The single-staffer approach to sales and F&I has become more common among dealerships in the past few years, though some industry experts still don't see the value or the sense in it. Lexus of Bellevue has launched a hybrid model effectively -- with a finance director steering operations.
F&I profit per vehicle at Lexus of Bellevue in Bellevue, Wash., doubled after the store switched to the hybrid approach.
The idea to have F&I managers add a sales role came up about three years ago when the dealership required its F&I managers to meet customers on the showroom floor, said Jason Vena, general manager of Lexus of Bellevue, which is part of the 12-store O'Brien Auto Group, based in Bellevue.
Then, he said, "there was a constant conversation in regards to retaining traditional salespeople in an environment where new-vehicle margins are declining. A lot of that has changed the financial dynamic on the front end."
Vena asked a third of the staffers, those whose skill sets pointed to success in sales and finance, to take on both positions, renaming them client advisers. Eventually, the entire sales and finance staffs transitioned to the combined role.
"From a selling perspective, is it hard to get 30 people to follow a process? Yes," Vena said. "But once you get everybody understanding, it becomes a way better option for the customer."
Lexus of Bellevue calls itself an "uncar" dealership. It is a single-point-of-contact store whose front-end staffers for the most part have little dealership experience.
The person on the showroom floor with the customer has the best chance to learn what the customer needs in terms of F&I products and financing, Vena said. At Lexus of Bellevue, that person, or client adviser, uses a docuPAD -- an interactive electronic menu screen and processing system -- to take customers through the purchase and sell them F&I products.
Document processors handle the contract, purchase order and lease order, also on the docuPAD. Document processors speak English, Korean, Vietnamese and Spanish. Vena said 30 percent of the dealership's customers benefit from having a bilingual staff. The client advisers and document processors can look to the finance director, Erika Olson, for guidance.