Last spring, when Lisa Gladstone sold Priority One Financial Services to Forest River Financial, a division of Berkshire Hathaway, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to work for someone else or give up what I put all my blood, sweat and tears into,” she says. “But Berkshire Hathaway buys companies and then says, ‘OK, go ahead and run it.’ This has been an entrepreneur’s greatest dream.”
Priority One’s founder says she now is freed from the day-to-day financial worries of running a company. The F&I service provider can now “focus on growing our business, getting better at what we do, and helping more dealers.”
In addition, lenders now are more likely to consider the needs of Priority One’s clients. “It has provided us, we feel, with an opportunity to have a deeper dialog with our lending partners about things to be improved or different ways to do things,” explains Gladstone.
Many wondered whether the company would turn its attention to the RV market, given that its new parent company manufactures RVs, but Gladstone says Priority One’s business remains 90 percent marine.
“I think everyone assumed that our biggest boost would be in the RV space, and really we had another burst of growth in the marine industry,” she says. “We’ve had almost 25-percent growth this past year.”
Amidst these challenging market conditions, Priority One expects further growth — almost 50 percent in 2008. “For us, when things get a little tight from a retail standpoint, that’s when
dealers pay a little more attention to
each and every sale,” Gladstone says.
“During that time, it makes sense for our dealer base to expand.”
When boat sales are down, dealers are more likely to focus on growing the size and profitability of their F&I departments. Priority One’s most successful dealers have a policy that each transaction is sent to their F&I department, Gladstone says. Some also pay the salesperson a small amount for each transaction that is financed.
“In the end, the customers are happier, the salespeople are happier and the dealership ultimately makes more,” Gladstone concludes.