Sometimes It’s Just In Your Head
By George Angus
As an F&I trainer and consultant, I have been in dealerships all over the US and Canada during 2008. Our research
team has had the chance to view, first hand, the dealers that are managing the current economic climate and “credit
crunch” and those that are not doing very well. The one difference I have observed is the overall attitude and mindset
that separates the two. While we constantly hear about things like “positive mental attitude” and “the power of positive
thinking”, the reality is that tough economic times require more than just saying the words. Recently I experienced the
perfect example of what I mean.
I often speak to dealer 20 groups and I recently had a dealer principal call and ask me to visit his dealership when I was
in his city for another function. This is a Ford dealership in a medium sized city in the Midwest. His dealership ranked
near the bottom of his 20 group F&I performance ranking. Two of the top F&I performers in his group used our program
and suggested he call us. I made the commitment to visit when I was in town. Before I went, I had our research staff put
together some performance information about dealers in his area that we had trained and also had him send me his F&I
When I arrived at the dealership, I was greeted by a rather uninterested salesman who asked, “Can I help you?” Since I
was not injured or in medical peril, I said no, I’d just like to see the dealer. The dealer took me to his office and began
explaining what they were doing in F&I, how it was not working, and wanted to know what they could do to improve. As I
started asking specific questions about their process and methods, the dealer quickly started enlightening me as to the
real problem, his customers. You see, his customers are “different”. First, they are smarter than average and don’t fall
for F&I products. They all look up the invoice price on their vehicles, read all the articles about F&I rip-offs, and are even
insulted when they are asked to give credit information. Most of his customers had bought from him in the past and he
didn’t want to offend them by trying to sell them stuff they didn’t need. His F&I manager had been with him for 18 years
and his sales staff had all been there a long time and didn’t really like turning their customers over to anyone else. He
also had a new crop of customers moving into the area that didn’t even speak English. His F&I income, per retail unit
delivered, was at $530 and, given the above, he thought his F&I guy was doing a pretty good job. What could he do?
As I sat there listening, I leafed through the information our research team had given me and noticed that we had trained
a Chevrolet dealer in his area about a year before. They were at $1420 per retail unit delivered, had top customer
satisfaction scores, outstanding penetration percentages of credit insurance, service contracts, and Gap, and that with
two F&I managers that had a combined experience in the business of 4 years. When I asked the dealer how far away the
Chevrolet store was, he stood up, took me out the front door, and pointed to the Chevy sign less than a block away, just
across the street.
Now this is where I get into trouble. I can’t help myself. You see, we don’t sell any F&I products so I don’t have to worry
about bruising the dealer’s ego or losing his business. I tell them the truth.
I told the dealer what the Chevy store was doing, (with their permission), compared the demographic profile of Chevrolet
and Ford buyers, (very similar), and asked him if there was some kind of Bermuda Triangle type Vortex that customers
passed through going that block away and crossing the street that made them so different. He immediately became
defensive, told me I didn’t understand, and told me, in no uncertain terms, that, “We don’t do that to our customers!”
When I told him that “he” was the problem, he honored me with a 15 minute lecture on what’s wrong with the car
business, how no one understands, and gave me his philosophy on F&I and the business in general.
After that meeting, I assumed that I would never hear from him again. It’s funny how things work, though. Two months
later he called and said, “We’re ready”. They had hired the sales trainer I had mentioned to him on my visit to help their
sales force. He couldn’t believe how much their closing ratios and grosses had improved. He had two new F&I managers
he wanted me to train and he promised they didn’t know anything so they would probably do whatever I trained them to
It’s been just a few months since I trained their rookie F&I managers and they are within $150 per retail unit of the Chevy
dealer down the street and climbing. 100% of customers are turned over to F&I at the time of sale. Even though they
have less floor traffic than last year, they are closing more of those buyers. They are maximizing the F&I income on every
unit they do sell. One of their new F&I managers called me last week to ask what they had to do to make our “F&I
Masters” list. (They’re already getting a little cocky. Good.).
The dealer principal is looking forward to his next 20 group meeting.
I guess it’s true, even in this economic climate.
Sometimes it’s just in your head.
George Angus is with Team One Research and Training, a research and training company that specializes in scientific,
research based program development and training programs for the automobile industry. Team One can be reached at
1-800-928-1923 or on the web at www.teamonegroup.com
George Angus has had over 100 articles published in news and trade publications. This
article is a recent example of George's reporting of information derived from researching,
training, and working with the leading F&I managers in the US and Canada.