Three menu providers, a trainer and a veteran F&I manager squared off at the 2010 F&I Conference and Expo to answer that all-important question: What makes for a good menu? As attendees would learn, the answer to that question is more involved than a specific design or brand.

Moderated by Reahard and Associates’ Rick McCormick, the panel included Ristken Software Services’ Patrick DeMarco, MaximTrack Technologies’ Jim Maxim Jr., Team One Group’s George Angus, The Vision of F&I’s Ron Martin and F&I and Showroom’s own “Mad” Marv Eleazer, an F&I director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. Here are the highlights:

McCormick: Customers have probably changed more in the last 24 months than they have in the last 20 years. Patrick, how has this changed your view as to what makes for a good menu?

DeMarco: The gentlemen on this panel offer excellent options for menus. But if you start to take a look at how the menus have changed and, specifically, how that has helped the F&I department, I think the focus is on a couple of areas.

First, menus have become easier to use. We’ve also integrated a lot of tools — OFAC checks, Red Flags verification and biweekly payments. The addition of sales tools — whether it’s GAP or fuel-efficiency analysis, the addition of [service-contract] payment plans — has allowed the F&I manager to more effectively do his or her job and use that menu to sell additional products.

Second, I think that e-rating capabilities within the menu may be the biggest change in our business. The ability to throw away the books or rate sheets and to have that information integrated into the menu is a tremendous change. And, certainly, utilization reports have improved on all of the menus I’ve seen.

McCormick: Jim, how has that development of dealership management system (DMS) integration and e-contracting affected the presentation in the F&I office?

Maxim: The reason we use menus to begin with is to make the presentation more credible, compliant and accurate. So, in our opinion, having a menu without DMS integration is like having a steak without a knife and fork. Without mentioning any names, some DMS providers make it easy and some make it hard. We’ve all had to adjust to stay ahead of the curve.

The fact that we’re all coming together and taking e-contracting to a new level is pretty exciting for us. We see the benefit for everyone in the industry. There’s going to be a time, I’d say in a year or two, when we’ll be able to pull a deal over and populate the finance contracts, the DMV forms, service contracts, GAP and tire-and-wheel [agreements] with a click of a button. And the less time we spend on the activities that don’t really add any value is more time spent selling.

McCormick: I always expect menu usage among dealers to be around 80 to 90 percent, but I’ve been told it’s around 20 percent. George, why are some dealerships resistant to the menu process, and what would you say to a dealer who’s on the fence about using a menu?

Angus: Well, first, that number, in my experience, sounds a little low. Maybe a certain percentage of F&I managers actually have a menu or have menu software, but maybe they’re not using it or using it properly. So what we’re really up against is not whether or not a menu works or whether they should use it, as most dealers would agree they should. But what we’ve found is that dealers generally don’t really know what’s going on in the F&I office. They think they do, but they don’t. What we’re dealing with here is trying to create change.

You have to convince [dealers] that change will cause improvement because, by definition, you can’t improve your performance without changing something. On the other hand, if you can’t create that change and actually get them to use it, you’ll never get them to change. They’ll accept it when they learn how easy and simple the menu process is and what kind of results they can get. That’s how we’ve gotten to the point we’re at today.


McCormick: Ron, we know that menus alone do not move products, but how it’s set up is absolutely crucial. What are some of the key components for an effective menu?

Martin: When the first menu software came out, it was one size fits all. Frankly, I think it was because a lot of technology companies missed the point of it and figured, “Well, shoot, we messed it up, so now we’ve got to tell them that you’ve got to show every product to every customer every time.” That’s not necessarily the case.

When we started developing VisionMenu, we took into consideration that the selling process will change and that the menu is used as an alternative close. I started talking about that seven or eight years ago. I called it the hybrid menu method. That’s because I believe a menu is not what sells, it’s the sales process that sells. The only thing the menu does is give you a mechanism to close on.

What I teach people to do is sell the value in the products to the customer first. I also believe you need multiple menu templates. Are we going to show service contracts first every time? No. It depends on the situation, the terms of the loan and the customer.

I want to address one more thing before [we hear from] Marv: Should you use electronic menus? To me, the answer is absolutely, positively, “Yes.” My personal opinion is that there are only two reasons why somebody would use an Excel spreadsheet or a handwritten menu: One, they want to fudge the base payment, and you can’t do that if you’re using an electronic menu. The other is, they haven’t seen a good electronic menu.

McCormick: Marv, since you’re sitting at an F&I desk every day, you know there’s an endless supply of F&I products. How many products can you effectively sell on the menu to a customer?

