I’ll never forget that late-spring day when I got my “first chair” — dealership jargon for my first F&I gig. I had been gunning for the position for some time, but I was passed over in favor of an outsider. But opportunity came knocking a few weeks later and, well, I answered the door.
It didn’t take long for the newness to wear off and for me to discover that the job required a lot more skill and talent than I had imagined. Man, what I would have done to have someone mentor me during those earlier years. I could have skipped over a lot of bad habits. That’s why I decided to collect some words of advice from some of my F&I buddies to help you avoid the costly mistakes I made.
1. “Don’t take the job for granted.” Great advice from Chris Cochran, a dealer development specialist with Resources Management Group. In 2011, Cochran’s F&I team at Massachusetts-based Haddad Dealerships was named an F&I Pacesetter, an honor the magazine issues annually.
2. “You’re either going to be compliant or you’re not.” Great words from my friend Randy Hartis, an F&I pro from Greensboro, N.C.
3. “F&I can be a lifetime career with massive benefits and a very rewarding future, but they have to learn and master the basics.” Great words from Tom Wilson, who served as F&I director for Michigan’s Riverside Auto Group when it was named the magazine’s F&I Dealer of the Year in 2010. He now serves as a dealership development manager for American Financial & Automotive Services Inc.
4. “F&I is the most important chair in the selling process. Any great dealer principal, general manager or general sales manager has sat in that chair at one time in their career.” That message came from Wendell Hardy, a general sales manager at a Mercedes-Benz store in Florida. Hardy also is a former dealer.
5. “Don’t rely on the ‘We’ve always done it this way’ mentality.” That great advice comes from Jim Radogna, president of California-based Dealer Compliance Consultants. Old-timers offering old-school advice to newbies is like a rite of passage in some stores. The good news is there are plenty of resources online to help you verify those lessons, including the F&I Forum and my Ethical F&I Managers page on Facebook.
6. “Lead by example. Don’t lie, cheat or steal.” This great advice comes from Daniel Kennedy, an F&I pro from Florida. He also recommended that newbies befriend their bankers to learn what niches they serve and how to rehash a deal.
7. “Never let someone push you into doing something you don’t feel comfortable with.” Great words from my friend Heidi William, an F&I pro from Montana. Listen, your role as an F&I manager is to protect the dealership — either from bad deals or legal troubles. That means you have to stand up for what’s right.
8. “Don’t worry about the PVR the first month. Concentrate on your paperwork.” I got these words of wisdom from Walt Dobrowski, a California-based trainer. He also suggested that newbies constantly read and reread all of their contracts and brochures until they fully grasp the information contained in them. Hey, you can’t sell what you don’t know, right?
9. “Treat sales staff like you treated your customer when you were out on the lot, no matter how ridiculous and, yes, stupid they act.” Sound advice from my friend Klay Kelso, a sales trainer with The Plateau Group. Remember, your salespeople will be the ones sending you the business, so treat them accordingly.
10. “Paperwork first. Learn how to sell the products and present the menu and the PRU will come.” Those words were uttered by Dina Wilson, an F&I director from Cumberland, Md., and the 2012 F&Idol winner. Wilson is a big believer in training. Her motto is: “Amateurs practice to get it right. Professionals practice so they don’t get it wrong.”
11. “Don’t overcomplicate things. Stick to the process.” Great words from my friend Steve Sipes, an F&I pro from Florida. Like Wilson, Sipes is a big believer in constant practice. He said the goal should be to practice until the pitch becomes second nature. When that happens, you’ll be able to add your own spin.
12. “Learn the paperwork, master the products, understand your role, and don’t stop practicing.” Leave it to my friend Herb Ray to sum it all up. Ray has only been in the box for a little over a year, but it’s clear he’s picking things up quickly.
There is plenty to learn and absorb when you’re a newbie, so stay green, be honest and keep learning.
Marv Eleazer is a finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at [email protected]