Q&A with Jan Kelly of Kelly Enterprises
Jan Kelly, president of the Vancouver, Wash.-based sales and F&I consulting firm Kelly Enterprises, this year celebrates a notable milestone — 20 years of serving the RV industry. Kelly’s expertise as a sales trainer combined with her engaging style have earned her a reputation as a respected consultant and a popular speaker at conventions, such as the upcoming RV Dealers International Convention/Expo in Las Vegas.
In a recent interview with RV PRO, Kelly talked about how she got started in the RV industry, how she sees as her role in the industry, and where she sees the industry moving forward. Her answers follow below.
How did you get your start in the RV industry?
Kelly: When I left retail, I was drafted to work at an insurance agency in California. They had four field representatives and serviced northern California. Their client base was automotive, RV, marine and motorcycle dealerships.
I came onboard as a trainer and troubleshooter and I would accompany them (account reps) to their accounts and do sales meetings and troubleshoot problem areas in the stores. When the representatives needed help closing a deal I would ride with them and close it. ...
During my tenure we changed the business model to mandate our reps visit every dealership, not just auto. It just made sense that, if there’s an RV dealership right next to an auto store, go into the RV dealership. They have salespeople, they’re selling things, and there are service contracts to be sold to them. So that’s who our clients were — RV dealers, marine dealers, powersports dealers, motorcycle dealers and auto dealers. As a result I got introduced to all of those industries because our agents sent people from their clients to our training. ... My duties included but not limited to training for our agency on both the wholesale and retail side, warranty audits, in addition to learning how to work with service contract company claims department. ... It was a great learning curve.
The RV industry tends to be a very male-dominated industry. As a woman, how do you feel you were received when you first started your own consulting business?
Kelly: It’s amazing because most of the dealers did not see a picture of me for years. They did not know whether I was male or female. They just knew that they called an 800 number and they sent their people to Kelly and they came back and produced.
Early on, one finance manager came into the room when I was setting up for a presentation. He looked at me and said, ‘Are you Kelly?’
And I said, ‘Yes, sir. I am.’
He said, ‘You’re a woman.’
And I said ‘Thanks for noticing. Now sit down.’ (laughs) And I said, ‘Do you have a problem with that? Because it’s not about sex, it’s about making money. And that has one color and one gender.’
And he looked at me and said, ‘No, ma’am. I can tell you’re tough as nails.’
I just told him, ‘I’m as tough as I have to be. Not any more, and not any less.’
You know, I got into the auto business in the mid-1970s, as an insurance agent. And in the insurance agency I worked with in San Diego, there were 44 reps and only two women agents, including me. ... And I ended up outselling 38 of them. So, I have always worked in a male-dominated industry. And I just was too busy providing for my family to take roll call. I was there to do a job, and I did it to the best of my ability.
So, for those don’t already know, what kind of training and expertise does your business offer to RV dealerships?
Kelly: I specialize in variable opps with the dealership. And variable opps is the sales department and finance. So anything that touches the sales department or finance department — whether it be the selling process, closing, compliance, follow-up or prospecting — I teach all of those things.
You describe your company as process-based and results driven? What do you mean by that?
Kelly: It means that we quantify a process. And a process — as long as you get that instilled in a company — that company will be able to sustain itself in almost any troubled times. Yeah, they’re going to have a little loss of revenue if they have loss of sales, but they’re going to survive, they will maximize every opportunity.
Companies come and go, service contracts come and go, tire and rim companies come and go. They just don’t stay here forever. ... But whatever it is, when you are reliant on this one product, then you become rigid and you’re not flexible to embrace whatever is next. And there’s always something that’s next.
But with a process, you just take out the part that’s not working and substitute something else. And the process is the same. ... We want to prepare and teach a path that is germane to all products. So the people have a good foundation, and they can weather the storms of the changes in the marketplace.
Some consultants are tied in to particular companies or products, but you’re not. Is there are reason for that?
Kelly: I had a general manager tell me one time, ‘Jan, what we love about you is that you’re not hooked up to a particular company or a product. If you come here as scheduled and we tell you we’ve decided to sell kumquats I know you well enough to know you’re going to say, ‘I need a cup of coffee, five minutes and bring me two kumquats. And after that we’re going to be rolling.’ (laughs) And that’s true.
