What happens when an F&I manager needs a new way to sell products? The options are nearly limitless. For Tim Dulaney and Monte Sommers, the answer was simple: Switch to a mobile menu.
Dulaney and Sommers work as F&I managers at two separate dealerships in Indiana. Six months ago, they both converted to a mobile F&I menu. Other F&I managers and industry professionals might bristle at the thought of leaving their tried-and-true paper menus behind, but Dulaney and Sommers say they have no plans of returning to their old selling ways.
Dulaney is a 10-year industry veteran and the F&I director at Chandler Chevrolet in Madison, Ind. He says the traditional four-column paper menu, with its pre-packaged system, was not versatile enough for him. "First, if I were a customer, I would think that I had to pick a package or nothing at all," he says. "As the user, if I wanted to make any alterations to the packages, I had to change them on the computer first."
Using the four-column paper menu, Dulaney says he managed to sell an average of 1.5 products per vehicle. That’s a respectable number by industry standards, but Dulaney knew he could do better. "Everything evolves. If you don’t evolve, you’re going to get left behind," he says. "With the technology out there, there had to be a newer, better way to present products."
Sommers, F&I director at Eastgate Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Indianapolis, agrees. He says the four-column paper menu lacked the flexibility he needed. "The problem with the paper menu was that I didn’t have any flexibility," says the 17-year industry veteran. "Sometimes the customer would only want one product from a two-product column."
Tired of the rigidity of the traditional menu, Sommers and Dulaney switched to the iTapMenu, an F&I sales tool that operates on the Apple iPad. So far, both F&I producers say their product sales and customer satisfaction have greatly improved since they went mobile.
Going from paper to mobile wasn’t easy. It took a few weeks for Dulaney and Sommers to figure out how to incorporate the mobile solution into their processes.
For Dulaney, figuring out how and where to present the mobile menu was a difficult adjustment. "I found the most effective way for me was not to present it in my office," he says. "We don’t have a lot of space on the showroom floor, so I’ll go to the salesperson’s office, a spare office or the customer lounge."
Dulaney has even given presentations to customers while they were smoking cigarettes outside the showroom. He says his goal is to be with a customer wherever he or she is most comfortable. He even makes it a point to sit beside his customers, rather than across the desk from them. The added proximity allows him to drive the F&I presentation on the iPad. "I’m on their side," he says. "I’m not at a desk pushing them with what to do. I’m showing them how it works and letting them play around with it."
Since he started using the iTapMenu in January, Dulaney is averaging 2.5 products per vehicle. The change also had a positive effect on underperforming products. "Paint and fabric sold more in January than it has in the 10 years I’ve been here," he says. GAP penetration rates also have increased, from 50 to 70 percent. Service contracts, etch, tire-and-wheel and credit insurance also appear on Dulaney’s menu.
Sommers’ transition was more gradual. He chose to continue using his paper menu alongside iTapMenu for the first month and a half. Toggling between the two menus was cumbersome, but Sommers says he and his F&I manager took advantage of the transition period. Role-playing, Sommers says, was key.
After five months using the iTapMenu, Sommers’ profit per vehicle retailed (PVR) jumped from $900 to $1,300. His acceptance rates also increased, rising from 45 to 55 percent for service contracts and from 43 to 53 percent for GAP. Etch improved from 35 to 60 percent, and paint and fabric protection jumped from 12 to 35 percent.
Testing the Connection
Sommers says iTapMenu’s "cool factor" helped, but the transparency and consistency the mobile menu delivered made the biggest difference. "The iTapMenu offers 100 percent of the products, 100 percent of the time. No matter how an F&I manager designs a menu, the customer sees everything," he says. "It breaks the fear of the unknown that most people walk into the finance office with."
Dulaney and Sommers first heard about iTapMenu from Shawn McCool, a former agent and trainer who’s been in the industry for 15 years. Recreating the F&I menu was a big part of his pitch, but that’s not the only thing he was selling his dealers on. "The four-column menu was the most widely used software tool, but I thought there were design flaws to it," he says.
Motivated by this belief, McCool partnered in 2010 with Leaf Software Solutions, an Indiana-based software development company, to design and develop a new F&I menu, not just a mobile version of this key selling tool. "Our mission was to innovate the four-column menu. I just felt it could be improved," he says.
After two years of design and development, the iTapMenu was born. The web-based program can operate on any version of the iPad. The key difference between McCool’s creation is that everything can be done right on the Apple device, from menu customization to recalculations.
But the feature McCool focused on in his pitch to Dulaney and Sommers was the two-column menu he created. His mobile F&I tool does support a three-column configuration, but McCool recommends the two-column version because, as he says, all products get equal airtime in that format.
All F&I products are listed in what McCool calls the "recommended" column. Then, one-by-one, the F&I manager can drag and drop products the customer selected into the second column, which he calls the "customer selections" column. As for design, each product is represented by an icon: an image of a wheel representing tire-and-wheel protection, for instance. Tapping on one of the icons pulls up product descriptions, replacement statistics and short video clips that detail a product and its features.
McCool’s creation will also automatically recalculate when products are removed or added from the "customer selections" column. Producers can also change product pricing, terms, interest rates and down payment right on the iPad, features McCool says were designed to make the F&I process more efficient and transparent. "In this industry, everyone thinks we’re crooks even though we’re not," he says. "If a customer sees instant change in pricing and it’s accurate, they’ll believe it and get it. They’ll no longer feel they’re getting sold something, and when that occurs, they’ll buy."
