After work on Dec. 17, a used-car salesperson at Bird-Kultgen Ford in Waco, Texas, tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day, the dealership closed the used-car building, which housed one manager and three other salespeople.
Then about a week later, a salesman came into F&I Manager Amanda Lesikar's office with a question. Three days later, the salesman tested positive for the virus.
"When my owner came into my office and told me she was sending me home, I said, 'I really don't want to do that,' " Lesikar told Automotive News. "She said, 'We don't have a choice.' "
Amid the mounting COVID-19 death count, the automotive retail industry has been forced to send some employees home to work. But finance and insurance is particularly difficult to translate to a home environment, retail experts say, because many facets of the work — from customer identity verification to legal disclosures — are best conducted face-to-face. And remote sales processes keep employees and customers safe but could open the dealership to compliance risks or negatively impact F&I profitability in the long term.
Sellers Buick-GMC in Farmington Hills, Mich., approved a work-from-home arrangement for one of its four F&I managers in June. But in many ways, it's as if Judy Williams is still at the store: She's speaking to customers, answering questions from sales staff and conducting F&I product presentations and signing ceremonies.
"A year ago, I could foresee a day where salespeople work from home, but I never would have told you an F&I manager would work from home," said Andrew Haller, president of Sellers Auto Group. "We weren't just doing this because Judy requested to work from home. We did this because we wanted to prove to ourselves we could do it."