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IAS offers the highest-quality F&I products in the industry and bacNs them up with the Ûnest quality administration and claims that exceed industry standards.

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The PROFITABLE Yet SAFE Solution for F&I

• More than $210 million distributed to dealers in participation programs. • More awards as the industry’s top service contract provider. • More than $1 billion paid for customers’ repairs. • More than $55 billion in assets held by our parent company. • More than 29 years of fast and fair claims settlement. • More superior service from experienced local agents.

Find out for yourself how we put the “service” in service contracts. 800-345-0191, Extension 720 4150 N. Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 • Service Contracts • GAP • Preferred Tire CareSM • Online Rating and e-Contracting • F&I Training

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Endorsed as the official publication of the Association of Finance & Insurance Professionals

September 2011 Volume 14, Issue 9

Features Dealer Profile

14 Down But Not Out After 20 years of steady growth, Easterns Automotive founder Robert Bassam nearly lost it all. Learn how old friends and a new business model put his operation back on track. Compliance


20 4 Social Media Pitfalls to Avoid Social media offers great opportunities to market your store, but there are several legal traps inherent to this type of viral marketing. Finance and Insurance

26 4 Ways to Reenergize Your Pitch Have you ever wondered why your performance levels lag? F&I expert offers a remedy for keeping you on your game.


Finance and Insurance

30 The Interview A five-minute interview can go a long way toward putting customers at ease, and it may even lead to a nice boost in F&I profit per vehicle retailed. Technology

34 E-Contracting’s Missing Link


Integration has been one of the obstacles in the way of the industry’s push toward e-contracting. One technology expert says that will no longer be the case going forward, especially for product providers.

Departments 4 Letters 6 Editorial 8 Developments 12 Industry Trends 38 Sales Driver 40 On the Point 42 Legal 44 Bottomliners 47 Ad Index 48 Mad Marv

34 F&I and Showroom (ISSN 2154-1728) (USPS 018-706) (CDN IPM# 40013413) is published monthly, by Bobit Business Media, 3520 Challenger Street, Torrance, California 90503-1640. Periodicals Postage Paid at Torrance, California 90503-9998 and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to F&I and Showroom, P.O. Box 1068 Skokie, IL 60076-8068. Please allow six to eight weeks for address changes to take effect. Subscription Prices: United States $20 per year; Canada $35 per year; Foreign: $35 per year. Single copy price: $10; Fact Book: $30. Please allow six to eight weeks to receive your first issue. Bobit Business Media reserves the right to refuse nonqualified subscriptions. Please address editorial and advertising correspondence to the executive offices at 3520 Challenger Street, Torrance, California 90503-1640. The contents of this publication June not be reproduced either in whole or in part without the consent of Bobit Business Media. All statements made, although based on information believed to be reliable and accurate, cannot be guaranteed and no fault or liability can be accepted for error or omission.

2 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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IAS’ SMARTPAD TABLET-BASED TECHNOLOGY IMPROVING SALES IN DEALERSHIPS NATIONWIDE SmartPad shortens the F&I process and creates sales opportunities by utilizing an electronic tablet to gather and present a customizable array of information while the customer is preparing to be transitioned from sales to F&I. “SmartPad is a fantastic tool that provides me information about my customers which ultimately saves everyone time, increases F&I penetration and produces an overall PRUH VDWLVÂżHG FXVWRPHU´ said Lindsay Ferrell of Byers Automotive. “As a dealer, it’s a huge bonus to be able to go into my F&I presentation dealing with happy customers and ones that I already know something about so I can tailor my presentation and, in the end, LQFUHDVH) ,SHQHWUDWLRQ´ SmartPad can dynamically conduct the F&I interview and electronically deliver results to managers while the customer waits to enter F&I. Alerts can notify the general manager, or other designee, via text or

email, that a negative situation has occurred and should be addressed immediately before the sale is lost or irreversibly damaged. “SmartPad has given our agency a renewed energy to call on dealerships and offer key management the opportunity to ask survey questions of their customers before being WXUQHG RYHU WR ) ,´ VDLG Frank Phillips of Dealer Consulting Services, Inc. in Santa Maria, California. “In these challenging WLPHV SURÂżWV DQG FXVWRPHU satisfaction are all time high priorities for dealerships. SmartPad affords the dealers the insight into the customers’ driving habits and alerts them to ownership risks which in turn increase F&I sales penetration. The beauty of this software is that the dealership gains this knowledge prior to F&I involvement in real time.

If you’re not using tablet-based technology at your dealership, you’re leaving money on the table.

It gives the F&I manager time to formulate an approach to maximize sales product penetrations and if the customer isn’t FRPSOHWHO\ VDWLV¿HG ZLWK WKHLU H[SHULHQFH the dealership is alerted in time to correct it and turn a negative situation into a positive one before they drive off to show HYHU\RQHWKHLUQHZYHKLFOH´ See all that IAS has to offer at the F&I Industry Summit Booth #119 CPFſPFQWVJQY[QWEQWNFYKPCP iPad2 or Motorola Xoom!

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Contact IAS Sales at 800-346-6469 x8989 or for more information.

Š 2011 Innovative Aftermarket Systems L.P. All Rights Reserved.

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Letters In With the New TO JIM ZIEGLER: I left the car business just over a year ago, but I’ve learned a great deal from you over the years, and I wanted to thank you for that. My 15 years in the car business was a wild ride, so thanks for giving me a safety belt — and some high-octane gas. Best of luck to you in the future and in your new column for F&I and Showroom.

Steve Bissen La Crescent, Minn.

Don’t Let the Customer ‘Walk’ Your July 2011 article (“Take A Walk,” Page 34) recommends that we walk our customers through the service department, as well as parts. Shouldn’t this be a walk to build a value in the dealer-

those unexpected perils of ownership they may face down the road. — Gerry Gould

Practical Advice Having been around the business for 22 years, I thought your July column (“It Takes Two,” Page 37) was spot on. So many times a dealer will try to shave dollars from the pay plan because it’s “too rich.” The dealer ends up losing an outstanding employee and, worse yet, profit per vehicle retailed sinks like the Titanic. Keep up the great work.


Mark F. Anthony


If I was a salesman, I wouldn’t appreciate an F&I manager focusing on the fact that the vehicle my customer is about to purchase will eventually end up in the service drive. ship rather than selling a VSC? If I was a salesman, I wouldn’t appreciate an F&I manager focusing on the fact that the vehicle my customer is about to purchase will eventually end up in the service drive. Paul Bednarz International Imports LLC Tinley Park, Ill.

Paul, you make a good point. We certainly do not want to devalue or create any doubt in the customer’s mind. The service walk is not the walk of doom. When you approach it the way I described in the article, it energizes the sales process. It gives the customer a sense of convenience, confidence and security in knowing that the dealership is ready for them, whether for routine maintenance or

Equity 4 U Golden Valley, Minn.

Your column last month, “Call on ‘Line 5’” (Page 52), was dead on. The only thing missing, in my opinion, is building a personal relationship with a lender to add the products when an exception is needed. It has saved me several times at month end. Again, Marv, great column. I really enjoy reading your page every month. TO MAD MARV:

Steven Ellis via e-mail

Vice President Group Publisher, AutoGroup Sherb Brown Publisher, Dealer Group National Sales Manager David Gesualdo 727-947-4027 Executive Editor Gregory Arroyo 310-533-2592 Managing Editor / Art Director Tariq Kamal 310-533-2470 Assistant Editor Jennifer Washington 310-533-2496 Great Lakes Sales Manager Robert Brown Jr. 248-601-2005 Sales & Marketing Coordinator Tracey Tremblay E-Media and Print Production Manager Brian Peach 310-533-2548 Web Manager Sam Kim 310-533-2492 Audience Marketing Manager Tony Napoleone

Don’t Train, Won’t Gain TO CORY MOSLEY: I appreciate the new-school ideas you share in your column each month, and I’m a big fan of training as well. If anyone in this industry doesn’t believe in training, they’re in the wrong business. A perfect example is the fact that some veteran salespeople can’t produce more than eight or 10 cars a month and think it’s OK to stick to their oldschool way of thinking. Same goes for F&I managers who can’t move their middles or maximize their gross. Thanks for the useful advice each month.

Faith Mba Business Manager Toyota of Greenfield and Ford of Greenfield (Mass.)

