O’Brians finds niche in sales and financing

yourSASKATOONnews - July/August 2019

When O’Brians Automotive opened in 2008, the founders knew they already had a niche in the used car market. The three founders decided they wanted to combine financing and used car sales. That business model has provided thousands of people who have low credit ratings the opportunity to purchase a vehicle. They get to drive a well-tuned vehicle and have an opportunity to rebuild their credit rating. Two of the founders had backgrounds in a dealership in Moose Jaw, while Brett Finell was working for the Capital Ford Group in Regina. He was the number’s guy and is now O’Brians’ president and general manager. “It’s enjoyable,” he said of overseeing O’Brians’ five locations. There are three in Saskatoon, one in Prince Albert and one in Regina. There are more to come. “It’s a fast-paced environment where lots of things are changing all the time; technology in this industry and marketing are constantly changing and, even to an extent, customer service has been changing drastically for the betterment over the last 10 years.” Custom service is paramount at O’Brians. There is proof in a showcase in the showroom at the Circle Drive location. “We have a Google rating of 4.6 and we recently won the Consumer Choice Award and a number of awards from banks and different things. We are very proud of those accomplishments.” Brett explained how O’Brians has combined finance and sales. “We started in a niche market which was people who had some tarnished credit in the past and couldn’t get regular financing through the standard banks or through the big franchise stores,” he said. “We grew our business around that. “What makes us different is we provide financing options for all sorts of customers,

Brett Finell is the president and general manager of O’Brians Automotive

Brett Finell is the president and general manager of O’Brians Automotive.
(Photo by Cam Hutchinson)

whether you have good credit, bad credit or no credit. We have 18 different banks and financial institutions across Canada that we work with, much like a mortgage broker, so if you want to get preapproved for a loan, you come to us, and we get you pre-approved regardless of your credit.” It goes beyond the customer driving the vehicle off the lot. O’Brians offers customers advice on credit cards and improving credit scores. “One of the best ways to do that is through a car loan. Then we can offer you another car loan in the future at a reduced interest rate and eventually help build credit. “It is unique for somebody to focus on that. A lot of people focus on the selling of cars, while we try to sell solutions and we have always tried to sell solutions. We have had 10,000 or 15,000 customers over the last 10 years and we’re seeing many of these customers improve to a Triple A rating if you want to call it that.” O’Brians can only help to a certain extent. “It is up to them to make that decision;

we just provide the information so they can make well-informed decisions and have the knowledge. Lots of people come out of school or university and they don’t quite understand how hard it is to pay off credit card debt or really how credit works. That’s where we can come in and a help a little bit.” Brett said the percentage of customers with low or no credit rating has become reduced over time. “At one point 70 per cent of all the business we were doing was in that area. As we grew more and more in Saskatchewan, that market is a little bit smaller than the main market. So now we are competing with the big dealerships and that’s where we like to be.” Competing comes down to service. “We try to buy good quality cars and treat people fairly. We recondition the cars properly and provide warranties.” He said O’Brians stands behind its vehicles. He said the mark of a good business is how something is handled when there is a problem.

“If you are going to take care of the customer, you are going to fix it. That tells a lot about the business and we try to do a good job.” He said O’Brians has vehicles in all price ranges. “I would say 30 per cent of our inventory is $10,000 or less and 30 per cent of our inventory is $25,000 or more. And the rest in the middle – so a wide range. We carry domestic and import, all of the brands you can imagine. As a specialization, we are used vehicles and we offer financing on all those vehicles, which is not always the case.” He said expansion is in the works. “You could see another two or three stores in the near future in the surrounding area. We do quite a bit of rural business as well.” Another part of the business that is slowly growing is online sales. “We haven’t seen a full adoption of that yet. With online sales there is little or no interaction with the dealership or a salesperson. Some people enjoy that and some people still want to negotiate. “We like to offer all of those services, so we do have an Internet price and if people want to negotiate, we will do that as well.” Brett was asked about the name O’Brians. “I get asked who O’Brians is. There is no O’Brians and there never was an O’Brians,” he said. “We chose O’Brians because a we liked the name. The three founders wanted it to be an Irishsounding name, maybe a name that represented someone that was down on their luck and needing a helping hand. “We like the Irish slogan for advertising and marketing, so way back then -- 11 or 12 years ago -- we thought we would go the Irish route.”

2019 Consumer Choice Award Winner