to the realization that the methods you have been employing, the actions you have been taking, and the thoughts you have been thinking have all been dead wrong! Sometimes you have to slow down and take a few steps backwards in order to see some growth. If your willingness to learn is a 10, but your willingness to change is a zero, then you are dead in the water. Ten times zero is zero! If you are 100% teachable and are 100% willing to make changes, then you can make some radical changes in the direction that your auto repossession business is headed.

The first step to being teachable is to begin to take in all the information that you can. How do you do that?

  • Find a SUCCESSFUL mentor in the auto repossession industry. Do not choose a mentor that owns a repo company that always has his own wreckers up for repossession!  Find a mentor that has a proven track record of success in this industry. Ask him questions. Learn the steps he took to be successful. Listen more, talk less!
  • Educate yourself through certification. RSIG is one of the companies that I would recommend taking a certification course and test through. Once you do that, find some other auto repossession industry certification courses and take them as well. What if there are ten certification courses out there? Take them all. Even if you only learn one thing from each of them, it is well worth it.
  • Read everything you can about the auto repossession industry. Read every article on our online auto repossession industry magazine here. Read every post you can in our auto repossession forum here. Read every blog article in our RepoIndustry Blog. Do not just read here on our site, but read everything you can about the auto repossession business on every site, in every book or magazine out there.
  • Read books, magazines and websites on running a business. Like it or not, you are a business owner, and you need to learn everything you can about running your auto repossession business – marketing, sales, budgeting etc.

Once you implement this first step, the next step is to set up a plan on how to implement what you learned, and then begin to practice those changes. From that point on, success and business growth will be yours! You may be coming up with the excuse that all of that will take a lot of time. You cannot afford to not take the time it takes to learn how to run a successful and profitable auto repossession company.

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I have spent thousands of hours behind the wheel of a wrecker in my career as a repoman, as well as when I was the owner of an auto repossession business. When I was an owner, I was a working owner and I still jumped into a wrecker and picked up collateral, as well as did ride alongs with my repo agents. As a driver, I was never in a major accident (or minor one that I can remember) in all those years, but there were some real close calls where I could have wound up in the morgue. I can remember riding with another agent I worked with where we both could have died. We were out in the country and there was snow on the ground, but the roads had been cleared. Although he was not speeding, he was traveling at a pretty fast pace and, as he came over a hill, we hit some black ice. The truck begin to spin at a fast pace and I had the “life passing before my eyes” experience. My partner never gained control of the wrecker and as we skidded off into a field we missed several telephone poles, trees and fence posts. Fortunately, neither of us were hurt and the truck did not have any damage. How could this have been avoided?

Over 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to take an EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operations Course) and what I learned there stuck with me. Always be prepared for an accident and you’re less likely to have one. The course taught me to not only keep my eyes on the road just in front of me, but as far down the road as I could see. It taught me to look through the rear window and on through the front window of the car in front of me, watching all along for potential dangers. It taught me to always stay active by scanning in front of me and to the sides, and to use my mirrors to monitor the rear.

There are several things that could cause a repossessor to have a crash. One would be outside distractions – from a pretty girl jogging on the street to the repoman scanning houses looking for collateral. There are also internal distractions – the phone, the GPS, the laptop and, of course, the CD player and radio! Be sure you curb your wrecker when fidgeting with any of those devices, and use an earpiece for phone communications when you are driving. Illegal actions such as driving too fast or unsafe lane movement can also cause a crash, and poor maintenance on your wrecker can be the culprit in a crash – bad tires and brakes both come to mind. Weather conditions, as in the situation I described above, are also potentially hazardous.

As I get older, I have learned one thing. Driving faster does not really get you there that much quicker. When you are out working, slow down! It might not only keep you from having an accident, but you might notice a vehicle you are looking for by moving slower. Always be sure you take the appropriate evasive action when faced with a potential collision. You might want to think about and practice what you will do when something really happens.