Chairman Edward J. Bobit President & CEO Ty F. Bobit Chief Financial Officer Richard E. Johnson Business and Editorial Office Bobit Business Media 3520 Challenger St. Torrance, CA 90503 Phone: 310-533-2400 Fax: 310-533-2503 Change Service Requested Return Address: Bobit Business Media PO Box 2703 Torrance, CA 90509 Subscription Inquiries 888-239-2455 Printed in U.S.A.

4 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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The Service Contract Provider

Diamond Award Winner 2011 Dealers’ Choice Awards By Auto Dealer Monthly

Are you ready to work with an industry leader? Call us today to find out how our service contracts can increase your dealer profits and customer satisfaction.

We Listen • We Care • We Have Solutions Vehicle Service Contracts I GAP Coverage I Credit Insurance Lifetime Engine Warranty I Limited Warranty I Dealer Participation Programs F&I Training I Advanced F&I Technology

Serving Automotive Dealers Since 1962


A “National Corporate Partner” has met stringent NIADA criteria demonstrating that it can provide valuable products and services to NIADA members. No legal partnership has been created by the granting of this status, but NIADA does receive compensation from Protective. Lifetime Engine Warranty, Vehicle Service Contracts (VSCs) and GAP are backed by Lyndon Property Insurance Company in all states except NY. In NY, VSCs are backed by Old Republic Insurance Company. GAP and Lifetime Engine Warranty are not available in NY. Credit Insurance is backed by Protective Life Insurance Company in all states except NY, where it is backed by Protective Life and Annuity Insurance Company.

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Letter From the Editor

What’s My ‘Buy Rate’? Rising to defend the industry in the pages of Newsweek, the editor learns that it’s not always easy to explain what goes on in the F&I office. By Gregory Arroyo


he e-mail arrived at 12:36 p.m. on Tuesday, July 26. It was from Gary Rivlin, staff writer for Newsweek. It read: “I’d love to talk with you about a piece that has me getting into the world of dealerarranged auto financing.” My first thought was that nothing good could come of my participation. But, as an F&I advocate, I felt compelled to defend our business if that’s what was needed. I asked Rivlin if he could tell me what his angle was. “We’re doing a consumer-oriented package: things to watch out for,” he replied. He then quoted a stat from a report issued by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). The organization’s numbers appeared to show that, in 2009, dealers used rate markups to overcharge consumers to the tune of $26 billion. And there it was: our old nemesis, the dealer hit piece. The same hit piece, in fact, that I wrote about in May. If that was the basis for Rivlin’s article, I couldn’t help myself. “Be careful of that $26 billion,” I wrote. “Although I’m supposed to be an industry advocate, the consumer in me questions some of the data coming out of the CRL recently.” We agreed to talk the next day. I took the evening to work on some talking points. I started by checking a thread on our F&I Forum that we started last year in response to another dealers-are-at-it-again article. I asked forum members for tips they would provide consumers. “Learn basic math,” one member wrote. “$300 per month x 60 months does not equal $35,000.” Armed with that gem and a few

others, I called Rivlin the next morning. We started our conversation with the CRL’s $26 billion claim. I told him that the problem with that stat — and the entire report — is that the CRL assumes that consumers have access to the same rates that indirect lenders provide to dealers, which, as we all know, is not the case. I also told Rivlin that dealers work under a minimum of 15 state and

It is sometimes difficult to defend what we do. But I guess I’m tired of our industry having to live in the shadows. The day is coming when we’ll be forced out into the open. federal regulations on every deal. In case he thought I was drinking directly from the industry’s Kool-Aid bowl, I added that consumers should shop their rate and make the F&I office fight for their business. I also told him that, even in California, lawmakers didn’t ban markups when they passed the Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights last decade. Yes, they set limits on markups, but they also recognized why dealers charge for the services they provide consumers. It was clear Rivlin had done his homework, too. He quoted an article published in this magazine back in 2006. It offered advice on how F&I managers can achieve an average $1,500 in profit per retail unit (PRU). Rivlin wanted to know how much of that would come from rate markup. I first explained that $1,500 was a lofty goal and that most dealerships

are in the $600 to $800 PRU range. I added that $1,000 PRU was a more realistic goal. Rivlin then asked about warranties, prompting me to clarify the difference between a warranty and a service contract. He asked about the product that put the “I” in F&I, then asked whether it was a good product. I told him credit insurance was, since most consumers are underinsured. He then asked if paint protection was an insurance product. “Isn’t it just glorified Turtle wax?” he asked. Not only is that not a true statement, I explained, but what consumers are really getting is a service contract that says certain benefits kick in if the product fails. Turtle wax, I told him, makes no such offer. We covered a lot of ground, and I felt like I had represented the industry well. … That is, until Rivlin said he wanted to quote me on that $1,000 goal. Oh, boy. I asked if I could break down how that number is achieved in an e-mail, and he agreed. Truthfully, I was stalling. I wanted to run my claim by buddy, Mad Marv. I called Marv the second I hung up with Rivlin and explained the situation. We talked for about 20 minutes, and his advice helped craft my response. I don’t have enough room on this page to share with you what I wrote, but that’s OK. My response is not the point of this editorial. The point is to tell you that it is sometimes difficult to defend what we do. But I guess I’m tired of our industry having to live in the shadows. The day is coming when we’ll be forced out into the open, so let’s make sure we know our talking points.

6 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Developments Production Gaps Stall California New-Vehicle Sales IF NOT FOR PRODUCT SHORTAGES and consumers waiting for a drop in the state sales tax, the 19.8 percent jump in California new-car registrations during the first half of 2011 might have been a lot higher. According to the California New Car Dealers Association (CNCDA), new-car registrations increased 4.9 percent during the second quarter — about 15 percent lower than the 19.7 percent year-over-year increase realized in the first quarter. Officials blamed the slowdown on inventory shortages caused by the March 11 earthquake in Japan, and consumers waiting for a 1 percent drop in California’s sales tax rate, which took effect July 1. “Once Japanese auto manufacturers and parts suppliers ramp up production, the second half of the year should be very good,” said Steve Snyder, CNCDA chairman.

DealerTrack to Sell ALG to TrueCar DEALERTRACK HOLDINGS INC. announced that it has signed an agreement to sell its wholly owned subsidiary, ALG Inc., to TrueCar Inc. As part of the deal, the Lake Success, N.Y.-based dealer services provider will maintain a perpetual, royaltyfree license to use certain ALG intellectual property and data in its products and services. DealerTrack will receive a 15 percent equity interest in TrueCar and the option to increase its ownership interest to up to 19.9 percent. And as part of the transaction, structured as a taxfree reorganization, DealerTrack will have the limited right to appoint a director to TrueCar’s board. The sale is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

8 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Industry Reacts to S&P Downgrade


n Aug. 5, rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the value of U.S. debt, sending shockwaves around the world. A week later, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average continued to alternate between big gains and losses, Chris Stinebert said it was too early to know the full impact on the automotive finance industry. What did concern the president and CEO of the American Financial Services Association (AFSA) was what the new rating would do to the stilljittery consumer psyche. “We don’t expect the downgrade to have a major impact on the auto finance industry,” Stinebert said. “Our biggest concern is the impact on consumer confidence, which could cause consumers to delay buying vehicles.” The Dow swung more than 400 points for four straight days the week after S&P’s downgrade, setting a new record in the index’s 115-year history. By the end of the following week, the Dow recorded eight days with moves of more than 200 points. Stinebert said the association wasn’t surprised by S&P’s actions, as the 105-year-old ratings agency had been warning the federal government about a potential downgrade. What was encouraging, he added, was that Moody’s and Fitch Ratings maintained their AAA rating of U.S. debt, and U.S. Treasuries remain strong despite the turbulence. “The quality of auto finance has been strong and the underlying assets

are well understood,” he said. “Over time, rates will go up, but only as the economy improves.” That was the message the Federal Reserve sent on Aug. 9 when it said it would hold short-term interest rates near zero through mid-2013 to keep credit flowing into the market. Whether that will help boost consumer confidence remains to be seen, especially since the Fed failed to announce any new measures to stimulate growth. Three days after the downgrade, Bandon, Ore.-based CNW Research reported that its Jitters Index experienced the largest month-over-month increase since the metric was introduced in 1996. It jumped 6.9 percent in the first seven days of August vs. July and 5.5 percent vs. August 2010. Updating the metric five days later, CNW reported on Aug. 12 that its Jitters Index set a new record at 7.91 on a 10-point scale. The Conference Board wasn’t expected to update its index until Aug. 30, several days short of F&I and Showroom’s editorial deadline. Stinebert said he doesn’t expect the downgrade to impact the ability of finance sources to access the asset-backed securities (ABS) market for funding, which has been key to the recovery of the auto finance industry. “We’ll keep close watch on showroom traffic,” he said. “This time of year is typically busier with the introduction of new models.” PHOTO BY B64

