Russell & Smith Ford car lot

The Problem

The Russell & Smith Automotive Group, which consists of Ford, Mazda, and Honda dealerships in Houston, Texas, had the difficult task of controlling key access to roughly 800 new and used cars at its multiple locations.

The automotive group was confronting several problems: the expense of cutting multiple replacement keys that had been lost, disorganization due to unidentified keys, and impatient customers waiting for keys to be found for test drives and purchases. Other problems included employees joyriding in vehicles, an overall lack of accountability between the various departments within the dealership and, most significantly, stolen vehicles.

CFO Dan Chernault said, “We were having a lot of issues. Keys were lost, cars were mysteriously driven, cars mysteriously disappeared, and we never could get control of the situation because we didn’t know what had happened until it was too late. Like other dealerships at the time, we had a keyboard system in the middle of the shop, and that was very unreliable.”

Initial efforts to install a key control system prior to KeyTrak were unsuccessful in properly securing keys. “We first tried a mechanized, pegboard-style system, where a sales rep had a peg key and would put the peg in place when they took a key out of the system,” Chernault said. “As I understand it, the salespeople figured out how to compromise it 10 minutes after we bought it. So that obviously did not work very well.”

"It pays for itself just in terms of efficiency and customer service."

Dan Chernault

Former CFO, Russell & Smith Automotive Group

The Solution

Russell & Smith chose to partner with KeyTrak to solve what Chernault saw as the underlying root of its key control problems: accountability. Now, from the time vehicles arrive at a dealership until they are purchased, keys are accounted for.

The dealership first incorporated KeyTrak in its Ford sales department and then implemented the system at its other locations and departments.

At the Ford location, Russell & Smith has a designated employee who processes vehicle receipts each morning. The employee logs the receipts into the KeyTrak system as they are received and marks them with a KeyTrak tag. By the time the vehicles reach the lot, they are already in the system. In the service department, Russell & Smith installed a KeyTrak system with two drawers. One drawer is dedicated to vehicles going through the repair process and the other holds keys of vehicles that have already undergone service.

Since the Russell & Smith Automotive Group installed multiple KeyTrak systems in its dealerships and service areas, it has virtually eliminated theft and improved employee accountability.

“In service, you’ve got so many more opportunities to have the keys out,” Chernault said. “A technician might be working on it. A foreman might be test driving it. A porter might be moving it. You’ve got a lot more people touching the same vehicle. KeyTrak tells us who has the keys at any given time.”

Because the dealership’s salespeople so quickly compromised the previous key management system, the best solution for the sales department at Russell & Smith was to use a fingerprint reader to reduce unauthorized access. Requiring employees to scan their fingerprint to access keys adds an extra level of security to the system because it requires the authorized individual to be present, unlike a password that can be shared between coworkers.

The fingerprint reader keeps sales employees from being tempted to take vehicles from the dealership for personal reasons, such as lunch breaks or running errands. “You cannot compromise KeyTrak the way the other systems can be compromised,” Chernault said. “KeyTrak is fairly absolute. You put your fingerprint on the reader, you are the one who took the keys.”

To track vehicles more efficiently, Russell & Smith chose to network the KeyTrak systems in their Ford sales department and Mazda sales and service departments using the KeyNet Plus feature. KeyNet Plus holds each department accountable by showing where the keys and vehicles are located within the dealership.

The Results

Since Russell & Smith began using KeyTrak several years ago, its problems with keeping track of keys and vehicles have been greatly reduced. Automatically tracking keys has eliminated car theft, which was a major issue at the dealership, and made interactions with insurance companies smoother.

“Getting keys tagged and stocked properly as a process has helped a lot,” Chernault said. “But the best thing is, KeyTrak has pretty much ended our stolen car problem. We have not had a vehicle stolen since KeyTrak was installed. Our insurance company likes that.”

While saving money on rekeying costs and preventing theft is a huge benefit, KeyTrak also pays for itself daily just in terms of efficiency and customer service.

“Our people who are in constant customer contact like KeyTrak a lot,” Chernault said. “Mostly, everybody is appreciative of the reduction in time spent locating keys. Because of KeyTrak, we don't have customers standing around, becoming impatient because a sales rep cannot find the keys to the car.”

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