Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006, 07:00 PM UPDATED 11:59 AMBy Nick Zulovich
TRENTON, Maine — What better dealer management system for a buy-here, pay-here dealership than one created by those that specialize in the BHPH industry? At least, that was part of the Linnehan family's strategy when they introduced The ANSWER, an accounting-based DMS created through USA Computer Systems.
"The genesis for The ANSWER was borne out of frustration," explained Ryan Linnehan, marketing and promotions director for USA Computer Systems, which is a part of the Linnehan family of businesses based in Maine.
"In the mid to late 1990s, we attended every trade show and convention we could find, looking for a complete product that was fully integrated and provided a solution for all our companies' needs in one product. We were definitely surprised and frustrated that such a product was not available," he added.
Instead of finding that one system, Ryan Linnehan said the companies took several different portions of software and combined them to run the companies' operations.
"Essentially, we were cobbling together at least five or six different pieces of software to run our operations, which necessitated an unbelievable amount of duplicate data entry and ultimately, an increased likelihood for human errors," he said.
"Finally, we decided to end our quest to buy a complete DMS for this industry and focused on developing our own solution that would meet the needs of our operations and thousands of others like ours throughout the country," Ryan Linnehan continued.
Creating the Product
According to Ryan Linnehan, much of the brainstorming process was already completed by the time USA Computer started building the product. The programmers simply worked with the dealerships' staff and drew on their experience to decide what to include in The ANSWER.
"Having been in the auto industry since 1950, particularly the past 16 years in business as a BHPH dealer, we already had a solid idea of what we knew a complete DMS needed to be capable of," Ryan Linnehan pointed out.
Linnehan's family of companies is affiliated with groups such as the National Alliance of Buy-Here, Pay-Here Dealers, the National Independent Auto Dealers Association, Leedom & Associates and NCM, so they have had plenty of opportunities to talk with other dealers about their frustrations and issues, Ryan Linnehan said. As a member of BHPH 20 Groups, Linnehan's family of businesses was familiar with other dealers who were in the same boat, seeking a comprehensive BHPH DMS.
"In broad terms, DMS must eliminate the need for multiple programs and duplicate data entry, while at the same time integrating seamlessly with a top-notch accounting program," Ryan Linnehan said, noting that all modules and beta testing was done at Linnehan's stores and auto finance companies.
"It has definitely been advantageous to be able to develop this software in such close conjunction with our sales and finance operation," he added. "This tight level of interaction has allowed us to integrate successful practices and policies we have developed over the years directly into the software."
For instance, while USA Computer's team of programmers was developing the collections module, Linnehan's director of finance and collections worked with the group, spending "countless hours and days sharing what information need to be displayed, monitored and analyzed," Ryan Linnehan highlighted.
"Creating The ANSWER for independent dealers has been an enormous undertaking, and we are ecstatic with the solution we have developed," said John Linnehan Jr., founder and chief operating officer of USA Computer Systems.
"Having the advantage of being a used-vehicle dealer, we have a unique perspective on the needs of our fellow dealers," he continued. "We also greatly appreciate the support and encouragement of the many dealers and industry leaders who have reviewed this product and have expressed such positive impressions, even describing it as ‘the Cadillac of dealer management systems.'"
About The ANSWER
The ANSWER was specifically designed for used-vehicle dealers who have unique, serialized vehicle inventory, USA Computer said.
The DMS integrates with Microsoft Dynamics GP product line's system manager, security, payables module, receivables module, inventory, checkbooks and more.
Through USA Computer, a dealership or group of stores can customize The ANSWER to suit their needs. The product provides a suite that includes a loan approvals program, deal writer and loan closing module; vehicle inventory management; collections module, used vehicle warranty manager and compliance ability; and more.
"There is actually some other software on the market tailored to the BHPH industry, and I think it's fair to say that some do well in one particular area or another," explained Ryan Linnehan. "For example, a program may have a strong inventory management system, but poor on collections, or vice versa.
"The goal of The ANSWER is to be strong in all the areas a dealer needs to run his dealerships, in the most profitable way possible," he continued. "The ANSWER is flexible enough to be tailored to most dealers' way of doing business, while at the same time dynamic enough to grow your BHPH business as much as you want. The ANSWER can just as easily handle a small dealer with one lot, or the dealer that already has 15 lots and wants to grow even larger."
USA Computer originally teamed up with Great Plains Software in April 2002 to build the product. Great Plains was purchased by Microsoft later that year, and its product line was incorporated into Microsoft Business Solutions. The company said its continued partnership with Microsoft and Microsoft Dynamics allows USA Computer to tailor DMS and offer integrations with Microsoft Office Suite, MapPoint and CRM.