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8/26/11 9:03:49 AM

Developments Sonic Goes Mobile

Report: Accessories Influence 12 Percent of Sales



is arming its corporate executives and regional teams with Apple iPads and iPhones equipped with the dealer group’s new mobile reporting app. Based on software designed by MicoStrategy Mobile, the new app displays dealership scorecards and provides insights into key metrics, among other features.

accessories influenced 12 percent of all vehicles sold last year, according to a new study by Foresight Research. The firm’s “2011 Automotive Accessory Market Report” t” indicated that 23 percent of the 7,459 newcar buyers interviewed

The Warranty Group, Lithia Motors Extend VSC Deal THE WARRANTY GROUP

Inc. has announced that Lithia Motors will continue to offer the F&I product provider’s service contract offerings throughout its dealership network. Lithia has been a client of The Warranty Group since 1997.

said the availability of accessories influenced their choice of dealer as well. we However, the report’s findings re sshowed that only 39 percent o of salespeople o made an effort ma to t sell ll accessories, and fewer than half of dealers had accessorized vehicles on display.

MaximTrak Launches New Platform for Providers and Administrators MAXIMTRAK TECHNO-

logies has launched a new e-contracting platform that will connect providers to their dealers through the software company’s F&I menu platform. Called e-TRAK, the turnkey solution also offers electronic rating, signature and registration capabilities.

F&I Express and NAE Ink E-Contracting Deal

SNAAC Adds E-Signature Feature to Website




logies Inc. has added National Automotive Experts to its e-contracting platform, F&I Express. The partnership will provide NAE dealers with the ability to e-contract and e-rate the company’s full suite of F&I products, according to the company.

Automotive Acceptance Corp. (SNAAC) announced the launch of its e-signature tool for its Website. The new tool is designed to ensure that car buyers review the accuracy of contracts and other documents before signing.

acquired Exeter Finance Corp. from Navigational Capital Partners, and also secured a $600 million line of credit to help fuel its expansion plans. Blackstone officials said the firm will invest up to $277 million in the transaction.

Exeter Acquired by Blackstone

Moves and Hires Mark H. Mishler was named chief executive officer of Interstate National and its subsidiaries. He will be responsible for overseeing Interstate’s executive team and managing the company’s long-term strategic initiatives. Mishler previously served as president and chief operating officer of The Warranty Group Inc. GSFSGroup, a provider and administrator of F&I products and reinsurance structures, named Alan Bond vice

president of national sales. The former national sales director for Allstate Dealer Services will be responsible for developing growth strategies, as well as maintaining and expanding the company’s agent network. AFS Acceptance, a subprime auto finance company, has named Scot Seagrave executive vice president. He will be responsible for all aspects of loan originations. Seagrave previously served as senior vice president of loan originations for Prestige Financial.

Flagship Credit Acceptance has appointed Robert Cullinan as senior vice president of sales and marketing. Jeff Haymore also was named vice president and national director of sales. Cullinan has more than 25 years of sales experience and most recently served as sales director and vice president of sales for CitiFinancial Auto. Haymore brings 15 years of experience, and previously developed and executed sales strategies for companies such as Guardian Warranty, HSBC and Capital One.

10 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Industry Trends

VSCs Critical as Rainy-Day Funds Shrink A recent poll revealed that 64 percent of Americans don’t have enough saved to cover a $1,000 car repair or unplanned expense, providing further evidence of the importance of service contracts for budget-minded car buyers.


conomic woes have put a strain on rainy-day funds. Sixty-four percent of respondents to an online poll said that if a car repair bill or any other unplanned expense of $1,000 were to come up, they wouldn’t have enough in their savings accounts to cover it. Conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), the survey’s findings make a strong case as to why a vehicle service contract is critical in today’s economic climate, as only 36 percent of the poll’s

2,700 respondents said they could foot a $1,000 repair bill. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association’s 2011 “NADA Data” report, acceptance rates for vehicle service contracts rose from 37 percent in 2009 to 39 percent last year, while F&I income rose 15 percent. The NFCC’s data also revealed that 17 percent of respondents would look to friends or family to borrow money, while another 17 percent said they would ignore existing financial

obligations to pay for the emergency. Only 9 percent of respondents said they would take out a loan or cash advance on their credit card to pay for an emergency repair or cost. Researchers at the NFCC said this could signify a lack of access to credit. “Selecting any option other than taking the money from savings should be a red flag,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “People often say they can’t afford to save, but the truth is that they can’t afford not to.”

Survey Says If you needed $1,000 for an unplanned expense, where would you turn to find the money? SOURCE: NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR CREDIT COUNSELING

36% My savings account






Borrow from friends or family

Disregard other monthly expenses

Sell or pawn assets

Cash advance on my credit card

Take out a loan

Note: The NFCC’s July Financial Literacy Opinion Index was conducted via the homepage of the NFCC Website,, from July 1 – 31, 2011, and was answered by 2,667 individuals.

New-Vehicle Service Contract Penetration Rates SOURCE: NADA INDUSTRY ANALYSIS DIVISION

45% 40% 35% 30% 25% 20% 15% 5% 0












12 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Dealer Profile

Down But



After nearly 20 years of steady growth, Easterns Automotive founder Robert Bassam almost lost it all. Learn how old friends and a new business model put his operation back on track. By Tariq Kamal

14 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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obert Bassam doesn’t pretend to know everything about the car business. The plain-spoken founder and owner of Easterns Automotive Group says he was as surprised as any other dealer by the 2008 downturn. As the bottom fell out of the economy, he watched as the used-car empire he spent nearly

two decades building began to crumble around him. “That’s the only time I was ever truly scared,” Bassam says now. “I realized I might lose everything I had worked for.” After being forced to close 11 of 16 locations and let go of hundreds of loyal employees, the group is profitable again. But getting leaner is only PHOTO BY PHOTOGRAPHY BY SUSIE

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1,000,000 contracts sold. The best administration team, agents and dealers in the business. Find out how we do it at or call 800.826.3207. ®

Service Contracts. It’s What We Do. © 2011 Associates Underwriting Limited L.L.C.

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Dealer Profile

Used Sales Surge

part of the story. Bassam credits his senior staff, his partnership with lenders such as Capital One Auto Finance and a focus on Internet sales as the main reasons Easterns is still around today.

JULY 2011’S USED-VEHICLE SALES were the best for that month since 2005, according to the latest figures from CNW Research. Inde-

Total U.S. Used-Vehicle Sales (in millions) 4.83


Self-Made Dealer

July 2005

July 2006


July 2007



July 2008

July 2009


July 2010


July 2011


The Widening ’Net

The business was motoring along when Bassam’s cousin, Eiman Bassam, joined the operation in 2004. He had spent several years working up the ranks at the now-defunct AutoMall Online, an e-commerce site that was based in the Washington, D.C., area before it filed for bankruptcy in 2005. Eiman’s experience there provided him with a nice template for what would become “A lot has changed since then,” he says. “In 2004, Easterns had a Website — not as strong as it is now, but it was a presence.” At its height, AutoMall Online — known more for its mall kiosks than its e-commerce strategy — marketed inventories for about 19,000 dealerships nationwide. Unfortunately, the dot-com investment bubble popped before it was ready to make its initial public offering. The most important lesson Eiman learned there was the importance of transparency when marketing online. That’s why Easterns was quick to

partner with Carfax, and why each vehicle listed on its site boasts a link to a vehicle history report and a minimum of 20 photos. “Our goal was to answer all questions before they come in,” he says. “‘Can we see the Carfax? Is it a oneowner vehicle? Can you move it to another location?’ And we found that people were willing to drive as long as one or two hours to get the vehicle they wanted.” Crisis Mode

By early 2008, Easterns was riding high. The Website was well established, the group’s 500 employees and 16 locations were moving 1,000 units a month, and annual revenue was in the $250 million range. A popular ad campaign featuring pro athletes (see sidebar, next page) had made Easterns a household name. But when the credit crisis took hold, Robert Bassam began to smell trouble. ▲

Bassam moved to the nation’s capital from his hometown of Miami in the mid-1980s. He was working as a waiter when he got into the car business “accidentally,” reselling a car his father bought off the street on a whim. After selling two more vehicles he purchased from a Salvation Army sale, Bassam was hooked. He set up shop in Arlington, Va., and spent the next six years building a wholesale operation. As his volume increased, he began expanding into larger lots, inadvertently attracting car shoppers. “We just needed a place to store cars,” Bassam says, “but retail customers continued to roll in.” The would-be buyers he spoke with were looking for quality used cars, and many had been turned down by area dealerships. For Bassam, the trend was too obvious to ignore. “We realized very quickly that the subprime market was underserved and mistreated,” he says. Bassam founded Easterns Automotive Group in 1991 and the business grew quickly. He was soon booking 100 deals a month with Credit Acceptance and would expand his lender spread to include AmeriCredit Corp. and the now-defunct National Auto Credit. In 2003, he signed up with Capital One Auto Finance, which would become the group’s top finance source.

pendent dealers such as Easterns Automotive moved 1.667 million used units, an increase of 17.8 percent over July 2010.

