Lender Unleashes Mailing on Car Dealers

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The image of a dog on a leash may seem to have nothing in common with providing financing for auto dealerships looking to expand.

But the connection is clear to Ken Lempit, president of Austin Lawrence Group, Stamford, CT. His agency created and executed a business-to-business direct mail campaign using a dog on a leash as the main image on behalf of Falcon Financial, also of Stamford. Falcon is a lender that provides auto dealerships with financing to expand via acquisition.

"We were looking for something that was different after relying on testimonials in the past," said Lempit, whose firm has handled Falcon's direct marketing for about five years. "We were looking to move away from that and to position against traditional sources of lending. The metaphor is red tape, and that's why the leash is red. The red tape and red leash is a little subtle, but we're showing that Falcon can unleash a dealership's potential."

About 18,000 two-sided, three-panel pieces were mailed in early and mid-June to prospects obtained from an enhanced D&B list.

Targets included auto dealerships nationwide generating more than $30 million in annual sales. Some franchise operations that Lempit characterized as financially weak, which he did not name, were not part of the effort as the bottom 20 percent of the market was excluded. Recipients must sell new autos with monthly volume exceeding 30 new cars. Pieces were addressed to general managers or chief financial officers.

"Don't Let Your Bank Hold You Back!" was the headline used with the leashed dog. Other headlines on the piece included:

· Unleash Your Dealership's Potential With Falcon Financial.

· Find out why successful new car dealers build their businesses with Falcon Financial.

· Make Your Hard-Earned Equity Work To Your Advantage.

· If You Need A Leader That Shares Your Vision, Call Falcon Financial.

The piece also included a chart containing information -- such as rates, terms and loan-to-real-estate-value ratio -- regarding Falcon's franchise loan and enhanced commercial mortgage products.

"The campaign is meant to differentiate Falcon from other sources of financing used for growth and expansion, such as banks or private investors, or to let them know that they don't have to use their own assets," Lempit said.

Recipients were asked to call a toll-free number or visit www.falconfinancial.com.

"We've had no joy using business reply cards in the past," he said. "BRCs are not used by this audience. The 800 number is connected to a call center where responses are tracked daily, and the site is information-rich. A sales rep calls back for a phone qualification, followed by a site visit, after basic information is obtained by the call center."

Lempit said the sales cycle could be as short as 60 to 75 days or as long as a year.

"A respondent usually has a specific transaction in mind, and that governs the timeline," he said. "They don't call just to chew the fat. Negotiating the acquisition of a complex business can easily take months."

With more than $100,000 in profit to be realized from each loan, only one deal is needed to make the campaign successful. The average loan amount exceeds $6 million.

But closing only one deal could be a conservative expectation, as 60 to 80 responses are expected.

"We're not selling vacuum cleaners," he said. "It's a big sale, it's complicated and everything must be right for it to make sense."

The effort cost $26,000, including $6,000 for postage and fulfillment. Creative services, printing and account management accounted for the balance.

"This form of direct marketing is very straightforward and efficient," he said. "A couple of wafer seals and some ink jetting for the addressing, and away it goes."


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