According to Craig Peters, the key to being a great leader is “getting the right people in the right roles and empowering them to do great things”. When hiring new staff members, Craig always looks for people who think differently.
“If I have a bunch of people who just think the same way, then we’re always going to operate the same way. With the level of disruption and change in the automotive industry and in our business, that will not help us to become successful,” he says.
“I want people to always be open to alternative ideas. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. You need to work through them and understand what makes sense, but you at least need to have people thinking differently and having those alternative ideas.”
This type of “diverse thinking” is something Craig is trying to instill in his team at Byrider. After spending the majority of his career working in the finance industry, he joined the used-car franchise giant in 2017.
“I really enjoy the automotive business and, even more importantly, I really enjoy the consumer segment that we serve. I think they truly are underserved and don’t have as many options as others,” he says.
“I really enjoy the consumer segment that we serve. I think they truly are underserved and don’t have as many options as others.”
Founded in 1989, Byrider is one of the largest integrated used-car dealership and franchise systems in America. It has 150 stores across 30 states and has sold more than 1.2 million cars.
The dealerships aim to make the process of buying a used car quicker and easier for customers, particularly those who have subprime or no credit history. “We’re a fully integrated used-car franchise business. We’re the only subprime used-car franchise business out there, so that is certainly unique,” Craig says.
Craig believes Byrider’s success is driven by its commitment to helping people buy a car, even if they have been turned down for traditional bank financing. In fact, this was the reason why Chevrolet-Cadillac dealer James DeVoe originally founded the business.
He was determined to help people get reliable transportation and was willing to give them financing, even if they had been refused a loan by the bank. James began financing customers at his own car lot in 1979, and started the Byrider franchise with the goal of helping other business owners provide the same benefits to customers across the nation.
The company was originally known as JD Byrider, but was rebranded earlier this year to help consumers better understand what the business offered. “We did a fair amount of consumer research around our previous brand and we found that there were some potential customers we weren’t reaching, because they didn’t really know what we did,” Craig explains.
“We thought it was the right time to introduce a modern look and feel to represent not only what we’ve done, but also where we are going.” The team decided to keep the name Byrider, but drop JD, to capitalize on JD Byrider’s strong brand equity and awareness built over 30 years of business.
“We thought it was the right time to introduce a modern look and feel of the brand to represent not only what we've done, but where we are going.”
To provide further clarity, they added the tagline, ‘Buy. Finance. Drive On.’ Not just a change of name, the rebranding process has also created a more customer-friendly image and helped improve Byrider’s customer engagement.
“We’ve made some significant investments over the past few years to support our evolving customer base, including critical updates on our digital platform,” Craig notes. According to Craig, even just 10 years ago consumers were more traditional and would still drive around to multiple dealerships before making a buying decision.
Nowadays, most people tend to do all their research online before going to a dealership to make the purchase. “We really needed to beef up our retail presence online and we put a lot of investment into our digital platform,” he adds.
“We enhanced our inventory. If you’re going to put your cars online, they need to look nice and be what customers are looking for. We also renovated our stores. Looking towards the future, we’re looking at updating our technology capabilities to focus on streamlining our processes and making car buying easier – really elevating the customer experience.”
Recognizing that improving technology is critical for the company’s ongoing success, Craig says Byrider has sought the assistance of U.Group to overhaul its digital platforms. “Our franchisees are looking to us to provide state-of-the-art technology and capabilities, so they don’t have to worry about going out and trying to cobble all that together themselves,” he says.
“The organization needs to understand where you want them to go – and that’s not just so they can follow, but also so that they can question you and challenge you.”
“We’ve been working with U.Group for about two years and they’re really helping us to reimagine our technology architecture, as well as building new applications. These are not only to support internal employees, but really a new set of customer-facing applications that are going to advance our tools and capabilities for the future. It’s difficult for a company of our size to go out and invest in the various technical capabilities that we need and U.Group has brought a lot of very critical expertise to help us think, innovate and move the business forward.”
Byrider has also formed a strong partnership with Cox Automotive to improve their inventory. “They have an auction business where we buy much of our inventory, but they also have a lot of data and digital tools that we leverage as well,” Craig says.
“They’ve been great and I think there are many opportunities for us to work with them further – just based on the breadth of what they cover.”