“Our goal was to answer all questions before they come in. ‘Can we see the Carfax? Is it a one-owner vehicle? Can you move it to another location?’ And we found that people were willing to drive as long as one or two hours to get the vehicle they wanted.” — Eiman Bassam, Easterns Automotive Group

16 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Dealer Profile

Redskins Rides

“I was buying cars for less,” he says. “Customers were ready to buy. But the lenders stopped communicating.” Things began to unravel fast. Sales dropped off and difficult decisions had to be made. Bassam started closing his “boutique” stores and cutting costs across the board. He garaged his prized luxury cars in favor of a Hyundai Accent. “The first real fall in the business came in 2008 and 2009,” he says. “I was a wounded duck.” That could have been the end, Bassam says, were it not for his highestvolume lender. He joined Capital One Auto Finance’s Diamond Dealer program, an initiative the company undertook so it could continue offering flexible terms and special benefits to a select group of dealers. Bassam says that, as he continued to retrench, Capital One’s support made the difference. He became an active member of the finance source’s dealer board and was among the first to sign up for its new prime program in 2010. “The word ‘partnership’ is thrown around a lot,” he says. “True partnerships [are formed] in tough times, when they’re telling you you’re still OK, that you matter. Now, we’re having amazing earnings.”

IN 2003, WASHINGTON REDSKINS linebacker LaVar Arrington was coming off three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons and was among the city’s most popular young athletes. Robert Bassam tapped Arrington (below) to become the first in a

Road to Recovery

When the dust settled, Bassam was left with his five largest stores and a new outlook. He has begun to rehire as much staff as he can support, but he doesn’t plan to expand again. Instead, he will continue to rely on the willingness of customers to travel great distances in search of their next car. “If I could have one location for 500 customers, I would do it,” he says. “Look at Their first search option is ‘50-mile radius.’” The cousins agree that the Webdriven megastore model depends on transparency in all phases, as well as a quality product. Eighty percent of the available inventory is Carfax One Owner-certified, and they rarely sell trade-ins.

long line of Easterns Automotive Group pitchmen. Other Redskins to appear include running back Clinton Portis, wide receiver Laveranues Coles and tight end Chris Cooley. Stars from other sports, such as Washington Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin, have joined their ranks in recent years. The commercials feature a maddeningly catchy jingle, with the athletes singing (or lip synching) “At Eastern Motors, your job’s your credit.” The ads are ubiquitous in the D.C. area, and even Bassam is surprised to see the effect they’ve had on the local sports landscape. “When Donovan McNabb was traded to the Redskins in 2010, The Washington Post ran an article asking whether he would star in an Easterns commercial,” he says. In March, Easterns held “Redskins Rides,” a two-day mega sale, at FedEx Field. The dealer group sent 100,000 Capital One pre-approved mailers to promote the sale, which moved 140 units. Easterns also showcased some of its many philanthropic efforts, including participation in Operation Second Chance, a charitable organization that offers support for wounded veterans and their families. “It was an all-in bet,” Bassam says. “You’re putting out a substantial amount of money for a two-day event. But it was a success, and we handed out 1,000 care packages for troops at war, as well as a car, and tickets to ’Skins games.”

Easterns offers GAP coverage and a vehicle service contract from Warranty Solutions on every purchase. They’re willing to add the VSC with no markup, which helps to explain their 88 percent penetration rate. “We like to max out the car, not the payment,” Robert Bassam says. Considering how far some customers travel, Eiman looks forward to a time when all phases of the purchase process can be safely completed online. “We complete the credit app in the showroom; that’s a privacy requirement,” he says. “But I believe

“If I could have one location for 500 customers, I would do it. Look at Their first search option is ‘50-mile radius.’” — Robert Bassam, Easterns Automotive Group that, in the future, customers will choose, buy and finance without ever touching the car.” Meanwhile, Eiman’s Internet team works hard to maintain the Website and Easterns’ social media accounts. One of his staff members spends most of her workday updating the group’s Facebook page and answering customer questions via the Website’s chat feature. “If you’re not doing the research, you’re not a good customer,” Robert says of today’s Internet shopper. “My family doesn’t even go out to eat before checking [the restaurant] on Yelp. We call each customer two weeks after their purchase and ask if they can rate us on their favorite site.” He expects the subprime market to continue to drive sales going forward. He wants his managers to continue to make transparency their No. 1 goal, even as they respond to whatever changes lay ahead. “Robert is driven to succeed,” Eiman says. “He thrives on making other people successful. That leadership and love got us through some very, very tough times.”

18 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Social Media Pitfalls Avoid to

The social media sphere offers great opportunities to market your store, but there are several legal traps inherent to this type of viral marketing. Compliance expert reviews four of them in this digital marketing primer. By Jim Radogna



Faking Reviews

The FTC has updated its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising to require that companies ensure their online posts are completely accurate and not misleading. Planting or allowing fake reviews to be posted is a violation. Keep in mind that the guidelines are extremely broad and can apply

to anyone writing reviews on rating sites such as Google Reviews, or promoting products via social media sites, including blogs. For dealers, companies which promise to improve your ratings on review sites should be viewed with skepticism. Last October, a BMW dealership in San Antonio suffered serious damage to its reputation after it was caught posting fake online reviews. The culprit was a company the dealership hired to contact customers to generate actual reviews. After clicking on a suspicious reviewer’s profile, a customer discovered that the author had written five-star reviews for numerous dealerships and other businesses, and not just in San Antonio. Even worse, all those reviews were posted on the same day. ▲

t was bound to happen. The tremendous growth in digital and social media marketing was simply too difficult for government regulators to ignore. That’s why social media ethics are no longer based solely on personal preference. It’s now a matter of law. Take the Federal Trade Commission’s truth in advertising laws, which hadn’t been updated since 1980. But because of the boom in online marketing activities, the FTC is now actively updating its rules. The agency’s position, which is shared by state regulators, is that social media is not a loophole for deceptive marketing practices. Regulators are actively enforcing rules and cracking down, so let’s review four key areas your dealership can’t afford to ignore.

20 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Compliance This is happening every day, folks, so be wary of the companies you hire to help you with your digital marketing efforts. And don’t forget your own staff. The FTC recently charged a California marketing company with deceptive advertising after it found employees were posing as ordinary consumers and posting positive reviews. Dealers may face liability if employees use social media to comment on their employer’s services or products without disclosing their relationship with the business. Remember, the FTC requires all “material connections” between a poster and the companies they review to be disclosed. That extends to any association that could affect the reviewer’s credibility. So, if employees, friends, family or vendors post reviews to prop up a dealership’s online reputation, they must clearly disclose their relationship with the company. Additionally, the reviews themselves must be an honest opinion based on a real experience. The FTC’s rules stipulate that reviewers must never endorse a product or service that they have not used personally. Remember, it’s all about transparency and full disclosure. Failing to follow those guidelines puts more than your reputation at risk. It also can result in substantial penalties. In 2009, then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo fined a cosmetic surgery practice $300,000 for ordering its employees to write fake reviews for its facelift procedure. Last March, the FTC ordered a company marketing instructional DVDs to pay $250,000 for fake reviews posted by the company’s affiliate marketers. The FTC also has indicated that companies are fully responsible and liable for any inappropriate actions committed by their employees, vendors and any advocates they recruit. The reviewers themselves also may be held personally liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements. 22 F&I and Showroom September 2011

FI0911compliance.indd 22

Paying for Reviews


The practice of offering a free oil change or gas card to a customer in exchange for a positive survey has long been frowned upon by manufacturers. Their concern is valid. There are no factory gatekeepers when it comes to online ratings, and they know dealers may be tempted to entice customers with some type of incentive to get them to post a review. The good news is there is no law prohibiting that practice — yet. But regulations do require that a reviewer who has been provided with any form of compensation (e.g., free services, rewards, incentives, promotional items, gifts or samples), must fully disclose the source and nature of any compensation received.


