Justin Gasman showed up at this year’s Industry Summit sporting a new lapel button that simply read “Make F&I Great Again” and was handing them out to everyone. The chartreuse pin-ons quickly spread throughout the event. Pretty soon, trainers, F&I managers and even some of the bartenders were wearing them.
Now, the spirit of camaraderie is never lost on Gasman. The 2014 F&Idol award winner is quite colorful and the buttons were proof positive of his brimming personality. You can read about him in the November 2014 edition of this magazine.
The buttons got me thinking about what exactly made F&I great decades ago, to what extent it has changed, and what can make a positive impact on its return to greatness.
When F&I Was Great
Those of you who follow Mad Marv every month know that I don’t waste much time on hyperbole. I prefer a more pragmatic approach to this great profession.
You see, back in the day, there was no such thing as F&I. Salespeople used payment calculator books with grids based on term, APR, and amount financed. These handy little things even had an appendix for credit insurance, which was about the only F&I product a salesperson could offer back then.
Then along came Pat Ryan, who envisioned a goldmine. He developed the first F&I offices around that one initial product and a booming industry within an industry was born. Little by little, dealers began adopting his business model and installing F&I offices in their stores.
Modern-day sales practices ushered in the development and use of menus, which in turn created many more product opportunities as dealers began to expand on their newfound wealth. F&I strengthened and grew with the introduction of a horde of new protection products for their customers to choose.
F&I was great!
Ah, but some started taking shortcuts and doing all sorts of unethical and immoral things to get a deal bought. Regulators caught up by stepping up enforcement of Regulation Z and writing Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices into law. This broad-brushed regulation added teeth to already existing laws which curbed a lot of bad practices. It seemed validity had been restored to the office as honest practitioners heralded the law.
Today, it seems most of the bad actors have been exposed. We rarely read about organizations sinking to the level of Gunderson Chevrolet’s fraud charges, Honda of Santa Monica’s payment-packing scheme, or the $2,000 keychains McKenna BMW was accused of burying in lease agreements.
So, what’s the message behind Gasman’s button?
Here are a few thoughts:
• Get off your axle: “GOYA” is an acronym coined by Gerry Gould and one I wrote about a few months back. Regain the respect of your staff and salespeople by getting out of your office. Get involved. Help them close deals. You don’t become the F&I God by perching on your throne expecting loyal subjects to kiss the ring. No sir! You get that respect by helping everyone else get what they want.
• The customer is always right. I resented this saying from the first time I heard it. I have since refashioned it to say, “The customer may not always be right, but they’re still the customer.” They write our paychecks, so the more considerate and caring we are toward them, the better.
• Make it fun! Since we’re the last step of the sales process, it’s incumbent upon us to make it as comfortable as possible. So why not liven it up a bit? If you’ve been in F&I for a while, you probably have some funny stories of real-life experiences to share. Practice smiling in the mirror often and be ready to flash those dentures at customers. Inject some humor to keep things upbeat instead of dreary. People want to feel good about making a major purchase, so help them feel that way!
• Do it right. Don’t dance around ethics and don’t compromise your morals. Listen, there’s just no excuse for doing things the wrong way or skirting the truth. Sure, you can probably get by for a while. But when and where does it stop? How far are you willing to go to make a deal happen? Don’t be one of those F&I managers who gets exposed by a reporter on the local news. It’s much easier doing things the right way. You won’t waste time trying to cover things up with more lies.
Folks, making F&I great again isn’t up to dealers, general managers, or salespeople. It’s all up to us as ethical, caring F&I professionals bent on making a difference one deal at a time in our local markets. It’s also about sharing with other F&I managers the gifts and skills we’ve acquired by paying it forward.
Good luck and keep closing.