My final word is about fatigue and sleepiness. I have been there and, if you are going to be truthful, you have too. We have all had plenty of nights on the hunt where we worked way too many hours. I can remember plenty of times where I was rolling around in the darkness and found myself nodding off. What did I do to combat that? I tried to get the right amount of sleep, but, of course, that did not always happen, so I became a contortionist! I could sleep in all sorts of positions in my wrecker! I can remember several nights when I went to a police department parking lot or a rest area to grab a quick nap, and woke up and found myself curled up on the floor of my wrecker. I am 6’4″ tall and at that time I was quite large, so that was a real feat for me. If you find yourself nodding off when you are driving, do not be stupid and continue on down the road. Your life and the lives of drivers around you are more important than some debtor’s vehicle. Find yourself a safe spot, pull over and grab a power nap. Do it a few times a night if you have to, until you are completely alert to drive. I want all of you to make a lot of money in the auto repossession business, but, more importantly, I want you to go home to your family safely every night.

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I should not have to write an article about business phone etiquette, but I feel I have to. I speak to auto repossession company owners by phone all day long and feel that by doing so, I have seen some problems that should not exist. All of my dealings with repo company owners usually begin with my speaking to a member of their office staff, and I am sad to report that there are plenty of times when this does not go well. I hate to say it, but I would say that close to 50% of the auto repo office staff I deal with have less than acceptable phone etiquette. You need to operate a professionally run auto repossession business office in order to have a successful and profitable auto repossession company. The only thing that your lender clients have to judge your office by is the way your staff conducts their phone calls. Here is my list of musts for phone etiquette that your office staff should follow:

  • Speak clearly, and sound professional, helpful and cheerful. I oftentimes find that the staff I deal with give off the impression that they are bothered to answer the phone. I notice this as soon as they answer the phone. It is almost like they want to say to me, “I am busy with my Facebook Farm, so let’s get this over with”. Make the caller feel important when they call.
  • Do not eat, drink, chew gum, or make bodily noises when you are talking on the phone. The other day I was talking to an auto repossession company manager and she slurped some drink through a noisy straw and then belched in my ear! Save those activities for your break or lunch time.
  • Never use slang words or curse words.
  • Address the caller with the proper greeting. Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, depending on the time of day.
  • Give the caller your full attention and listen to what they have to say.
  • Have a pen and pad ready to take notes if necessary, and take full, accurate notes.
  • Be patient and understanding. If the caller is rude to you, be pleasant back. Do not stoop to their level.
  • Always ask when you have to put a person on hold, and do not leave them waiting for longer than a few seconds.
  • Do not interrogate callers. I know that your staff may want to protect you and be your gatekeeper; however, the 20 questions with the rude tone is not needed.

You never know who the caller on the other end is. It may be your best client calling or it may be a potential client calling. It might be a debtor that is down on his luck, who, by the way, deserves good customer service too. Again, whoever the caller is, they can’t see your face, your expressions or your body language. They can only hear your voice. How you speak and present yourself on the phone will leave them to decide if your repo company has a professional office or not. Keeping clients and getting clients depends heavily on your business phone etiquette.

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Going into the auto repossession business costs money – actually a lot of money. I know it can be tempting to call up an old friend or family member and bring them in as a business partner to get the funds you need to get your repo business going. I have yet to see a partnership where there were not some HUGE bumps in the road. Oftentimes, the auto repo company had more than just some bumps and went off the road and crashed in a ditch because of the partnership that was formed. Having a business partner can cause friendships to end, family members to never speak again, and, oftentimes, even divorce.

This happens because it is nearly impossible for two people to have the same vision and mission for the repossession company. Anything that has two heads is a monster! I have seen co-owners almost come to blows over the brand of printer that was purchased. I know of one man that lost his best friend because his friend thought being a business owner meant less work and not more work, and decided to only contribute about 3 hours a day to their new repo business. One partner was out repossessing cars 80 hours a week, while the lazy partner was hardly putting any miles on his take-home wrecker and was lucky to pick up three cars a week. I know of one father and son repo team that have not spoken to each for nearly 10 years. Not only that, when their partnership blew up, they went out and each started an auto repossession business of their own. Now father and son are competitors in the same city, and when asked how the other is doing, they go into a swearing tirade about the other person.

