Sales Events Put Auto Loans in Overdrive

June 10, 2010
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A recent auto sale at $1.4 billion asset Nassau Educators Federal Credit Union (NEFCU) yielded three times the usual application volume with an 89% approval rate—indicating positive movement for the economy, reports Eileen Nolan, senior vice president for marketing and communications for the Westbury, N.Y., institution.

Among those approved for financing, 92% received on-the-spot delivery and could drive their new vehicle home the day of the event complete with plates, DMV registration, insurance, and financing, she says.

Nolan tells Credit Union Magazine what it takes to run a successful auto sales event.

CU Mag: How often do you hold car sales?

Nolan: NEFCU hosts annual auto sales events in collaboration with Enterprise Car Sales. We have been doing this for about four years now. There have been instances where we might host them twice a year—we often rely on Enterprise’s readiness and support with the venue and marketing communications.

The frequency of the sales isn’t as important to us as the opportunity to meet face to face with current and prospective members.

CU Mag: How much of a rate discount do you offer during these events?

Nolan: It can vary, but our latest event featured a 0.5% discount if the member was preapproved before the sale and financed the vehicle at the sale. Otherwise, members who attend that day with no preapproval will receive a 0.25% discount by financing the vehicle at the sale that day.

We also provide extended loan terms—up to eight years—and instant approvals. With the exception of some dealer financing arrangements, we offer the best rates in the marketplace, currently as low as 2.99% APR. Members can leave the event that day with a car, plates, and registration.

CU Mag: How do you promote these events?

Nolan: A local radio station provides on-site entertainment with popular DJ/personalities, prizes/giveaways, and a huge blowup mascot to draw attention to the site. The station also promotes the event, as well as other benefits of NEFCU membership, through on-air announcements the week prior to the sale.

We promote the events through our Web site and monthly newsletter, and through press releases distributed to local newspapers. Enterprise also conducts lobby days at key branch locations with popcorn carts and promotional materials.

CU Mag: How many auto loans do you typically get from these events?

Nolan: As a result of holding the auto sales events over the last four years, we have generated more than $1 million in new loan balances from these one-day events. That equates to a nearly 10% increase in loan balances generated solely from this channel when compared to regular monthly activity through all channels.

CU Mag: What other benefits do these events provide the CU?

Nolan: There are many benefits. These events are a great way to highlight the low vehicle loan rates we offer year-round. They also help us reach and build relationships with prospective members. The location—NEFCU’s Westbury headquarters—is in a busy shopping/traffic area that attracts many passersby.

The convenience aspect of this “one-stop shopping” event—including plates, inspection, etc.—ties into our overall dedication and commitment to our members.

Additionally, these events help credit unions differentiate ourselves from banks. Our low rates demonstrate our cost efficiencies, and the one-on-one attention of our onsite staff highlights the personal service we provide.

CU Mag: How many new members can you add by hosting this type of event?

Nolan: We use events of this nature as more of an outreach effort that provides added value and convenience for our members. This event really enables us to deepen relationships we have with our existing membership by providing additional services they would not usually receive from a typical bank.

Through events like the auto sale, we also have the opportunity to develop new relationships. In terms of new members, this event generates 1% to 2% of our new member growth for the month.

Next: Keys to success

CU Mag: What are some keys to hosting a successful auto sales event?

Nolan: Keys to success include:

  • Proper planning;
  • Good communication with the auto dealerships you’re working with;
  • A broad assortment of vehicles that appeals to a wide demographic;
  • Onsite entertainment that’s family-friendly and appealing to various age groups;
  • Internal support from our NEFCU colleagues;
  • Onsite loan underwriters;
  • Branch personnel to assist with games and refreshments; and
  • Marketing staff to coordinate with the on-air talent and ensure members’ needs are being met.

CU Mag: What are the biggest challenges involved in hosting an auto sales event?

Nolan: Surprisingly, one of our biggest challenges each year is weather. There is no rain date for our events and no alternative to an outdoor location. The weather can also impact numbers of attendees. Demand for new cars is also a variable.

We’re careful to prepare for various weather conditions in advance so we can set up tents or rearrange the setup if necessary. The event is hosted at our headquarters, and we do use the indoor facility for some procedures, such as completing applications.

CU Mag: What are some common mistakes some CUs make when hosting auto sales events?

Nolan: Not getting the word out to possible attendees is likely a common mistake. Credit unions should have a plan to promote the event through announcements, press releases, advertisements, etc.

They should also clarify whether the event is open to the public or just members. Communication is key, and if not done expansively there are missed opportunities.

CU Mag: What advice would you give other CUs about running a successful auto sales event ?

Nolan: Adequate staffing is key. In addition to assisting with the auto loan application process, credit union employees should be available to provide general information about their financial institution and membership.

Be committed to the effort, commit the resources and the communication space, and understand that this is about value and convenience and providing a new way of doing things.

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