Sales staff handles F&I, store thrives

O'Connor: No more angst
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Dan O'Connor, general sales manager of Bill Marsh Automotive Group in Traverse City, Mich., doesn't miss his erstwhile finance and insurance department.

The group's customer satisfaction and F&I sales have increased in the two years since he eliminated the F&I department and trained all sales consultants to take each customer through the entire buying process -- from the showroom door or Web site through F&I.

"Customers told us through focus groups that they wanted to work with one person," he says.

The "A to Z" sales process that needs no dedicated F&I department is catching on, dealer consultant Mark Rikess says. He says he now has about 30 clients who use the process, up from just a couple two years ago.

Cost savings


It has several advantages, Rikess says. There are the cost savings of having no F&I staffers and managers. And salespeople can earn more money by receiving a percentage of the F&I revenue, he says. That tends to lower turnover and help stores attract more, and better educated, sales consultants.

"It's really taking off," Rikess says of the trend. Other stores and groups that have adopted the process, Rikess said, include Walser Automotive Group in the Minneapolis area and Mullinax Group in Florida and Alabama.

Bill Marsh Automotive is like most groups that use sales consultants for F&I, Rikess says. That is, the group has a no-haggle, one-price approach to pricing vehicles.

With price not a point of contention, O'Connor says, his sales consultants are empowered to take the customer through the entire buying process without having to check in with managers. That makes it natural for them to take them through F&I as well, he says.

Bill Marsh Automotive Group sells Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Hyundai, Buick, GMC and Ford vehicles. The group sells 375 to 450 new and used vehicles a month.

O'Connor says he offered all four of his F&I employees sales consultant jobs in 2010 as he prepared for the 2011 launch of the new process.

Three initially took the jobs and one left. Over time, though, all have left the company, O'Connor says.

The group also has a Ford store in nearby Kalkaska, Mich., acquired in late 2009, that has not yet transitioned finance and insurance to the new model. That's because one 30-year F&I manager handles that end of the business on the 80 new and used vehicles the store sells each month, O'Connor says.

Greater satisfaction


O'Connor says customer satisfaction has been on the rise since the switch. He said his customer satisfaction scores are higher today than two years ago.

And data from a survey vendor he uses to gauge customer satisfaction shows that customers say that transactions are quicker, and that they generally like working with just one person, O'Connor says.

And F&I sales are up 4 percent through October compared with the same period in 2012, O'Connor says.

He estimates he would need to add four F&I employees at the Traverse City dealership if the store's 26 sales consultants weren't allowed to cross-sell vehicles and F&I. Those sales consultants are paid a flat rate per vehicle sold and receive a percentage of the gross from the sale of F&I products, he said.

Gone is the showroom angst that happened on high-volume days, especially near month's end, when F&I was a "bottleneck," he says.

Also gone is the reluctance of the former F&I employees who always seemed to be too busy when it came time to broom snow off cars parked in outside lots during the snowy winters typical of Traverse City, in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula. Says O'Connor: "They didn't really fit our mold."

Booting the box
3 auto retail groups that have adopted a sales process that needs no dedicated F&I department

1. Bill Marsh Automotive Group, Michigan

2. Mullinax Group, Florida and Alabama

3. Walser Automotive Group, Minnesota

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com. -- Follow David on Twitter and

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