Eleazer: I’m certain that, if we were to ask that question of all the dealers in this room, we’d probably get dozens of different answers. But I asked several top performers I know, and I’d say the answer is three. The major menu programs out there can accommodate much more than that but, to effectively sell, I think three.

Let me go back to what Ron was talking about. I think what the menu does, more than anything else, is open up dialogue between the F&I practitioner and the customer. Some people don’t have the gift of gab like my friend George over here does, so they need a pathway to work with. And I think that’s another great thing the menu does. It keeps you consistent in your everyday practice.

There are times I walk into a deal and the salesperson has said, “That customer doesn’t want anything. All he wants to do is write a check and get the hell out of here.” If you let that crap get in your head, and you’re not using your menu, then you’re not going to be effective.

McCormick: The market has seen an influx of menu providers, especially in the last two years. Patrick, tell me what criteria a dealership should use when selecting a menu.

DeMarco: Taking a very pragmatic view, you have to take a look at a menu your F&I manager will actually use. If the F&I manager doesn’t think it’s good, he’s not going to use it. Behind the scenes, functionality of the menu is fairly complex. Integrating with the DMS is not easy. There’s a lot of moving parts. So when you’re choosing a menu provider, make sure that provider can service your dealership and train your people. If they can’t, you probably should consider another provider.

Also, in my opinion, you have to have certification with the DMS providers, so make sure whatever provider you’re considering has a relationship with your DMS provider.

I also agree with Ron and Jim and everybody up here; I can’t believe you wouldn’t be on some sort of electronic menu. I think you’re doing your business a disservice if you’re not. But the great thing is you have a lot of good choices.


McCormick: How can a menu help F&I managers at a time when customers are coming into the F&I office with a negative perception of what goes on
in the F&I office?

Angus: People are more sales-resistant today than they’ve ever been. What a menu can do is give you a consistent process. If it’s used properly, it ensures that every customer sees every product. I think you’d agree with me that if you don’t present a product to a customer, they probably won’t buy it. You have to present the products, because you never know which products they’re going to buy.

McCormick: Jim, what type of increase in overall profit per retail unit have you seen when a menu is first adopted by a dealership?

Maxim: We’ll see an increase of $100 or $150, or a 10 percent increase. I look at the menu as shelf space. You want to load up your products on the shelf and you want to get them sold. It’s about marketing those products so they appeal to customers so they’ll buy them.

The menu, in my opinion, also is a nice avenue for a lot of green peas in the business today. We just don’t have the same talent we had 10 years ago. So, the menu gives them a structured approach to say, “Here’s my product, and here’s the value to you, Mr. Customer,” and giving them payments and options to make that decision.

McCormick: George, what are some of the keys to training that will make the menu process successful?

Angus: I remember attending a meeting where Lou Holtz was a speaker. After the meeting, someone from the press asked him how he was able to send so many players to the NFL successfully. He said, “Motivation lasts for an hour and inspiration lasts for maybe a day, but education lasts for a whole career.” So, I adopted that strategy and educate managers so they become experts.

The other thing that we have learned is that our strategy in the marketplace has changed. We now work through general agencies. We become the training arm for agents in the field. You can go in and train someone and, 60 or 90 days later, they start to drift away. That local agent who’s going in there and working with them, becoming part of their management team, is critical to the success of the F&I department.

McCormick: Ron, you also alluded to the order of the products and how they’re listed on the menu. Does that have an effect on the acceptance levels?

Martin: I look at it like merchandising. When you go to a store, where do they always put the candy? It’s at the checkout, so when I go through there with my children, they’re going to want to pick up the candy. They put things at eye level. I look at menus the same way. Where is eye level on a menu? Left-hand corner, right? That’s where you start.

Also, how frequently does a product show up? Should your service contract be the first product in the left-hand corner? Should it show up four times? Not necessarily. That’s why you need multiple menu templates. As you’re going through the process, the customers’ hot buttons vary. Once you identify a hot button, do you move it around and show it more frequently? Maybe, maybe not.

McCormick: Marv, the average time spent in the F&I office has been reduced over the last few years, due partially to the menu. At what point in the process should the menu be introduced to the customer, and why?

Eleazer: I make it my goal to have that customer out of my office in 25 minutes; not because I don’t want to make friends with him, but because I’m there to do business. They don’t want their time wasted, they’ve just agreed to spend $35,000 on an automobile, and they’re full of excitement. The last thing they want to hear is somebody droning on, being monotonous. So, I try to make that menu presentation as exciting as I can.

You also should know your customer before they walk in the door. I gather as much information as I possibly can from the credit application and the buyer’s order. I can tell how long the guy’s had his car, what his trade cycles are, and what his monthly payment was. So, I know pretty much what direction to go in without having to conduct a long interview when he walks in my office.