The grand prize winner won a weeklong trip for two to Mexico, while the second through fifth place finishers received cash prizes ranging from $750 to $1,500. But Lisa Ziropoulos believes the real winners of her “Sheehy’s Got Talent” contest are the 50 men and women manning the F&I offices inside Sheehy Auto Group’s 19 locations.
Ziropoulos serves as director of sales operations for the Fairfax, Va.-based dealer group, which operates 21 franchises throughout Baltimore and Richmond. It retails 30,000 vehicles per year and claims to be the largest retailer of Fords and Nissans in the region. But the group put its F&I profitability on the line when it decided early last year to make the switch to The Impact Group’s Fusion menu.
The transition to the customizable, electronic menu did have its challenges, the main one being that the group’s F&I product provider had no prior connection to the operation’s new menu provider. But once those issues were resolved, Ziropoulos spearheaded a multipronged effort to get her F&I producers to fully embrace the new selling system. It culminated in the Sheehy’s Got Talent competition, which tested her F&I team’s menu presentation and objection-handling skills.
“It was a lot of fun for everybody, but contained in the fun was a lot of training,” Ziropoulos says. “And as a result of it all, we can get them to sell more product. That’s where the win-win-win comes into play.”
So far, that’s exactly how things have worked out since the competition concluded in October, with Sheehy’s F&I operations realizing improvements in CSI scores and F&I product penetrations. Ziropoulos says she first learned of The Impact Group’s Fusion menu last February, when the group’s Sheehy Nissan of Waldorf (Md.) began testing the software tool.
“One of our stores ended up getting the Fusion menu installed, and all of a sudden that store was doing a phenomenal job profitability-wise in the finance department,” she says. “We really took a hard look at the menu and decided that this menu was really something that was adding to their success at that store.”
Branden Toth is the general sales manager and finance director at Sheehy Nissan of Waldorf. It was during the dealership’s quarterly management meeting last year that he suggested the outlet conduct a 90-day trial of the Fusion menu, which he was exposed to while working for another dealer group. Knowing its capabilities, Toth believed it would benefit the business.
With the Fusion menu, F&I managers can build custom menus to cater to a customer’s financial needs and driving habits. The system will make automatic payment calculations if products are added or removed, or if a customer wants to see his or her biweekly, monthly and annual payments. The system also features tools designed to help producers illustrate a product’s feature and benefits, including videos and graphs.
Toth also appreciates the system’s robust reporting, which allows him to track each producer’s performance as well as which features they use during their presentations. But the tool that fit right into his selling process was the menu’s connection to Edmunds.com’s True Cost to Own pricing system.
“[Customers have] heard of Edmunds.com, and they trust it,” Toth says. “So I go to Edmunds.com so they can see the true cost to own. Then I show them what they save with the [service contract].”
The results of the 90-day trial were so dramatic, Toth adds, that the dealership made the switch to the Fusion menu permanent. “We went from a store that had one solid closer to one where everybody in the finance department is running more than $1,400 per copy,” he notes.
Toth’s team is currently averaging 2.1 products per deal. Product penetration rates have also improved, with service contracts penetrating at a rate of 57.5%. Maintenance, the product with which Toth kicks off his F&I presentation, is penetrating at a 50% clip, while the acceptance rate for aftermarket products sits at 28%.
“We changed the way we sell,” Toth says, adding that cancellations are also down as a result of the Fusion menu. “These guys actually kicked into higher gear, changed their processes, and that’s why we’re so successful.”
The success at Toth’s dealership was enough to convince Ziropoulos and the rest of Sheehy’s management team to roll out the Fusion menu to the group’s other stores, but the transition would require the cooperation of several different vendors. “It’s been a great experience rolling out the menu together, with everybody embracing what’s best for Sheehy,” Ziropoulos says.
On the transition team was Garrett Thorpe, vice president of training for The Impact Group, and Bonnie Jean Hammett, regional manager for the Automotive Development Group (ADG) and Sheehy’s longtime agent for its EasyCare products. Ziropoulos was especially impressed with Hammett’s efforts, saying that she was instrumental in connecting Thorpe to EasyCare’s IT team to get the econtracting and erating pieces plugged in. She also helped with the integration of the product provider’s presentation materials.
The Impact Group’s Thorpe also had high praise for Hammett. “Bonnie Jean has been a good friend of our company for a long time, but we’ve never had a formal business relationship,” he says, noting that similar integration efforts were required for the group’s biweekly payment provider, IntelliPayment. “And we already had a relationship with EasyCare because we have other dealers that use its products, but we didn’t have the econtracting piece set up. That’s where Lisa and ADG really helped.”
