I didn’t plan on writing about digital retailing, but an article I came across on LinkedIn and a video posted by an F&I product provider put the topic in the running this month. Then an email landed in my inbox from a reader named Dante.

Dante opened with a note every editor can appreciate: “I love the magazine.” He then shared his concern about his future as an F&I manager and asked, “Are F&I managers being replaced with iPads and online tools?”

As someone who works in an industry the internet has targeted for extinction, I will say that things never really play out the way the experts say they will. Yes, there are certainly less editorial layers than there were during my profession’s heyday, but we’re still here. And the most forward-thinking among us are discovering new ways to use their skills to contribute to their publications’ bottom lines.

“As someone who works in an industry the internet has targeted for extinction, I will say that things never really play out the way the experts say they will. Yes, there are certainly less editorial layers than there were during my profession’s heyday, but we’re still here. And the most forward-thinking among us are discovering new ways to use their skills to contribute to their publications’ bottom lines."

And that’s how I think things will play out for the F&I manager’s role, because I’m not hearing about the death of the F&I manager from our industry’s thought leaders like I did a few years ago. What I am hearing is that we’ll see a reduction in the number of dedicated F&I managers and sales managers in dealerships over the next five to 10 years — a prediction predicated on the belief that technology will eliminate the need for multiple touchpoints on the road to the sale.

If that’s true, Dante, your skills as an F&I manager will make you more marketable in the years ahead. I mean, who’s more fit to handle and even manage that type of process than a seasoned F&I pro who is trained in compliance, proper deal structuring, and financing? Look, the F&I industry needs advocates like you, leaders that will protect its future. But you will have to grow beyond the F&I department.

The good news is I truly think those tech geeks get it, and you can thank today’s compressed-margin, softening-demand environment. See, I believe those Silicon Valley types finally understand that the F&I office is the lifeblood of the dealership. Metal doesn’t roll without it, which is why it’s so difficult to predict the F&I manager’s future.

Now, I was pondering Dante’s question when I came across that LinkedIn post. Penned by software consultant Andrew Compton, the article’s headline, “Digital Retailing: A Deceptive Label,” is what caught my attention.

Compton described digital retailing as “a set of tools and techniques for process improvement,” noting that it touches every department — from your inventory manager to the business development center, sales, F&I, and internet departments. He then differentiates what digital retailing means to traditional automotive retail establishments and an organization like Carvana.

“When technology is combined with new processes to create a unique experience, then you have disruption. If you add technology to improve current processes, you’ll have innovation,” he wrote. “Carvana and other startups are trying to disrupt. Traditional dealers adding digital retailing tools are trying to innovate.”

I thought that was a critical distinction, because he’s right. Carvana’s people are trained to be patient and deal online because the online retailer has no storefronts. Dealers do, which is why I think we are hearing the term “omnichannel retailing” being tossed around a lot more these days. Because you traditionalists are right: People do want to kick the tires and take a test drive. But a growing number of them also want to know they can afford and get financed on that vehicle before they do.

There are also a growing number of dealers who want a better return on their marketing dollars, which is what these new customer engagement models are designed to deliver. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Now I mentioned a video. Well, that would be EFG Companies’ recording of its chief executive, John Pappanastos, delivering a state of the industry address. In it, he listed digital buying habits as one of the top issues impacting the future health of the automotive retail industry, and called on dealers to incorporate digital platforms in their dealerships.

“We must remember the old adage of ‘meet the customer where they are,’” he said. “And today’s customer is clearly online.”

Keep in mind that as an F&I product exec, John has skin in the game. His comments tell me he sees a place for F&I in this digital future. Like I said, what the industry and dealers need are F&I leaders at the retail level to help shepherd the F&I profit center into the future.

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Gregory Arroyo
Gregory Arroyo

Gregory Arroyo

Gregory Arroyo is the former editorial director of Bobit Business Media's Dealer Group.

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Gregory Arroyo is the former editorial director of Bobit Business Media's Dealer Group.

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