My first advice is to pass on the partnership, even if it means the delay of launching your repo business venture. However, if you are still sold on a partnership, let me give you some advice. Documentation! Documentation! Documentation! Every detail about your partnership, each of your responsibilities, your business plan and how the repo company is going to be run needs to be in writing. I am not talking about a 3-minute napkin plan the two of you came up with while having lunch at Chick-fil-a, either. Everything needs to be done under the advisement of a licensed attorney that can direct you on the correct way to preserve the company and partnership you are setting up and also put it all in writing. You also need to develop a company handbook that will be your indisputable “Bible” on how things will be done. If it is followed to the letter, there will be fewer disagreements.

Secondly, you need to be sure that the two of you see eye to eye on every aspect of the business and other areas, as well. I look at every business relationship like I am looking at a possible spouse. I am married now, but when I used to date, I had a strict screening policy. When I first dated someone, I watched for little things that irritated me or things they said or did that I did not like. I knew that if there were little problems in the beginning, there were going to BIG problems later on. If I saw the smallest problem with a girl with whom I was on a date, I made it the last date! I actually ended a date while looking at the menu, because the girl revealed to me she was a vegan, card-carrying PETA member. I was a hunter and love my rib-eye steaks, so I suggested we go home immediately! She was not happy, but my motto in love is better to cry once, than cry every day for the rest of your life! I do not believe in the theory (I say it is a lie) that opposites attract and make for good relationships. If you are going into business with someone, you need to be like minded. You need to think the same way in nearly every way – business, personal, political, etc.

I wish you all the luck in your auto repossession business venture. I will again advise you to pass on a partnership in your company. If you go against my advice, do it cautiously. And remember, partners share everything–the risk of investing, the responsibility, the sweat and labor, the stress and headaches and, most of all, the profits. For me, I am not willing to share the profits, so I will handle the rest all on my own!

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Absolutely Not!

So, you have been making some sales calls and finally got an appointment with the collections manager of a lender you are trying to get repossession business from. What should you wear to the meeting? I have seen some real fashion disasters worn by auto repossession company owners going to meet with a lender. I once was visiting one of my clients and one of my competitors dropped in unannounced to try and get some repo orders. He showed up in jeans with the knees torn out of them, a wife-beater t-shirt, a wallet chain and a pair of flip flops. He had a dirty ball cap on that said “Porn Star”.  I am not sure if he had bathed or brushed his teeth that morning, but he smelled like recycled summer sausage! I have told this story before and have been told I am a great story teller. I wish it were just a story, but it did happen. Needless to say, he never got one order from my client and was soon up for repo himself.

I have had many people tell me that all they wear is Harley Davidson shirts, jeans and boots, and they are not changing who they are for anybody. That is great; I used to wear “biker wear” a lot myself. In all my years in business, I found one thing out – people react to what you are wearing. If you show up anywhere in a ketchup-stained tank top and shorts, you will be treated a whole lot differently than the man that is wearing a pair of dockers, a buttoned-down shirt and some casual shoes. I came to this revelation some years back in my daily trips to my bank to take care of personal and business transactions. If I went into the bank looking like I just fell off the mattress, I was treated exactly how I looked. I was barely greeted, there was no smile, no chit chat, and even the customer service was substandard. However, when I entered the bank in casual business attire or, once in a while, wearing a nice suit jacket and tie, they fell all over me. They greeted me, they smiled, they were in a hurry to assist me, and sometimes they told me I was looking fine! Some of you may say that they should treat all customers the same, and that is 100% true. But the reality is, that it does not happen that way. Shortly after I made my discovery that your appearance will determine how you are treated, that particular bank approached me and offered me an unsecured business line of $60,000 to use for payroll, if some of my clients were slow to pay. Was it because of how I dressed when I went in there? I would say that was definitely a big part of it.

