Sonic Automotive, Inc. (SAH)

2012 J.P. Morgan Auto Conference

August 13, 2012 1:05 PM ET


Dave Cosper – Vice Chairman and CFO


Unidentified Company Representative

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So we are going to get started with the next presentation now. I will be happy to have Sonic Automotive here with us today. Sonic operates over 100 new vehicle dealerships across 15 states and represented over 30 automotive brands, I think. Most of their volume relates to luxury or import brands, particularly BMW. The firm generated $8 billion revenue last year, its market cap is just under $1 billion. We are excited to have Dave Cosper with us, representing Sonic today as well as C.G. Saffer in Investor Relations. David is Sonic’s Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer. Prior to joining Sonic he worked for Ford Motor and Ford Motor Credit Company for a number of years rising to Vince Chairman and CFO of Ford Credit before coming on over to Sonic.

Dave, thanks for being here and I’ll turn it over to you.

Dave Cosper

Excellent. So I use to work at Ford but then I wised up and discovered how exiting retail was. Thanks for being here today. It’s strange to look at the backs of those screens and see Sonic backwards. I’ll try to focus on that. I want to flick you through a few slides, tell you a little bit about what we are doing.

This first slide I used just at very high level get across how we are trying to change our industry. In the very bottom of this thing is the culture. Our business, taken as a whole, is a very rough and tumble in your face kind of business. And turnover’s rampened, and if you want to build a professional store, you need a bit of a culture, you need some more professional people and that’s something we undertook several years ago, we train our people, we pay them, we don’t change their pay plans, we promote them, we develop them, we show them how to make money.

And it’s working. Our turnover’s down use to be close to 70% a year, 70% and we’re down to about 25% of run rate now which is still too high but better than what it was. And when you’ve got a stable workforce, our playbooks which are our training or how to run the business, how to make money in the various parts of our business, sticks.

And then you get higher customer satisfaction and what we’re after is a better customer experience because who doesn’t like buying a car. I mean you want to car but buying it’s actually a pain. Takes too long, you know what you want, you have to deal with all our antiquated processes. And so what we’re doing is building the culture, getting the processes in place to make it fund to buy a car and setup a pain and we are using technology to leverage that and kind of leapfrog. And we think if you can pull that off, we’ve done well but we think the upside is even much, much greater than what we’ve seen.

Our principal, strategic focus is three things. Focus on the base business and the things I’ve been talking about. Base business also means we are not acquiring. We don’t think it’s a best use of capital. So we haven’t bought a store a little over four years. We want to reduce our debt. We’ve actually increased it here recently, I’ll tell you about that, but it was for good reasons. And we want to own our properties. We use to own nothing and we own a fair bid close to 20%. And I’ll show you a slide on that.

And these things are good, they are low risk and they are good returns. When you go off acquiring you don’t a, you’re going to overpay because you are buying from a car guy, which is difficult. And b, it’s a tough business and their culture is different than ours. They’re certainly disruptive to the things that we are trying to do.

So we have been pretty good staying focused on this and the results actually have been pretty good. Last year we grew profits 45%. This year we are on track at over 20%. All same-store, we are not acquiring. And no major buyback in there that’s – it’s really just our earning part. So we’ve been impressed with that and how do you do that? Well, you do it by doing well in each part of your business.

And what this slide is, the left bar is Sonic volume increase. The middle bar is the retail industry automotive overall and the right bar is the total industry. So, when we are growing faster than the market, we are taking market share. And we’ve been taking market share for a couple of years. You can’t take share forever, obviously. But you can take it and hold it. And so far, so far of this year we are doing a good job increasing our share. How do you do that, you execute those playable processes. You do better than the other guy. You attract them to your website, you get them into your store, you satisfy them, word of mouths gets out there, they come to you; they drive by the other BMW store to come to one of our stores, because it’s a better experience.

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