LAS VEGAS -- AutoNation Inc. is exploring ways to streamline finance and insurance staffs at its stores in a bid to boost profits while retaining top talent.
Although the nation's largest dealership group still supports having F&I specialists on staff, it may combine positions at the director or manager level.
"People say don't kill the golden goose -- they don't want to touch the F&I department," Kevin Westfall, AutoNation's senior vice president of sales, told the F&I Management & Technology Conference here last month.
But AutoNation is concerned about generating enough income to pay talented sales professionals. "One way to pay people properly is to reduce our head count," Westfall said. Margins, he said, "keep getting smaller and smaller."
The company has pilots under way at four locations, Westfall said later in an interview. The stores are testing these configurations:
-- Combining F&I with sales at the director level. A director who reports to the general manager oversees sales associates and F&I managers. The store eliminates the F&I director.
-- Combining F&I with sales at the manager level. A manager who reports to the general manager is responsible for sales and F&I and oversees sales associates. There is no separate F&I manager.
AutoNation also is introducing more technology to the process to make it faster, more convenient and more transparent to customers, Westfall said. Currently, AutoNation's 251 dealerships offer customers touch-screen F&I electronic menus describing aftermarket products. The menus cut about 30 minutes out of the F&I process.
"How do we hire high-quality associates where we, as a dealer, still make money and create a great customer experience?" Westfall said. "That's the biggest challenge we have."