FTC recently announced that it was updating its guide on social media advertising. First published in 2000, “Dot Com Disclosures: Information About Online Advertising” was written to inform advertisers that consumer protection and disclosure laws would be applied just as strictly to the digital realm. So, if inventory is posted or prices and payments are quoted on social media, it’s likely that the posts will be considered advertisements. That means they are subject to state and federal disclosure and truth in advertising regulations. Lack of space is not an acceptable excuse. If you’re advertising on Twitter, your 140 characters must include a clear link to any necessary disclosures. A good rule of thumb is to have any information that could possibly be construed as advertising reviewed by upper management or a qualified professional before it is posted.

Advertising on Social Media Sites

The benefit of trying to “sell” on social media sites by posting inventory, prices or monthly payments is an ongoing debate, but many dealers are already doing it. While I have no opinion on the relative merits of whether or not to sell on social media, it’s important to note the potential implications of these types of activities. Social media tends to be a lowkey, casual form of communication, but that doesn’t mean advertising regulations don’t apply. In fact, the

Failure to Create a Social Media Policy


Social networking sites, blogs and video sharing have soared in popularity. Unfortunately, according to an PHOTO ©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM / DNY59

8/25/11 4:02:39 PM

social media and the National Labor Relations Act is an evolving area of the law. The best way to protect your dealership from legal trouble is to establish formal policies for your staff. But remember, creating a policy also means creating a training program to educate employees about appropriate

social media use and disclosure. Having both is the only way your policies will be legally defensible. Jim Radogna is president of Dealer Compliance Consultants Inc., a San Diego-based provider of training and compliance solutions. He can be reached at

Dan Kilian and Kristina Reid of Meade Lexus in Southfield, Mich., are using social media to raise the dealership’s online profile. But they also have taken steps to remain compliant, adding links to any required disclosure statements.

informal poll conducted by law firm Proskauer Rose, 45 percent of companies have no social media policy at all. Hopefully, your dealership isn’t one of them. Dealerships need to control the information that’s coming out of their business. Written policies and procedures must spell out how employees are expected to conduct themselves online. If anything, a good policy can help take the guesswork out of what is appropriate for employees to post about a company to their social networks. There also are a number of potential legal issues with employees operating in the social media sphere that need to be addressed. Claims for violation of privacy, harassment, discrimination or defamation are a real risk, and employees can harm a dealership’s reputation by posting controversial or inappropriate comments. However, employer restrictions on the use of social media can be tricky. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently issued a complaint against an Illinois dealership, charging management with unlawfully terminating an employee for making critical comments about the store on Facebook. While some unprofessional and inappropriate conduct may not be protected, the intersection of September 2011 F&I and Showroom 23

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Finance and Insurance

4 Ways to

Reenergize Your Pitch

Have you ever wondered why your performance levels lag? The magazine’s resident expert knows the answer, and offers a remedy for keeping you on your game. By Rick McCormick


t happens to every F&I manager in every dealership. When you’re fresh from a seminar or workshop, your presentation and pitch are reenergized and your customers are responsive to the new strategies you picked up. But over time, the effectiveness of the lessons learned begins to fade. Why is that, right? Well, it has to do with the law of entropy. If you don’t remember the concept from your high school physics classes, entropy, in its simplest definition, is the “inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.” So, how do you prevent

this from happening to your F&I pitch? Well, I recently read that 86 percent of fresh knowledge learned will be lost in 90 days if it is nei-

ther reinforced nor used consistently. So, the challenge for F&I managers is to figure out how to keep that energy level up and maintain that passion for the products you offer. So, let’s review four exercises that, if followed, can help you break the law of entropy.

How You Start Determines How You Finish

Step 1:

Spend the first 30 minutes of each day practicing your skills, setting a few goals for yourself and reading something inspirational. Not only will this energize you as you start the day, it will keep the things you

26 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Finance and Insurance can’t control, such as the economy, from impacting your performance. You also have to dedicate yourself to putting what you learned — whether from a workshop or an article — into practice every day. That means never cutting corners. It means staying with the process on a daily basis. It means training for your next customer interaction the same way professional athletes train before a sporting event, as the skills you practice regularly will find their way into your game.

Create Your Own Momentum

Step 2:

Good F&I managers wait for good things to come their way. They wait for the banks to provide more flexible terms. They wait for more favorable deals and better opportunities for profit. Great F&I managers are individuals who take the limited opportunities they have and look for ways to maximize them. So, to see an increase in overall profit and income, you must first increase the level and consistency of your training activity. So, be proactive and study the products you offer and their benefits to your customers. Doing so will not only increase your appreciation of the benefits your products offer, it will lead to a more convincing presentation. Spending time in the service department is another great way to learn the true value of your products. There you’ll see what consumers are seeing, including what repairs, both minor and major, they’re paying for, and how much they cost. Take a recent visit I made to a Toyota store. While in the service area, I overheard a customer explaining to a service rep that the keyless remote on his Toyota Camry was no longer working. It turned out the receiver inside the dash was bad. A new receiver cost $550. After factoring in labor costs, the bill to get the remote system to work again added up to $1,000. That’s the kind of information that will improve your chances of turning a “No” into a “Yes.” 28 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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The only person you need to worry about is yourself. Comparing yourself to another person’s success can be deceiving and can sometimes leave you satisfied with less than your best. Step 3: Get Out of the Tunnel

As trainer, I’ve been fortunate to be able to meet some of the most talented F&I managers in the country. I know it’s difficult for many of you to find time to leave the store to meet with other professionals in your field. Well, I’m here to tell you that you need to make time to get out to an industry event, like the magazine’s annual conference, or join a social media group like the magazine’s F&I Forum. On the forum are some seasoned professionals who can provide great insight into how to be productive and how to produce at a high level. Collectively, there’s got to be a hundred years of experience on the forum, so take a moment to read some of the

posts and become an active member. I can’t tell you how energizing it is to be able to exchange ideas with other F&I pros. These people can be goldmines of information, so take the time to step outside of your world and reach out to others in your field. Remember, never stop learning. Read everything you can find about presenting and selling intangibles. One of the most formidable public speakers today is a gentleman named Michael Hingson. Despite being blind, he was a very successful computer sales executive with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. But that’s not what makes him an inspiration. See, he was working in his office in Tower One of the World Trade Center on 9/11, and he and his loyal guide dog led dozens of people to safety just minutes before the building collapsed. What I find motivating about Hingson’s story is his refusal to stay inside the tunnel of his limitations. That’s how you need to approach your career.

If It Hurts, “S-T-R-E-T-C-H” Yourself

Step 4:

Wherever I go, the No. 1 question I’m PHOTOS ©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM / GILAXIA

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asked is, “What is everyone else doing?” Well, I’m here to tell you that the only person you need to worry about is yourself. Comparing yourself to another person’s success can be deceiving and can sometimes leave you satisfied with less than your best. So, don’t make that mistake. Look, you know where you stand and what you’re successful at, so work to outdo yourself. If your acceptance rate for service contracts is at 47 percent, why not make 50 percent your goal for the next three months. Your fellow F&I managers at the dealership might be at 35 percent, but remember that you’re not competing against them. So, energize your production by working to beat your personal best. My favorite story from sales guru Zig Ziglar is the one he tells about his days as a door-to-door salesman. He was making a sales call and sitting on the front porch of the house he was

visiting was an older gentleman and a whimpering dog. Ziglar asked what was wrong with the dog and the gentleman answered, “He’s sitting on a nail.” Ziglar responded with another question: “Why does he keep sitting on the nail?” The man’s response was incredibly insightful: “Because it doesn’t hurt enough for him to get up and do something about it!” Does performing at a level that’s less than your best hurt yet? Well then, break free from that trap, stretch yourself and defy the law of entropy. Don’t let time drag you down. Instead, do the things you need to keep your performance levels up and watch your profits and income do the same. Rick McCormick is the director of training and income development for Automotive Financial Services, a provider of F&I products and training for dealerships nationwide. E-mail him at

September 2011 F&I and Showroom 29

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Finance and Insurance A five-minute interview can go a long way toward putting customers at ease, and it may even lead to a nice boost in F&I profit per vehicle retailed. F&I trainer breaks down the process. By Don Geroni


ome F&I managers dislike it, others swear by it. Some say it’s the single most important part of the F&I process, and they won’t deliver a vehicle without it. What we’re talking about here is the customer interview. Only you can decide whether the extra five minutes per customer is worth your time. If it is, then it’s worth doing it right. Let’s delve into the customer interview and highlight a couple of must-haves for making it work for your dealership.

