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Reporter’s Notebook: 4 Quick Tips

The editor offers a few insights he picked up at the magazine’s annual conference, which attracted near-record attendance.

October 31, 2011

What a show. Our speakers, moderators and panelists hit their marks, we just about broke our previous attendance record and, judging by the number of happy-faced exhibitors, I could tell the conference was good for all involved.

But I’m not one to brag. Instead, I’d like to share a couple of notes I jotted down that didn’t make it into our post-show coverage.

Fix Your Pricing: After hearing 2011 NADA Chairman Stephen Wade speak, I really think we all need to consider a fixed pricing model for F&I products. Now, I’m not telling you what you should or shouldn’t charge for your products; I’m just suggesting that you standardize your pricing so outsiders know that we’re a self-regulating industry.

I’m also suggesting this because sitting in the front row of many of our conference sessions was a representative from the Center for Responsible Lending, the organization that would love nothing more than to see dealer participation go away. Look, consumer advocates are paying close attention to our business, because they know the rules the Dodd-Frank Act will enforce have yet to be written. And as Wade said during his keynote speech, those who seek to regulate our industry still don’t understand how we operate.

“We need to explain the indirect lending model over and over,” he said. “It is not understood in Washington.” Wade and Co. have managed to stay ahead of the issue, but we have to do our part as well.

“… Be a Facilitator”: The first part of that statement is, “Don’t be a barricade.” That was Luis Garcia’s message to the standing-room only pavilion inside the Las Vegas Hilton, where Safe-Guard’s top trainer addressed the three deal types that many of you don’t include when bragging about your numbers: cash deals, leases and high-mileage vehicles.

See, the disconnect between sales and F&I was a major discussion point at the conference, and Garcia’s point was that the best way to bridge that gap is to embrace those deals that don’t always work in our favor. Think about it: Why is F&I the only department that doesn’t like a lease?

Garcia said the trick is to come up with the right product mix for each deal type. So, for high-mileage vehicles, tire-and-wheel should be a no-brainer. Garcia also recommended offering a five-year roadside assistance program. It won’t kill the customer financially, but it will offer him or her the protection they need.

Find Your Style: Last month I wrote that I would reveal which F&Idol contestant impressed me the most, and that individual is Thielen Motors’ GP Anderson. Check out his story on Page 20. Among the bombs he dropped in our interview was that word-tracks are for “green peas” who have yet to find their style. I thought that was a great statement.

But while you’re figuring out your style, make sure you also do your homework, because you really do need to know more than the customer. For instance, did you know that every vehicle that rolls out of the factory has been placed into a 250- to 300-degree oven for half an hour after the paint is applied? Reahard & Associates’ Ron Reahard does, and he recommends using that knowledge when selling paint protection.

Ron also knows that 95 percent of vehicle wear occurs when the key is turned. He suggests using that piece of knowledge when a customer appears to believe the vehicle he or she is purchasing was built by God. Ron suggests following up with this: “Have you ever noticed how all of the trucks at a truck stop are left running?”

The Virtual F&I Office: I’ve received a lot of requests for information on how to establish such a thing. Unfortunately, answers have been difficult to come by. … at least until I listened to Jim Ziegler’s presentation on the next wave of Internet marketing.

It’s not the total answer, but Ziegler talked about a Website called Eyejot.com, which claims to offer the easiest video e-mail platform. There’s no software to download; all you need is a Webcam and an account. Ziegler recommends investing in the $100-per-year upgrade to prevent ads from showing up in your video e-mails.

Now, Ziegler says Eyejot can be a great tool for Internet staffers, but I think we in the F&I office can employ it, too. I mean, imagine being able to send a video e-mail to a converted lead that introduces you, describe what happens in your office and, just maybe, teases a service contract.

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