Thorpe also trained ADG’s Hammett and her team on the Fusion menu, preparing them for the new-hire and follow-up training they are responsible for at Sheehy. Once trained on the menu, Hammett and her team accompanied Thorpe as he trained F&I managers at Sheehy’s other stores.
Hammett says she was impressed with the Fusion menu right out of the gate, adding that she also welcomed the chance to connect with another company on such a big undertaking. “I thought it was the best looking system,” she says. “Our big objective is to help everybody. I was 100% certain that it would help all of us do a better job and sell more products.”
Once the integrations were completed, the dealer group rolled out the menu to Sheehy’s remaining stores in May. “We didn’t get a lot of pushback. We staged the installs and staggered them,” Thorpe recalls. “This was by Lisa’s design to be systematic and methodical about it, to make sure the stores got up and running the right way.”
Making a Connection
Once the installations were completed in October, Ziropoulos wanted her F&I managers to experiment with the system so they could familiarize themselves with its many features. “It’s not the kind of thing you just hand somebody and walk away. There’s continuous training that has to go on; they need a little time to dabble in it,” Ziropoulos says. “We were trying to find a way to get them to want to get in there and play around with it, so we came up with the idea for Sheehy’s Got Talent.”
Nearly 50 F&I managers took part in the contest’s regional round in October. Participants were judged in 14 different categories, including menu usage, body language, gestures and personality. Ziropoulos says the competition exposed the strengths and weaknesses of each F&I manager, allowing the contest’s judges, including Thorpe and Hammett, to offer feedback to help contestants improve their presentations.
“We spent some time with each individual finance manager and gave them feedback on things they did great, things that maybe could be improved upon a bit,” Ziropoulos says.
After three weeks, seven regional and three wildcard winners were selected to move on to the second and final round, which took place at the group’s Volkswagen dealership in Springfield, Va. And Ziropoulos spared no expense.
Set up in the dealership’s showroom was a desk and computer, which was connected to a large projection screen so producers in the audience could see how each contestant utilized the menu. Photographers and videographers were also on hand to capture each presentation. And off to the side were the judges, which included executives from Sheehy, ADG, The Impact Group and IntelliPayment.
“It was a pretty challenging scenario. They’re presenting in front of about 40 to 50 people,” Ziropoulos says. “They’re mic’d in the middle of the showroom … We had a fake customer that we told to rile [the contestants] up a bit, too. It was pretty fun.”
Ziropoulos says she made the final round a big production so all of Sheehy’s F&I managers could learn from their peers. “Our thought process was if the top 10 people are going to do a presentation, we wanted to make everybody watch it because they would learn something,” she explains. “They would find a word-track or something to take away.”
As for the presentations, Ziropoulos says she was impressed. “[There were] great performances out of everybody,” she says, noting that each finalist was given 15 minutes to run through their pitch. “I felt terrible we couldn’t give prizes to all of the top 10.”
Sheehy Nissan’s Toth won the competition and the trip to Mexico. He says he ran through his presentation only once to prepare for the opening round. “I only have 10 minutes to prepare for customers in real life. I don’t have two weeks to prepare,” he says. “So I intentionally did not prepare because I didn’t want to seem robotic.”
But Toth admits the pressure was on when he reached the finals. “I was definitely nervous,” he acknowledges. “I was the one who brought this program in. If I do horrible, that’s not going to look very good.”
F&I manager Mel Worsham was the contest’s second-place winner. He prepared for the competition by running through his presentation with his wife and coworkers. He says the prize money wasn’t the only reason he liked the competition. “Instead of getting my practice in with an actual customer, I got my practice in beforehand,” he says.
And that practice has led to notable increases in Worsham’s already solid performance numbers, with his acceptance rate for Nissan’s service contract rising from 50% to 60%. His aftermarket penetration rates have also risen from 26% to 38%, while his per-copy average has climbed from $1,000 to nearly $1,300. “[The Fusion menu] has made a big difference. It’s a lot more entertaining,” he says. “It’s not as boring as the paper menu. It holds people’s attention.”
The Fusion menu’s impact on Sheehy’s bottom line is undeniable, with producers throughout the organization enjoying similar gains in production as Worsham. But as he says, the transition to The Impact Group’s F&I menu wouldn’t have been as smooth if not for Ziropoulos and her Sheehy’s Got Talent competition.
As for Ziropoulos, she’s just happy to see her producers succeeding with the new menu. “We found that it’s a pretty fantastic tool for people who’ve been in the car business for a long time. It can take them to the next level,” she notes. “It kind of helps new people, too, because when the tools are there in front of you … if you lose a word-track and don’t know what to do, you can use one of the tools to help.”