Perception Is Everything

F&I managers who favor the customer interview prefer it be done in the showroom, either at an empty office or at an empty table. The key is that it be done outside of the F&I office, as it allows the customer to remain in his or her comfort zone. Whether based on past experiences or stories they’ve heard from friends, customers perceive the F&I office as the place where buyers have their payment and rate bumped. To them, F&I is where they are lied to and pressured into buying products they don’t want. At the very least, they know they will have to sign piles of paperwork. So, if that’s how customers feel about the F&I office, how could they


Interview 30 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Finance and Insurance possibly be in the the right state of mind to listen to everything the F&I manager has to say? The good news is that those walls of resistance can be broken. And the best time to do that is when the salesperson has a signed purchase order, a customer application and a credit report. Once those items have been collected, the F&I manager should go out to the customer and introduce himself or herself. Be sure to provide your name and title while shaking hands with your customers and congratulate them for their purchase. Then, ask them if they will join you for a quick discussion. First, list your responsibilities as F&I manager, which includes completing and reviewing his or her paperwork and assisting with his or her financing options. You also want to make sure you tell the customer that your job is to get him or her on the road as quickly as possible. Doing this sets a realistic time expectation for the entire process, which is key to keeping customers in a listening and, hopefully, buying mood. This nonconfrontational, downstream approach will work wonders for your dealership’s customer satisfaction index. Customers feel relaxed and in control, and they will more likely have a positive impression of you. Keys to an Effective Interview

Now that you have permission to begin the process, it’s time to start the interview. The benefit of the interview is it can provide a wealth of information about the customer if the right questions are asked. It can help you set the terms of a service contract or prepaid maintenance program. You’ll also learn whether the sale is a straw purchase and if a demo ride was taken. More importantly, the interview will provide the F&I manager with the information he or she needs to obtain lender approval, which is our primary goal. It also can plant the seed for the sale of F&I products. More important, you’ll have the op-

The customer interview should take no more than five minutes. You can gather customer information, set service contract terms and determine if a sale is a straw purchase.

portunity to use the three most important words on the road to a sale: “You told me …” Those three little words can be critical to overcoming an objection when you get the customer into the F&I office to present your menu. Here are some examples of what I mean:


Service contract: “You know, I’m

surprised. You told me earlier that you are going to put 15,000 miles per year on the vehicle, and you plan to keep it for five years. That means you will be out of the factory warranty in two-and-a-half years. So what it is about the service contract that concerns you?”


Prepaid maintenance: “You told


Appearance protection: “You

me earlier that maintenance was important to you. What is it about the prepaid maintenance program that concerns you?”

told me earlier that keeping your vehicle looking showroom-new was important. What is it about the appearance protection (or dent program) that concerns you?”


Credit life insurance: “You told

me earlier that in the event of your death, you want your spouse to receive the title. What is it about the credit life insurance that concerns you?”

I have had the privilege of managing and training hundreds of F&I managers through the years, and I can tell you that the only way the interview works is if it is conducted 100 percent of the time with 100 percent of your customers. But that also requires a 100 percent commitment among the staff — from your dealer to your sales manager and the rest of your team. Yes, there are times when there is a backup of customers waiting to get into the F&I office, which makes sticking with the showroom interview difficult. And sometimes, in a rush to get the customer on the road, the salesperson may be the reason the interview is skipped. Whatever the cause, your dealership could be leaving money on the table. Look, it takes about 15 seconds for the F&I manager to walk to the salesperson’s desk and less than five minutes to conduct the interview. If you buy into this process and get everyone committed to making it happen on every deal, you could see a nice increase in your store’s F&I profit per vehicle retailed. Don Geroni serves as the national sales and F&I trainer for PermaPlate Inc. He also served as the national director of F&I training for AutoNation Inc. E-mail him at don.geroni

32 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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he auto finance industry’s decade-old push toward e-contracting has served as a nice template for F&I product providers. However, there is one step providers may be able to skip, a prospect that could speed up the delivery of the paperless future both segments envision for the F&I office. The F&I product segment is where the auto finance industry was a decade ago in its drive toward e-contracting. Web portals that allowed dealers to submit credit applications ruled the day, as they do currently for today’s product providers. Advancements in how business applications are de-

signed and distributed, however, are speeding up the F&I product industry’s progress. That progress also raises the prospect of F&I managers being able to book all product and finance contracts without ever having to leave their dealership management system (DMS). The Birth of e-Contracting

The concept of e-contracting was born in the late 1990s. At that time, finance sources began introducing online credit apps. It wasn’t until secure Internet connections were developed that these online credit systems flourished. One of the first companies to come online with such a sys-

tem was Household Finance Superhighways. Like other trailblazers, the company developed a single-lender Website that could receive credit applications. These sites also became great dealer communication platforms for finance sources, especially for captive finance companies. Aside from being able to distribute new rates, captive finance companies used them to deliver service bulletins and host loyalty-building dealer contests. The goal was to load these credit portals with as much content as possible to keep their dealers from visiting their competitors’ sites. The single-lender sites worked

E-Contracting’s Missing Link Integration has been one of the obstacles in the way of the industry’s push toward e-contracting. One technology expert says that will no longer be the case going forward, especially for product providers. By Mark Virag

34 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Technology great, but they were inefficient. F&I managers were forced to learn procedures for submitting credit apps for each platform. This is the stage at which product providers now find themselves, and the challenge will undoubtedly be the same. The main problem with the portal sites is that F&I managers must rekey basic information about the customer for each site they visit to price a product. And once they’ve done that, they are forced to switch back to the DMS, input the products selected and then check the figures before printing the finance contract. It’s true that most F&I professionals can price products by memory, but that may not be feasible in the near future as the list of rated F&I products continues to grow. The biggest issue with having documents prepared on separate systems is the lack of integration and crosschecking. There are provider portals available today that can read from the DMS, which eliminates the need for rekeying. However, only a few of these platforms can push product information back to the DMS. Linking through certified and even “hostile” integration has been a great short-term solution, but there is a better way. Detour Ahead

The next logical step for F&I product providers would be aggregator platforms. When DealerTrack introduced its credit platform early last decade, you would think the connected finance companies benefited the most. They did, but not without some grumbling. Yes, DealerTrack’s credit platform did put those finance sources a mouse click away from hundreds of F&I managers, but it also erased the edge some sources had gained through

This isn’t science fiction. The networks and services are already in place, and DMS providers are actively putting the other pieces of this “e-puzzle” together. their portal sites. The biggest fear among finance sources in those days was they would be commoditized by the credit aggregation systems. It was for that reason that a group of captives got together to form RouteOne in 2002. F&I product providers, especially those affiliated with finance companies, know that story well. But their biggest concern is that aggregator platforms will foster price comparisons, which is why many simply won’t play that game unless they can control the rules. Two things can alter the path of providers and technology companies alike: service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web services. SOA refers to a design approach in which components are created with concise interfaces, with each component performing a distinct set of related functions. A Web service is a way to deliver a company’s solutions from an SOA system. What a Web service represents to providers is a way to make portal functionality available to outside systems such as — you guessed it — the DMS. It also represents a cost-effective way to organize IT resources, as a Web service offers more options to

providers on how they deliver their services. They can expose the services to multiple menu systems, connect directly to a DMS, or allow a provider to join a network hosting multiple dealer systems. In the dealership environment, Web services will allow product prices and finance rates to be presented over the DMS in a controlled environment. It also will allow all contract forms to be prepared by the DMS. At present, the DMS supports plainpaper contracting by means of a virtual forms library. Using Web services, these forms can be prepared in realtime by the provider, allowing dealerships to deliver an electronic funding package to the finance source. F&I managers also will be able to book product contracts automatically. This isn’t science fiction. The networks and services are already in place, and DMS providers are actively putting the other pieces of this “e-puzzle” together. In fact, my company was founded specifically for this purpose. The main benefit of this scenario to F&I managers is that they can perform duties on one system. Providers benefit from various cost savings, including the ability to change rates automatically. The benefit to a car buyer is if they scrape a rim driving off the lot, that road hazard contract they purchased will already have been booked by the time they took delivery of the vehicle. And this is why it’s critical that your dealership familiarizes itself with e-contracting, because this future isn’t far off. Mark Virag is the managing director of Provider Exchange Network. He can be reached at mvirag@open

Evolution of Online Credit 1995 Finance sources deploy private systems for credit approval.