In addition to selling used cars and providing in-house financing, each store also has its own service center. “Many of our competitors will sell and finance but don’t actually do service on the vehicles,” Craig says.
“Aside from providing great car parts, AutoZone has gone as far as putting their own staff in our stores to help with parts ordering. This has really expedited the service and reconditioning process, which is critical for us.”
The company also works closely with the National Independent Auto Dealers Association (NIADA). “They bring together industry experts, partners that support the industry and, of course, dealers. They create forums to help shape the industry, but also to help share best practices. These forums allow us to learn more broadly about what’s going on in the industry and understand what’s working for people and what’s not working,” Craig says.
Given that Byrider looks after car sales, finance and servicing, Craig says the business relies heavily on maintaining solid relationships with its key partners and suppliers.
“We just can’t keep up with everything by ourselves. We feel like we’ve found some great partners that help us enhance our brand. So building those relationships has always been critical for us. We treat our partners as an extension of us, which I think is key,” he says.
“Likewise, our partners put us at the forefront of their latest innovation, always finding a way to create the tools we need to improve our operations. They’re very open to helping us invest in their areas of specialization, which really helps to build our business out. We found a lot of success working with them in their current offerings, but we’ve also challenged each other to build out new capabilities in a world where you constantly have to innovate.”
As Craig reflects on his time at Byrider, he points out that it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. “When I joined a little over two years ago, our particular segment of the industry was in a significant down cycle. Our business model hadn’t shifted to meet those evolving consumer behaviors and needs,” he recalls.
“Over the past two years, we’ve really enhanced, or even evolved, our business model to meet those changing expectations.”
Although there have been some big changes at Byrider, Craig says his team has embraced the challenge of evolving the business. “We’re in an environment where change will be constant,” he says. “I want people to take some risks and I want them to fail fast and learn from those mistakes. I think that’s critical to us, because we’re not going to learn if we don’t do things differently. I want an employee base that’s willing to do that.”
“I want people to take some risks and I want them to fail fast and learn from those mistakes.”
Craig believes that maintaining a strong customer-centric culture is also important to ensure Byrider’s ongoing success. “Culture is everything for us. It sets the tone for our customers’ experience and defines the values and vision of our business,” he says.
“Our culture is built around our customers and what we can do to provide an excellent experience. We ask our employees, ‘Well, how would you want to be treated? What can you do to improve that experience?’ We ask them to hold themselves to that standard.”
While there’s no doubt Craig is a visionary leader, he says that it’s vital to provide his team with clarity around the vision so they understand the purpose and strategy.
“Clarity is paramount. The organization needs to understand where you want them to go – and that’s not just so they can follow, but also so that they can question you and challenge you. I think those particular aspects are important because I’m not always going to have all the right ideas. I can set the high-level direction, but I’m going to need their support. They need to understand that so we can move forward,” he says.
Although Byrider has had a lot of success in the marketplace over the past three decades, Craig is determined to keep growing the business. “I’m actually very excited about the growth opportunities that we have. I think as we build out these new capabilities and we improve our customer-facing applications and processes, we can really drive core growth within our current store footprint,” he enthuses.
“Culture really is everything for us. It sets the tone for our customers’ experience and defines the values and the vision of our business.”
“We have 30 company stores and I think we’ve mapped out a pretty good growth plan for how we can fill in existing markets where we don’t have full market penetration, but there are a lot of markets where we don’t have a presence. So I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for us to expand our current store footprint. And then we also have our franchise store growth. We have an extremely talented group of franchise owners and operators and they’re poised for growth themselves. With the investments that we’re making, it’ll not only enable us to support their growth ambition, but will also help us attract new owners to the franchise, which I think is critical.”
With a new, modern brand, a strong focus on innovation and a unique offering in the marketplace, the future is looking bright for Byrider. “Our vision is for Byrider to be the consumer choice in our segment. We’re doing all of this to differentiate ourselves and make the car-buying experience exactly what each consumer wants. With all the investments we’re making, the real intention is just to make it much more efficient for the customer,” Craig says.
“We’re really focused on positioning Byrider to be at the forefront of that innovation, which will open us up to a tremendous amount of opportunity, whether that’s growth or increasing the depth of our customer relationships. Right now, I think the industry is being disrupted. There’s no doubt about it – there’s a lot of innovation and a lot of investment. But I think we can leverage that to create a really exciting business that our consumers will love.”