I am not saying you need to wear a suit all the time, but I am saying to dress for the occasion. If you are going jogging, wear a jogging suit, t-shirt and tennis shoes. If you are going on a poker run on your “hog”, put your leather chaps on and a Harley shirt – but do not forget to wear a pair of jeans under those leather chaps! And if you are going to meet with a lender, dress appropriately if you want your auto repossession business to grow.

So, I ask again. What is appropriate dress for meeting with a lender? Is it a suit? I would say no. You are a repossessor and, honestly, I can’t ever remember meeting a client that was wearing a suit. You do not want to dress better than the client you are meeting, so I am suggesting you wear casual business attire, like a pair of dress pants or khaki dockers with a nice buttoned-down shirt. You will also want to be sure you have showered, slapped on a little anti-perspirant, combed your hair, brushed your teeth and ironed your clothes. Below are a couple of examples of what to wear and what not to wear when you are trying to get clients to use your auto repossession business or visiting clients that already use your repossession service.

This would be appropriate.

This is not cutting it!

Please do not EVER dress like this!

This would also be fine.

The Past: People have been borrowing money and buying things on credit for a long, long time. Back in the day, many lenders felt very comfortable sending out a bank employee to collect on past due accounts and, oftentimes, to repossess collateral. There was a time where auto repossession insurance, bonds, associations and licensing did not even exist. The practice of in-house auto repossessions is a rarity in this day and age, but, once in a while, it still happens.

At some point (I am told in the mid 1950’s – old timers, feel free to comment) lawsuits, assaults and the hassle of doing it themselves became an issue, and lenders began using outside contractors to perform their auto repossessions. This system worked quite well for years and years, and deep business relationships developed between lenders and the local repossessor. This relationship resulted in loyalty and trust between the two, and owning an auto repossession business was quite profitable. The lenders were happy to pay fees for professional services, and not only paid for the basic repossession, but also for other services the repossessor performed. These fees included key cutting, mileage, storage, investigation and skip tracing, condition report and photos, transport to auction and, oftentimes, extra for accounts where a lot of time was spent in getting the collateral picked up. They nearly always paid a close fee.

One major lender (that I will not call by name), in my opinion, broke the local adjusters down by bringing up the dreaded “C” word – contingent only. An all-inclusive fee was forced upon the repossession company owners by this company and, by not collectively saying “No”, this industry began to slide down a slippery slope. Other lenders slowly but surely began to follow this contingent-only trend and, although some stood their ground and said “No”, a majority did not. This allowed the lender to adapt a practice of setting the repossession fees, rather than the repo company owner setting his own fee.

In the 1990’s, debtors became more mobile and more lenders were having their “paper” spread across all 50 states. There were also a lot of mergers and acquisitions of smaller banks, and large nationwide banks became the norm. Lenders began to add more adjusters to their vendor list, and this is where I believe the personal relationship between lenders and local adjusters began to vanish. Juggling thousands of agents became a daunting project and emails, faxes and proprietary systems replaced the old-fashioned telephone update.

The Present: In a day of technology, the personal touch this business used to have is all but gone. We now have mobile phones, VOIP systems, land lines, fax lines, email, and instant messenger programs, and yet I see less communication in this business than ever before. I see lenders that have no idea who the adjusters they use really are. Oftentimes, there is no contact information or issuing customer service representative name on a repossession order. Without that, how can an agent call to request more information or give an update? Recovery rates are down, fees are down, operating costs are up, and a majority of repossession company owners are not taking a stand to keep this industry great.

The Future: The future is yet to be seen. You, the auto repossession company owners of today, are this industry’s future. To start, you need to conduct yourselves honestly and professionally at all times. You can right the future of this industry by educating yourselves and learning to be better business owners. You need to work united together to mold this industry into whatever you would like it to be. This means taking a collective stand to work for fees that make your company profitable and worthwhile.