1999 Single-lender credit systems offer “portals,” i.e., Websites.

2001 DealerTrack becomes “aggregator” for multiple finance sources.

2002 RouteOne founded as captive-friendly aggregator.

2005 Aggregators begin to develop e-contracting.

2009 ODE founded to develop e-contracting for DMS.

36 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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Sales Driver

4 Operational Game-Changers The magazine’s sales columnist continues with his call for change in Part 1 of a two-part series on creating sales momentum at your store. By Cory Mosley


have worked with a lot of talented people in this business, many of whom went on to be key leaders within their organizations. Recent conversations with some of those individuals and the completion of an important project inspired me to write this month’s column. You may not like what I have to say, but, hopefully, it will act as a catalyst for change. See, in today’s marketplace, “little by little” isn’t the answer. Neither is “moving at a glacial pace.” Reaching a dominant position requires massive action. The following are the first four of nine ideas that, if successfully implemented, will create the momentum you need to do just that:

accept recommendations from their subordinates. Remember, successful salespeople are good for more than just writing deals and mastering the meet and greet. Most of them have creative ideas that are not solely focused on increasing their income. In fact, many sales professionals simply want to have a role in the dealership’s success. So, why not start weekly meetings to discuss new ideas or create a process by which ideas can be submitted for serious consideration?


Get rid of the sacred cows: I’ve writ-

ten it before and I’ll write it again: Expand or become expendable. If my 66-year-old mother is texting, emailing, Facebooking and tweeting, then there is no excuse for salespeople and managers not being able to do the same. Properly using the CRM system or surfing the Web to educate yourself on the information your customers are finding online should be a daily job requirement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen capable sales, finance and service managers — including sales professionals — sink a dealership. Decision makers need to look in the mirror and be honest, because it’s critical that they put more energy into those who are committed to enhancing the business rather than those who simply will not step up.


Get feedback from your sales team:

At my company, we offer something called “Breakthrough Consulting.” It’s designed to identify the major roadblocks preventing a dealership from reaching the next level. First, I gather the sales team alone in a room. With no managers present, they are free to tell me what’s really happening at the dealership. It also allows me to extract their ideas for getting increased results. I started in the showroom myself, and I’ve been consulting long enough to know the difference between complaints and actual challenges. The truth is that some of the best ideas for moving the sales department forward rest in the minds of your sales team. Unfortunately, many great ideas for inventory, pricing, pay plans, incentive plans, marketing and even cost cutting fall on deaf ears because the decision maker is too ego-driven to


Sweep away the bureaucracy: Just

like the sacred cows, the bureaucracy and red tape has got to go. “Nimble,” “quick” and “responsive” need to become the new adjectives in your life, as death by meeting and paraly-

sis by analysis will kill even the best of intentions. To increase the level of communication across the dealership, the “us vs. them” mentality that manifests in the sales, finance and service departments must be eliminated. And don’t just talk about an open-door policy; literally unscrew the doors from their hinges, reengage your passion for the business and reignite that fire within your sales and management teams.


Don’t recycle talent: I’m all for

recycling when it comes to bottles, cans and paper, but not when it comes to employees. One of my clients has a manager on his fourth tour at the dealership. He was fired at the end of the three previous go-arounds. Do yourself a favor and don’t make the same mistake. I’ve often said that the length of your tenure in the business has no bearing on how competent and skilled you are. You read right — none! I’ve met second-year managers who could run circles around the so-called veterans. And by utilizing personality profiling, tweaking the pay plan and work schedule, and participating in a real training and development program, you too will be able to attract and retain the talent that you’ll need to dominate in the future.

Cory Mosley is principal of Mosley Automotive Training, a company focused on new-school techniques, products and services. He also is the creator of the “Control Your Sales Destiny” seminar series. E-mail him at corey.mosley@

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On the Point

Beware False Prophets of Profit ‘Da Man’ says it’s time for dealers to stop believing in the flawed logic that says it’s impossible to make a profit in today’s Internet age. By Jim Ziegler


here are so many defeatists in our industry telling you that it’s impossible to make gross profits on car deals because of competition and the information available to today’s car shoppers. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous. I refer to those naysayers as the “prophets of low profit.” As a general manager, dealer principal or general sales manager, there are several adjustments you can make to the way you negotiate with customers that will dramatically increase your profitability. Let’s review four simple changes that can have an immediate impact:


Stop apologizing for making a profit: Full price is a fair price, es-

they can’t buy, all you’re doing is disqualifying your customer rather than qualifying. So, instead of finding out how much they’d like to pay, how much they have budgeted and how much they want for their trade, try asking your customers if they can afford the vehicle they want and whether their credit report agrees. Think about it: Are customers really going to tell you the highest amount they can pay, or the least they’ll take for their trade-in? Remember, customers have a strategy, too.


pecially on new cars and trucks. Dealers are operating with less than 6 to 8 percent markup on new cars and trucks, while furniture and jewelry stores are allowed to mark up their products 300 percent without a complaint. The root of most blown deals and lost profits is a premature discussion about figures. Salespeople, you need to stop this, because what you’re really doing is giving away all the profit before management is even aware of the customer or the deal.


Stop qualifying on anything but income and credit: The main reason

you’re not as profitable as you should be is because your salespeople — and, in some cases, even your managers — are overqualifying customers with all of the questions they’re asking. By asking questions that are basically designed to find out why

Profit is a state of mind: The big-

gest problem with asking too many questions is it tends to saturate the salesperson’s mind with every reason why the deal won’t get done. That kind of thinking tends to rub off on the sales manager, who then gets gun shy about pulling the trigger on the deal. Think about this: Isn’t it amazing how much higher our current gross per unit is these days because of the shortage of quality used vehicles? Customers are paying a premium for pre-owned cars, which allows us to hold a higher profit, right? My question to you is: Why weren’t you able to do that all along? Well, because it’s all about one’s mental state. See, it’s important that customers see our numbers before we delve too deeply into what they want to pay. Try this line: “Mr. Customer, we prefer to make the first proposal to you. Let’s wait and see what management offers before you tell me what you have in mind.” No matter what they believe or say,

customers are going to want to negotiate. And you can bet they brought their “A” game to the table. See, there’s no such thing as a no-haggle dealership. Every deal moves the numbers somewhere, even if it’s just a second look at the trade.


Never ask how much they want to put down: Down payment is the

key to profit and getting more deals approved. Never ask a customer how much down payment they have. Instead, tell them how much they need before you hear their number. Here’s an example of what I mean: “Mr. Customer, as you know, the banks in our community and ABC Captive Credit would like to see 20 percent cash down for preferred and premium financial programs. In your case, we’d like to get a check for $3,824.” By using this method, customers will negotiate your number down instead of you having to bump their number up. It’s also a much more customer-friendly approach. Again, most blown deals are the result of sales staffers being afraid of the numbers or overqualifying customers. Remember, every deal has a heartbeat with a rhythm and a pulse, so you know when it’s still alive and when you’ve lost it. The key is confidence, because a lack of it is like blood in shark-infested water. So, be sure of yourself and follow the advice I laid out, because it really is OK to make a profit. Jim Ziegler is the president of Ziegler SuperSystems Inc. E-mail him at jim.

