Affordability, technology are hot F&I product topics among student inventors

MIDLAND, Mich. -- Students at Northwood University view the school’s first annual competition to invent a salable F&I product as a gamelike challenge to make the F&I experience better for dealerships and customers alike.

“This project is a giant puzzle of how can I make stores better? How can I make people’s lives better?” student Tyler Scott said.

There is no set problem and no predetermined answer, Matt Brown, another student, added. You have to “think of a problem yourself and find the answer to it.”

Students participating in Northwood and EFG Cos.’ first F&I Innovator of the Year competition met on campus here last week for an introduction to their semesterlong project.

Affordability and technology were the initial hot topics in conversations after the meeting. Some of the students’ F&I product ideas centered on high-value, low-cost products and integrating technology into the vehicle.

“There can be products to serve the vehicle, and there can be products to serve the customer. I think we’ll brainstorm both categories,” student Drake Green said, adding: “It’s a great opportunity to see the market from the producer side, rather than from the dealership standpoint.”

The students said they are excited about the opportunity to learn more about the F&I side of the dealership, to develop a product by semester end in November, and to win $25,000 if their product is chosen and EFG markets and sells it.

“I’m doing this to win,” student Matthew Stickney said. “There are not many opportunities to make a name for yourself. It doesn’t take two months to be able to make a product and get your name out. It takes years.”

The next generation of buyers, millennials, will be concerned about affordability, some students predicted, so they want to develop a product that will fit into a tight budget.

Millennials’ “pockets aren’t deep,” Stickney said. “We have to be intuitive in making something affordable and making something that is easily understandable with technology and resources.”

And millennials don’t want to waste their money. The product would have to be of high value at a fair cost, student Collin Ulvund said.

“It would have to be something that gives them the most for their money,” he said. For example, “I have an app that allows me to start my car from home,” Ulvund said. It’s those extra perks that make a difference, he said.

Whatever students come up with to differentiate their products, they’ve a lot of work to do over the next two months. Likely the time will speed by.

You can reach Hannah Lutz at hlutz@crain.com

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