By: Martin O’brien
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that hearing someone intone, “I’ve been in this business for 25 years and…”, doesn’t always make me hang on every word that follows. Granted, words of wisdom may be forthcoming, but that opener sounds a little too much like, “When I was young, I walked barefoot to school in the snow”.
There are times when history and experience does serve us, especially when perspective is called for. So now, let us journey forward in car business history all the way to present day. The news of the day for F&I is that we are on the way out… that we are all going to be replaced by a one-on-one approach, wherein the salesperson takes the customer all the way through the process. Another recent rumor circulating is that AI, (artificial intelligence), will handle the Business Office. And then there’s the old standard, that banking regulations and government interference will make F&I obsolete. That one takes you back, doesn’t it? I’ve been in this business for, well, let’s just say a long time. Okay, stay with me! All I’m saying is the news of the death of F&I due to encroaching regulations is, as WC Fields once famously said, “greatly exaggerated”.
So, for purposes of this discussion, let’s stick to that recent incarnation, the one-on-one design. My philosophy on these predictions takes two approaches. The first goes along the lines of observations based on history, i.e., time in the business.
I’ve been hearing about the impending doom of the F&I Department for 15-20 years easily. During this span of time, we’ve managed to eke out a living. So much so that in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, F&I revenues averaged a 10% increase for each year. That doesn’t sound like a department that needs fixing, does it?
Thinking in specifics, I know of one major used car group that has used the one-on-one framework for many years. Though seemingly a working business model for this company, it is apparently not contagious, since it has gone on for years with few other organizations adopting the model. One size fits all rarely works. Let’s face it; the non-negotiated single price for vehicles has not exactly set the world on fire!
Conversely, no matter how slim the chances are of F&I’s dramatic transformation, we all know of industries that have undergone big shifts and even extinctions. Does anybody remember those high definition picture tube televisions? How about HD DVD?
This leads to my second approach. It is the Boy Scouts Motto, be prepared.
Something tells me you already know this. I’m no detective, but, if you’re reading this article, and others like it, you’re already preparing yourself to succeed. Whether your particular field of endeavor grows, changes, or drops off the face of the earth, you are still in the driver’s seat. Having the self discipline to stay involved and up to date with your career goes a long way to fulfillment.
So, keep doing the things that make you better. Maybe throw in a little cross-training. Knowing sales or service management certainly won’t hurt your F&I skills.
When you make the effort to improve with a few simple steps, you take your rightful place in an exclusive club whose membership dues are counted in sweat equity. And that is a currency that spends well in any future of F&I.