The ANSWER was beta tested at Linnehan's Credit Now and Linnehan's Atlantic Acceptance Corp. Both of the companies have been using the customized DMS modules for more than four years to work out all the bugs. When updates occur in the future, the modules will be tested at Linnehan's companies prior to being released to dealer clients, USA Computer pointed out.
According to Jack Bridges, general manager of USA Computer, one of the items the company decided was important to include was drill-down functionality, meaning a dealer can go from a list of all his vehicles to one unit. The dealer can then continue to drill down all the way to whom he wrote the check to for the vehicle or elect to see a scanned-in picture of the title or a digital photo of the unit.
Another highlight of the system is that once the data is entered, it doesn't need to be entered again. According to Ryan Linnehan, once the family businesses started testing the program, they were able to save money by reducing the back office from six people to four, saving nearly $80,000.
The new product also offers standardization, according to USA Computer. Uniform accounting and reporting has the benefit of allowing dealers to compare "apples to apples," just as franchised dealers would do, according to Bridges.
For example, the system offers drop-down lists so all a user has to do is select the item that most closely matches when filling out information. This way, misspellings are avoided and it allows the dealer to run reports so he can accurately analyze his business and note trends down the road. Such reports are also seen favorably by potential capital sources, Bridges said.
"There are so many selling points, but perhaps the best word to encapsulate all the benefits this software provides would be ‘control,'" explained Ryan Linnehan. "Dealers now have a tool that will help them control their costs, control their cash, control the activities of their staff and control the flow of information throughout their dealership, which will ultimately yield a higher return on investment.
"One way we have realized the benefits from increased levels of control is in regards to cash monitoring, which is crucial, especially in BHPH," he added. "It used to be an extremely labor-intensive process to produce a report showing total cash on-hand available. Now, it can be done with the click of a button in real-time data on a daily basis. For that matter, this can be done many times per day if the dealer so chooses."
The program even allows a dealer to access data from N.A.D.A. Official Used Car Guide Co., so it's all on screen and no books are required, noted Bridges.
"No more thumbing through books," Bridges said. "Every month the system is updated with new data from N.A.D.A. The system is very intuitive. You don't have to be an accountant to use our system. Anyone can do the process. The system will even drill down to specific reconditioning costs per unit or transportation costs. All the information is tightly secured, with a user only allowed access to certain levels at the approval of the dealer."
The system will even help a dealer stay on top of title tracking, letting him know whether the title has come through on a unit or he is still waiting for it. In the loan approval system, it leads the person entering the specifications through the entire process so nothing is left out.
Costs Involved with Implementation
As for cost of implementation, Ryan Linnehan said USA Computer will provide a customized quote to any dealer who requests one.
"We have a questionnaire that they would complete, which would provide us with enough information to generate an accurate quote for each dealer," Ryan said. "The quote will be broken down in detail showing the costs of the product, as well as any related setup and installation required.
"The ANSWER is a very powerful and dynamic product, and as such, does not lend itself to being a ‘plug and play' off-the-shelf type of product," Ryan Linnehan said. "In order for dealers to fully realize the vast potential offered in this DMS, we will actually send our installation team to your locations in order to provide the maximum level of support possible during the setup/installation process."
Technical support is also offered by USA Computer and Microsoft Dynamics for dealers who run into issues or have questions. Information on the support provided by Microsoft Dynamics can be found at .
USA Computer also offers several types of support and training depending on customer needs. Deal writer forms and F&I compliance support will be provided through USA Computer Systems' dealer management module as part of the company's partnership with Carleton ().
By incorporating Carleton's software in the product, it will ensure that all loan computations are accurate and in compliance with all federal and state regulations, as well as being consistent with the requirements of each specific lender, according to both companies' executives. Carleton's software can also be used to electronically deliver and print all documents in both laser printing and impact printing formats as part of the loan closing/sales delivery process.
"For years Carleton has provided our products and services to the indirect auto lending industry," said Pat Ruszkowski, president of Carleton. "Our relationship with USA Computer will only enhance our presence in the auto-lending marketplace. Our consumer loan computation and document delivery expertise, coupled with USA Computer's accounting and dealer management expertise, provides an exciting new solution for auto dealers nationwide."
According to Bridges, the entire product was built to make sure all the I's were dotted and the T's crossed, significantly cutting down the chance for lawsuits in the future.
For more information on The ANSWER, Bridges at (866) 66-USACS, or e-mail. Information is also provided at .
Editor's Note: To learn more about the Linnehans' family of businesses, see the early December edition of SubPrime Auto Finance News.