Savvy F&I managers match menus to their customers
A la carte sales boost profits, loyalty and keep regulators at bay
Lawrence Dimmitt: Customers want to feel that they are unique.
At Dimmitt Chevrolet, customers often view a menu of packaged finance and insurance products then ask for those packages to be broken up and sold separately.
And Dimmitt's finance manager is more than happy to do it.
"If you have a customer in front of you who says, 'I really want the extended warranty but not all these other products,' you're going to go ahead and sell them the extended warranty," says Lawrence Dimmitt, owner of the Clearwater, Fla., store.
More finance managers are willing to mix and match their F&I menu packages as well as sell a la carte products tailored to a customer's needs and budget.
Dealers say F&I customization is driven by potential regulatory scrutiny as well as building long-term customer loyalty and boosting F&I profits.
"It's the spotlight on our industry of people being taken advantage of -- so you're keeping yourself out of a position of liability by offering everything," says Mitchell Dale, owner of McRee Ford in Dickinson, Texas.
"That's driving some of that. Plus, it's about building a loyal relationship with the customer."
And in Dale's case, it has kept his F&I per-vehicle revenue at about $1,180. That's flat versus a year ago. Dale, who sells about 1,500 new and used vehicles a year, sees that as a good result given increasing competition from outside of dealerships for F&I product business as well as rising customer savvy.
"There's so much information out there and ... there is so much awareness by consumers that it's making customization the trend," Dale says. "So you're trying to keep that relationship and build loyalty."
In a recent informal survey by Automotive News, 81 percent of dealership respondents said they are tailoring F&I product presentations to individual customers more now than they did five years ago. And about 70 percent of respondents said F&I sales are up as a result.
At one time, aftermarket products were sold mainly through the practice of step selling, that is, pitching one product at a time. Some stores still rely on that method.
But in the past decade or so, many dealerships have switched to a menu selling process, in which all F&I products are presented to customers bundled in variously priced packages, as a way to boost product sales and F&I profits.
Some finance managers now are willing to unbundle those packages and re-package them to better accommodate a customer.
For example, if a customer has a dog, that customer might want fabric protection but not need paint protection, Texas dealer Dale says. And it's OK with him to sell only fabric protection.
"In a baseball tournament, sometimes you have to just be happy with some singles and doubles. You can't always hit a home run," he says.
Dimmitt in Florida started using a menu to sell F&I products about five years ago. He says he quickly began tailoring sales to accommodate customers. His F&I annual per-vehicle revenue has increased steadily, he says, though he declined to give specific figures.
"This is a complicated, service-focused experience, so customers want to feel like they're in a unique position and being treated unique," says Dimmitt, who sells about 2,000 new and used vehicles annually.
Fixed but flexible
At Lithia Motors Inc., which had 86 stores in 2011, second-quarter F&I average gross profit per unit rose to $1,059 from $1,004 a year earlier.
CEO Bryan DeBoer credits the F&I profit boost to doing more tailoring of products to meet customers' specific needs.
"It's still fixed pricing for the products, but we can tweak it with different deductibles. Or say it's Alaska and there are more road hazards, we can offer more terms of wheel-and-tire protection," DeBoer says. "It's still fixed prices, but we offer more flexible benefits."
In the past, the system was more rigid, DeBoer says, adding: "It was 'these are the Lithia offerings' and everyone in each state and market had to offer that."
DeBoer says Lithia embraced more flexible offerings believing they will build customer loyalty.
"Over time, the consumer will come back again if their after-vehicle purchase experience was good," he says.
Lithia, of Medford, Ore., ranks ninth on the Automotive News list of the top 125 U.S. dealership groups with retail sales of 44,537 new vehicles in 2011.
Dealership finance chief Aaron Velick is taking F&I tailoring to the used-car buyer.
Velick, director of finance for Morrie's Automotive Group in Long Lake, Minn., has used a menu presentation for years. He has always been willing to break it apart and sell products a la carte, he says. But with more people buying older used cars, he is tweaking his system by tailoring product packages targeted at used-car buyers who are often on a fixed budget.
"We're looking at a product today that will maybe just repair dents," Velick says. "We're looking at more limited product to offer at a price point that makes sense to those used-car customers."
In July, Velick started offering used-car customers a "multiproduct" that includes 24-hour roadside assistance, windshield repair, dent repair and tire-and-wheel protection. But all those products have limited coverage; for example, the 24-hour roadside assistance limits the customer to five service calls in a 12-month period instead of providing unlimited calls. The benefit of this multiproduct, Velick says, is that it costs $400 compared with $900 for an unlimited policy.
"It's starting to be a big seller," he says. "This can be broken apart, and we can offer just wheel-and-tire if we want, but the terms would still be limited on it to keep the cost down."
Velick says it is more costly for the customer to buy F&I products a la carte. The package price is a better value, he says, and that is what most of his customers buy.
"It's an easier sell, especially on an older car," Velick says. "A $4,000 or $5,000 car usually already has dents in it, so this product already has some value."
for several reasons. Doing so
• Helps meet compliance issues by offering everything in flexible packages
• Builds long-term customer loyalty
• Boosts revenue
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