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Training the Hybrid

Two dealers in New York and Texas say they weren’t trying to make a statement when they switched to a combined sales-and-F&I process; they just wanted to do right by their customers.

July 2013, F&I and Showroom - Cover Story

by Justina Ly

In 2003, Driver’s Village, a family-owned and -operated dealer group in Cicero, N.Y., switched from a traditional finance process to a combined sales-and-F&I approach. The group’s owners made the change in hopes of streamlining operations, meeting customer expectations and improving CSI scores. They also unwittingly chose a side in a debate that has long divided showrooms and F&I offices.

The management team at Driver’s Village, which operates 14 franchises and employs 450 people, made their choice years before the Great Recession, the Internet and Gen Y made speed, transparency and customer service the new pillars of the car-buying experience. Lou Bregou, a 30-year industry veteran and the group’s director of operations, says the move was made in response to changing consumer preferences, adding that it wasn’t intended to be a statement against the tried-and-true F&I process.

“We wanted to do more for the customer,” says Bregou, who also serves as acting finance director for Driver’s Village. “We looked at the speed and the quality of the transaction.”

The combined sales and finance process, also referred to as a “hybrid,” “single-touch” or “single-point” process, has taken on different forms throughout the years. Typically, the approach consists of a three-step procedure: A single salesperson is responsible for selling the vehicle and F&I products. A finance director handles the funding, and an administrative staffer handles the contract and other necessary paperwork. And to ensure privacy and full compliance, paperwork and the F&I product presentation are completed in a private office called the “settlement office.”

“After a test drive, if a customer wants to look at figures, he or she goes to the settlement office,” Bregou says. “If we make a car deal, the delivery coordinator comes to them with the paperwork.”

The knock on combining the sales and F&I process is that the approach doesn’t lend itself to F&I product sales. Bregou has been with Driver’s Village since 1983, when it was a single-rooftop store. He says he was well aware of that criticism, but he admits he was eager to try it then and remains committed to it today.

“We were never $1,000 per car people,” he notes. “We’re not F&I pros. It never fit our culture well. We’re a smaller area.”

Remaking F&I

Bregou says Driver’s Village was simply looking for an edge in its market when management decided to overhaul its sales and F&I process. And that’s exactly what has happened in the 10 years since it started down the hybrid path. But Bregou admits the road to providing customers with a better sales experience did have its obstacles.

After purchasing its 90-acre mall complex, Driver’s Village relocated and consolidated its dealerships into a 500-square-foot retail space.
After purchasing its 90-acre mall complex, Driver’s Village relocated and consolidated its dealerships into a 500-square-foot retail space.

It all started when the group purchased a 90-acre mall complex in Cicero in 2003. During the next three years, the complex was renovated and dealerships were relocated and consolidated into a 500,000-square-foot retail space, a property that also houses a restaurant, a 600-person conference center, an accessory store, three rental car agencies, a driving school and several other retail tenants.

Bregou says he and the executive team began discussing the hybrid approach during the relocation period, but finding support for such a process wasn’t easy, particularly among F&I product providers. “I was fighting with my suppliers because they thought it wouldn’t work and said it didn’t make sense,” he says. “They have control of the F&I guys. They are only interested in one piece of the transaction.”

A company eventually agreed to help but failed to install the new process. Dan Fiorini served as one of the dealer group’s F&I suppliers. He’s a veteran trainer and sales consultant for Centurion Automotive Products, and he recalls watching the other company’s failed attempt from the sidelines. “It was from another state and didn’t have a handle on the market,” he points out.

Comment

  1. 1. Tom Wilson [ August 04, 2013 @ 08:07PM ]

    Great article showing both sides of the fence. First Texas Honda - How to do it right. Driver's Village - how to shoot for mediocrity and fall well short.

    I'd be embarrassed if I was Mr. Bregou for settling for sub-$600 per/copy results with less than 20% VSC penetration and then justifying it with, "we're not the most powerful F&I dealership," and, "We were never $1,000 per car people,” he notes. “We’re not F&I pros. It never fit our culture well. We’re a smaller area.”

    Mr. Bregou, you have no idea just how much money you're leaving on the table, not to mention doing a bulk of your customers a disservice. If I had a dime for every dealer who ever said, "our customers are different because, (insert reason here)," I would have retired years ago.

    To respond to Mr. Fiorini's quote, "I deal with a lot of very good finance managers. There’s no need for it in those stores." I guess not. If you're happy living on the bottom rungs of the F&I ladder, you certainly don't warrant a true professional F&I team who can solidly contribute to the bottom line profit every month, not to mention the reinsurance company, (if the dealer even has one).

    Mediocre performers have their place in the world. It's good that we get to read about dealers like Driver's Village if for no other reason than to think, "whew, glad those aren't my numbers."

  2. 2. Robert [ September 18, 2013 @ 06:50AM ]

    Tom

    I totally agree with your opinion in respect to a dealer (dealer group) acceptance that sets the bar for performance so low. But worst yet, to even phantom to let an outside agency train and bring in aftermarket products that does not even keep up with the industry's standards PRU. If, I were the dealer. I would fire that agency. Indeed many customers are different, that is why the F & I Department must be trained and trained and trained again and equip them with the tools and resources to provide excellent service to each customer, while increasing the dealer's bottom line. We all know that a strong F & I Department is a huge profit hub for dealerships. As a professional F & I Manager(Business Manager), why sette for such low standards? Time to aim high and demand your F & I Managers to be accountable to reach or exceed the goals.

 

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