The iTapMenu will also display a fully compliant interactive accept/decline screen, a feature Dulaney and Sommers never used before. "You can take another run at those customers," Dulaney says.
Once customers finalize their selections, they can complete the process by providing an e-signature right on the iPad using their fingertips. Dealers can also access a dashboard-style reporting feature to track the performance of producers. They can view a sales summary by product type, or set goals for each producer or the entire department. Finally, each report can be exported as an Adobe PDF.
According to McCool, the iTapMenu is available for a monthly fee of $249 per rooftop. DMS integration is available for an additional monthly fee of $100.
A Budding Category
Cory Mosley, principal of Mosley Automotive Training, first heard about iTapMenu last August. McCool had reached out to Mosley to find out if the industry was ready for his creation. Mosley saw iTapMenu in person last September at F&I and Showroom’s Industry Summit conference. He doesn’t claim to be an F&I expert, but for a dealer consultant who preaches a new-school approach to auto retailing, he was intrigued. So, he offered to test it out at one of his client’s stores.
"I chose a store where the F&I manager was opposed to it, and, within three weeks, his PVR doubled," Mosley says. "They’ve gone on to have a threefold increase in their back-end gross. After seeing those results stick for a month or two, I became a believer."
Mosley has since introduced iTapMenu to five more dealer clients, but he doesn’t believe the new tool is for everyone. He understands why some F&I managers might object to using it. However, he’s seen what McCool’s tool has done for struggling producers and grizzled vets, and he believes the mobile menu lends a fresh new look to the F&I office. "The iPad is still interesting to customers, and it makes the customer experience better," Mosley says. "Hey, we’re all looking for areas where we can make more money, and I would look at this as a potential tool to get more consistent grosses or improve CSI."
iTapMenu isn’t the only mobile game in town, however. There are at least three other established software companies — OptionSoft Technologies, Innovative Aftermarket Systems and MaximTrak Technologies — offering mobile-ready programs for the F&I office.
OptionSoft introduced its Mobile Menu in January 2011. The program operates on any mobile device with a web browser and Internet connection. It offers two customizable components — a customer survey and an F&I menu — which can help dealers manage their CSI scores and sell F&I products. Users can load the survey with as many questions as they want, some of which can be used to gather information about the customer to help the F&I manager customize his or her menu to the buyer’s driving habits and ownership history. The menu is offered in a three- or four-column format, but does not feature drag-and-drop functionality.
Nick Sennett, OptionSoft’s sales and technology manager, says dealers are not obligated to use the company’s mobile and desktop products together. "We let you have the tablet technology, but still have the paper menu. I feel they have to coexist," he says. "Until e-signatures become universally accepted, it’s important to have the flexibility of hybrid presentations."
Charles Albrecht is a finance manager at Nemer Ford in Queensbury, N.Y. He uses OptionSoft’s customer survey to set up his menus, which he presents from his desktop computer. Since adding the new technology, his product penetration rates have risen by more than 15 percent.
"The questionnaire really dictates the presentation, and all it takes is 10 minutes," Albrecht says. "My customers don’t know their answers to those question get e-mailed to me from the iPad, but I know that they have purchased an extended warranty, paid biweekly, so on and so on. So far it’s been working."
Launched in May 2011, Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS)’ SmartPad is a dual-purpose, tablet-based tool: It can be used to educate customers about F&I products through product descriptions and videos, then conduct the customer interview through a series of questions. Those questions can be used for CSI purposes, as well as to provide F&I managers with insights they can use to customize the menu.
Matt Nowicki is vice president of retail software for IAS. He says the SmartPad app, which can be downloaded onto a variety of mobile devices, does not venture into the mobile menu arena. The company’s SmartMenu, which was launched in 2001, could, but Nowicki doesn’t believe the industry is ready to hand the menu over to customers just yet.
"My concern with the mobile menu is that customers will choose to decline products at any point. So, before we develop such an app, we want to see someone else prove it first," he says. "I’m a technology guy, but in my mind, a tablet won’t replace an F&I manager’s skills."
In February, MaximTrak introduced a digital platform called MobileTrak after piloting the solution in more than 30 auto and motorcycle dealerships. The tool operates on iPad and Android devices. F&I managers can utilize the platform’s interactive sales menus and product presentation tools. They can also e-rate vehicle service contracts and ancillary products from about 75 providers, as well as execute contracts using the device’s e-signature capabilities. The mobile solution also features MaximTrak’s reporting tools and more.
Jim Maxim Jr., president of MaximTrak, says there are pockets of high demand for mobile tools. He estimates that about 25 to 30 percent of dealerships are asking for mobile solutions. "Consumers are flocking to their stores to get one, and they’re comfortable using these devices," he says. "We in the auto space, however, are behind the times and need to shift to where consumers are. Once dealers go to mobile platforms, it will transform the F&I business."
Dulaney and Sommers are early adopters of mobile technology, and their willingness to try the unproven iTapMenu has paid off so far. "I’m selling more. My numbers are up 23 percent," Dulaney declares. "I’m staying on the iTapMenu. I don’t need any more time to decide."