The business principals we teach are applicable to any dealership and any one of their products. And since we don’t sell a service contract or a computer system or anything else, we can really focus on that dealership’s production. So, their success is our success. You know, we don’t spend much on advertising; our work is our advertising.
As someone who has been in the business for 20 years now, are the kinds of services you are offering today the same as back then, or have they changed over time?
Kelly: It changes every year, and it changes with every dealership. Yes, I’ve always gone in and done on-site visits, and yes I’ve done traditional seminars and now website seminars for almost a year, but every time I’m with people it’s different, even if the subject matter is the same.
Because people have different needs that they have to get out of me. And they have different levels of education. Some of them are very new and can’t even spell ‘RV’ and the other ones have been around for a long time and are in a rut and are afraid to get out of their box and do something.
So my challenge is to look at where they are, know where they need to be, and help them get there. And help them by leading, talking and coaching. It’s a fine line because these people don’t work for me — I work for them. So I can’t tell them what to do, I have to sell them on an idea, on change, on getting brave. And change is frightening to a lot of people. They might not like what they’re doing, but they’re used to it, they know what to expect. They don’t know what to expect when you bring in that change element.
In general, with the consulting you do with dealerships, how long does it take before they actually see measurable results?
Kelly: It depends upon what the mission is. I’ll give you an example: Years ago I had a Nissan dealership owner call me up and say, ‘Jan, I need you to come in because we’re selling 200 cars a month but I have no money in the bank. I have no idea what’s going on ...’
In that particular case I found deal jackets everywhere in the dealership—stuffed in salesmens’ desk drawers and managers’ desk drawers. I found a container of hold checks that were worth $80,000 ... that should have been cashed but weren’t. I found contracts that should have been processed and tore down at central lender for funding, but weren’t. ... I just found lots of things that weren’t attended to.
So, we made some changes. I think I was there two days and we put $350,000 into the bank. I had those people hopping and running from 7 a.m. until later. ...
Are there any success stories from the RV world that you can share?
Kelly: I will tell you, Randy Biles (of Pikes Peak Traveland in Colorado Springs, Colo.) used to smile at me at conventions and say, ‘Jan, we love you, but honey, you’re eyes are the wrong color.’
And I would say, ‘They’re green. What color should they be?’
And he’d say, ‘Brown, because you’re running a quart high.’ (He was skeptical of the increased F&I and sales revenue a dealership could generate by adopting her processes.)
Finally, after a few years, Randy gets a finance manager. And lo and behold, Randy sends him to one of my classes, and this gentleman put over $2 million in Randy’s bank account. ...
So, at first, Randy told me my numbers were way too high. And then he got a finance manager and found that the numbers were too low — that his finance manager (did much more sales). ...
And I told Randy, ‘Aren’t you glad I used conservative numbers and not pie in the sky numbers.’ I would much rather my numbers be low and for you to be thrilled. ...
I have lots of those stories. ...
In general, are dealerships receptive to the message you bring to them?
Kelly: Every dealership has a culture. And sometimes that culture just doesn’t want to change. And yet that company, to stay afloat, needs to be profitable.
So you have to find a way to open people’s eyes up and to let them know that the smallest change in their process could yield the biggest results. And they don’t have to change everything, but they have to change something.
Most companies, if they’re seeking out my services, are receptive to change. If they are not, then there is no need of my services, because I represent change.
In a tough market like we have now, is there more or less demand for your services?
Kelly: There should be more of a demand, but there’s not. When times are tough businesses cut advertising and training. Why they do that is beyond me, but they do. Still, it’s coming back around now. ...
So you’ve been in this industry for 20 years now. Any thoughts about the future of the RV industry?
Kelly: I think the industry will continue. Although, I think there were be fewer banks and fewer dealers. I think the dealers that continue on will learn that service is important, and that it’s not just there to create difficulties for the sales department. Somehow there has to be a more positive synergy between sales and service. And I think that’s probably one of the things that are going to grow out of this. ...
My dear friend Bill Houston, a U.S. Navy retired chaplain, told me when I was 19 that, ‘The only thing constant in life is change, so get ready and hold on.’ As I have grown older I can attest, my dear friend’s statement was right on so many levels. Change is a sign of life.
I am excited about the industry’s future. I am excited to see the technology being used. Lead, follow or get out of the way because change is coming to all of us we simply cannot stand still.