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Spotting by the Book The magazine’s legal wiz shares a textbook case on what not to do when spot delivering a vehicle. By Tom Hudson


he editor sent me a few questions and points raised in a recent discussion among members of an F&I Facebook group. The topic: spot deliveries. Rather than go point by point, I thought II’d d share

an e-mail a dealer friend of mine shared with me. See, my friend has a friend who is a lawyer. Evidently, that lawyer friend sometimes represents consumers in cases against car dealers. He also sometime sometimes represents

ices ABC Legal Serv Dear Friend, dealer at not to do. A book case of wh t pu t bu y” er I’ve got a text deliv nd itional “spot ent contract lm attempted a co al st in ric t on a gene er the customer ou so had the deal la ng uage. It al d” nce in na fi nw ty “u ar no with The th ird-p eller/creditor.” the to it d ne sig identified as “s as re d the deal and sed the compa ny refuse eful ly reposses rc fo en th er al s due. wa t en ym dealer. The de fore the fi rst pa be ys da six vehicle me, with customer’s na s titled in the nce na fi ty ar The vehicle wa -p n as the th ird ow sh er the old en nh ev the lie er wasn’t mea ns the deal e th th wi ed compa ny. That lk ta g party. I’ve sin to es ss ed po re re ag t correc e customer er who sa id th ke the ta r he eit s regional manag wa it and coercion … settle (duress ). lk wa or r dealer’s offe ts at complai nt star them my civ il ld to assault y ad r), re ca r al I’ve ed in he ent (they block the tires of t ou r false imprisonm ai e th ey tried to let ey took her and battery (th conversion (th r), ca e th in s wh ile she wa

I’m reproducing the lawyer’s letter here for a couple of reasons. First, dealers need to know that there are lawyers representing consumer plaintiffs who are very knowledgeable — and often more knowledgeable than dealers — about the laws that apply to the sale and financing of cars. Second, this letter serves as a good checklist for how not to execute a spot delivery transaction. These transactions are difficult to do properly, which requires good documentation, a thorough under-

dealers. In the case I’d like to share with you, he was recommended to a consumer by a dealer who wanted to “level the playing field” with a competitor. The following, albeit slightly edited, is what the lawyer wrote:

car when they had no rig ht to do so and are offeri ng it for now sale), coercion and du ress (th her ta ke a rent ey made al and a check for trade al low breach of cont ance), ract (consu mer not in default), wrongful repo ssession, brea ch of the peace, un and deceptive fa ir collection prac tices and resu intentional in fl lti ng iction of emotion al distress. An A d, concurre ntly with the civ il complaint, I th t em I’m fi ling told with the Federa l Trade Comm vi v olations of th ission for e Fair Cred it Re porting Act, fi lin th t e North Caro g with lina Attorney General for im co c nd itional deliv proper er y (d id n’t put the customer ou de d aler tag), an t on a d then with th e state DM V fo of o NCGS 20-294 r violations (4), (5) and (6 ) (fraud on cust ill il egal repo, un omer, fair and decept ive acts and pr actices). The dealer al re ad y tried to in stitute his arbit cla cl use on me an ration d I sa id he coul d discuss that su m mar y judg on a ment motion. So me of the abov stick i . I also m ig e will ht include the th ird-par ty fi na nc compa ny as a e defendant. I’ve also mentioned the complai nt that will get publ ici ty with regional news w outlets and papers, the Internet.

he dealer of the laws standing by the and regulations governing them, and full disclosure to the customer about what’s happening. Spot deliveries are no place for abusive practices like those described above. They are risky enough when they are done properly and ethically. The practice of spot delivering cars raises issues under federal law as well as state law, and the rules vary from state to state. If you haven’t already done so, you should thoroughly review your spot

delivery forms and procedures with your lawyer. That’s unless you enjoy stroking big checks to your customers’ lawyers. Thomas B. Hudson Esq. is a partner in the law firm of Hudson Cook LLP and the author of several books, available at ©Counselor 2011, all rights reserved. Based on an article from Spot Delivery. Single print publication rights only, to F&I and Showroom magazine. HC# 4840-0728-8074 (9/11).

42 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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DealerTrack to Support Dodd-Frank Compliance DEALERTRACK HAS ADDED NEW

functionality to its DealerTrack Performance Suite that is designed to help dealers comply with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and Consumer Protection Act. Both laws became effective on July 21, 2011. The enhancements are available at no additional charge to dealerships on the DealerTrack credit application network, according to the company. For more information, visit www.dealertrack. com/compliance.

Product Feature MPi Offers Vehicle Inspection Mobile App MPI HAS RELEASED A NEW VEHICLE




inspection program designed to work on an iPhone or iPod touch. Billed as a sales tool, EDGE Mobile is designed to allow service advisors to perform a walk-around inspection before the repair order has been entered into the dealership management system. It also provides service advisors with access to a list of recommended services and repairs the customer

declined on prior visits. The app offers three best practice inspection templates, one of which is designed to help advisors note any dents or dings when a vehicle is dropped off, according to MPi. For more information, visit

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Mad Marv

Be the Buyer Last month, it was the dreaded ‘Line 5’ call. Now, our in-the-trenches columnist ponders the dynamics of rehashing deals and enhancing back-end approvals. By Marv Eleazer


othing irritates me more than a lender that won’t bend its guidelines when an exception is needed to deliver a vehicle. Even more irritating is when a customer wants a back-end product and the lender won’t budge. Over the years, I have taken my frustration out on more than a few reps and lender buyers over this issue. I’ve thrown their contracts in the dumpster, cursed them on the phone and banished them from my store. It’s true; my pride has gotten the best of me over the years. In fact, I’m amazed I haven’t completely alienated some of the people I’ve taken to task. Then again, the cool name the editor gave my column wouldn’t work as well if I had been any other way. So, why did I behave so badly? Well, I was trained to believe that strong-arming lenders was the only way to get what I wanted. I guess I felt that the louder and more obnoxious I was, the faster buyers would give me what I wanted — even if it was just to get me off the phone. The truth is that my ranting and raving only showed that I failed to understand my lender’s business model. So, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Guidelines vs. Rules: Let’s be clear,

guidelines aren’t the same as rules. It’s imperative that you know the difference before I explain what each term means to an F&I manager. See, guidelines are stated points a lender believes — based on its internal analysis — must be reached for a loan to achieve its intended profit

yields. Guidelines typically cover loan term, book value limitations, back-end product allowances and monthly payment caps, among others. They can be stretched, bent and even trumped. Rules, on the other hand, are nonnegotiable. No amount of shouting will change them. We’re talking about hard-and-fast loan limits, such as vehicle age and type, miles, minimum amount financed, back-end product price caps or minimum income requirements. The reason guidelines and rules exist is so the lender can expect a reasonable return on its investment while maintaining good loan performance. There’s no way a lender can remain in business if it caved to every demand, so don’t expect exceptions on every deal. Back-End Exceptions: Every lender

has varying tolerance levels, so make it your business to know each lender individually. And as I wrote last month, you must pick your battles when asking for back-end exceptions. They should be used wisely and prudently. You also have to remember that, even within a lending institution, opinions on the business vary. And that’s why supervisors are important. If you truly believe you have a viable deal and the buyer isn’t budging, give his or her boss a call. It could save the deal.

or a vehicle that’s a better fit with the lender’s program. Remember, we can’t assemble an F&I presentation until the lender and dealer have agreed to an acceptable deal structure, so it’s vitally important you learn the various lender guidelines. The key is to be sensible and approach the buyer with good reasons why they should buy the deal. That’s why I’ve created the following six keys to rehashing a deal: ■ Be familiar with the lender’s guidelines and rules before calling to rehash. ■ Be familiar with the customer’s situation. ■ Be sure there isn’t any more cash or trade equity. ■ Be sure the customer’s monthly debt-to-income ratio is within the lender’s guidelines. ■ Be sure there is no co-signer. ■ Be sure there isn’t any more income. The truth is, sometimes a simple request is all it takes. Captives like Ford Motor Credit rely heavily on payment, so you can often get an increased payment call from them simply by asking for it. The lesson there is, never take the lender’s initial callback as gospel. Pick up the phone and ask! Look, whether you think so or not, your buyers aren’t looking for every reason to turn down your deals. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They have quotas to meet, too, so give them every reason to believe your deal is a buyable one.

Rehashing a Callback: When re-

hashing, it’s critical that you return to the table with something you didn’t have before, such as more cash down

Marv Eleazer is the finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at

48 F&I and Showroom September 2011

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F&I and Showroom September 2011  

The industry’s leading source for F&I, sales and technology

F&I and Showroom September 2011  

The industry’s leading source for F&I, sales and technology