Month: January 2017

Stop Using Combo Products

I have had a hand in designing a few menu systems over the years, and I have always disliked combo products.  You know what I mean: the VSA form, plus maintenance and PDR, on which Marketing has found an extra square inch to offer road hazard.

Menu people hate combo products because the whole point of menu selling is for the F&I Manager to combine products into menu columns, not the combinations defined by the provider’s form.  What if she wants to sell the factory’s VSA, but her own choice of ancillary products?

One cavil I sometimes hear is the definition of “a product,” but this is straightforward.  If it can be sold separately, like key protection, then it’s a product.  If it always rides on another contract, like car rental, then it’s not.

What I try to tell my menu clients (and reinforce with my API clients) is this:

  • The unit of work for presentation is the product
  • The unit of work for contracting is the form

The correct data structure thus has discrete products at the top level, then coverages with their rates, and form codes at the bottom.  Obviously, you can have different forms based on coverage, and you can have the same form for multiple products.  Then, in the contracting phase, you collect the products onto the forms as indicated.

combo-productsCombo products persist because providers legitimately want to reduce the number of forms they manage.  The two-phase approach solves this.  Also, there are old-timers who design products based on the form.  I have even seen F&I shops where the completed contract form is used as a selling tool.

The package discount is the only serious challenge to the menu system.  A workaround here is to include a phantom product with no display and a negative price – although that may be as much work as developing an explicit feature.  Of course, if the manager chooses to discount a package other than one subsidized by a provider, then that discount is her responsibility.

I’ll close with an exception to the rule or, rather, a refinement.  Menu systems are compromised when we mistake forms for products.  On the other hand, there is a practical limit (six) to the number of products offered on a menu.  So, I can see the logic in a product that combines dent, coatings, windshield, and road hazard – especially PDR and windshield, if you think about how the services are delivered.

In this case, we are not merely combining products based on a form.  These products hang together in the same semantic class, appearance protection, and may indeed use separate forms.

Ten Networking Tips for the New Consultant

My son, Paul Virag, has hung out his shingle as an independent.  Paul’s challenge is differentiating himself as an ace developer, in a market dominated by price competition and cheap labor.  My boss at Coopers lamented the same thing, years ago, as a “buy it by the pound” business.

Mind your Rolodex.  Along with maintaining a marketable skill, this never-ending job tops the list of must-dos for the independent contractor.

The solution, of course, is assiduous networking.  The quote above, complete with antique Rolodex reference, is from the Tom Peters Seminar.  In today’s post, I present my networking routine.

call-roster

  1. I check Linked-In every day for news about people I know, and then I write or at least “like” the update. It has gotten Facebook-y over the years, but Linked-In is still the best (only) site for professional networking.
  2. I am not a “Linked-In whore,” though. I actually know most of my connections.  I call or email at least one of these people every day, especially when I am not looking for work.
  3. Maintain a web site, obviously. Mine is overdue for its periodic update.  Something like Mike Cohn’s blog will be more relevant to Paul.
  4. As a developer, Paul will also want to be noticed on Github and Stack Overflow – though this means mostly peer developers, not hiring managers.
  5. I post roughly twice a month on my blog. It gets about 100 views per month.  WordPress shares my posts to Linked-In.  They get more views on Linked-In than they do native on the blog.
  6. I collect relevant content for my Twitter feed, and then I load Hootsuite to make at least three posts every day. I find content using my RSS reader and the blogroll from my blog.
  7. This is in addition to spontaneous tweets, retweets, and conversations. I follow a great group of people, whom I rely upon for industry news, so for me this is a natural process.
  8. A few tweets every week lead back to my blog. I use bit.ly to track the hits.  Twitter provides analytics for free.
  9. Keep your resume up to date. People still like to see a resume.  When I was starting out (Coopers again) I maintained different versions tailored to our practice areas.  “Virag specializes in nothing but healthcare,” … and auto, and retail, etc.
  10. Go to conferences, and get on the podium if you can. My main one is the F&I conference held every fall in Las Vegas.  This is also an opportunity to hike Red Rock Canyon.

All of this activity takes time, especially writing original content.  I spend five or six hours per week.  Hootsuite helps because I can stoke Twitter on the weekend, outside of billable hours.  Bonus eleventh tip: write blog posts that start with “Top Ten Tips.”  People love that.

Dealer Megatrends Part 1 – Consolidation

In the 2006 data, NADA noted a “moderate consolidation trend.”  Since the recession, sales have recovered but the dealer population has not.  My chart, below, is based on the last eleven years of NADA data.  You can go back as far as you like.  The dealer population has been shrinking steadily for fifty years.

chart

This means the surviving dealers are selling more cars per store, but the real story is consolidation – the powerful trend toward fewer owners and bigger groups.

In 2005, the top 100 dealership groups were 9% of the total.  In 2015, they were 17%.  The Automotive News ranking is by gross revenue but, for simplicity, I am counting stores.  I imagine that the big, efficient groups command more than 17% of the total gross.

Gee group’s purchase of 16 Tonkin stores, backed by private equity, is instructive.  Both groups are family owned, with seven and 21 stores respectively.  Brad Tonkin will join the combined entity as president.  The Automotive News article also describes a Soros-backed purchase by the McLarty group, bringing its count to 19 stores.

The owners may be public, like AutoNation and Penske, private equity, or something in between.  Larry Miller group, for example, is still family owned but independently managed.  An IPO seems the next logical step.  Broker Alan Haig predicts his buy-sell business will continue strong in 2017.

This is about economies of scale, obviously.  The New York Times mentions efficiency in staffing, technology, and inventory management (as I did, here).  There is a lot of money chasing this trend, and only so many operators who know how to exploit scale.  That’s why Haig also has a recruiting arm.

Small dealer groups can compete online only by joining platforms that aggregate inventory.

If you are running a small group, you might want to start thinking about M&A.  That’s not my area, though.  I am interested in the related trends toward technology and process change.  I’ll examine these more in my next post.

One example is online retail.  Small dealer groups can compete online only by joining platforms that aggregate inventory, like TrueCar or Autotrader.  What I am proposing is that the (relatively) little guys compete with the consolidators by consolidating themselves online.

Dealers should seek help from their OEMs and software vendors.  Well, maybe not the OEMs.  GM’s Shop Click Drive only searches inventory for a single dealer, and it makes you choose the dealer first.  Not only will it not give you a price, it won’t even present a model list until you’ve selected a dealer.  No one shops this way anymore.

Modern shoppers will have found a model and trim level, a price, and even a lender, before landing on a dealer.  While Shop Click Drive has the machinery to structure a deal, and even sell protection products, some genius decided to make the “choose dealer” button its primary focus.  Most GM dealers I looked at were also on Autotrader.

I did a survey of platform capabilities last year, with Cox Automotive far in the lead.  The other guys seem still to be in the world of single-dealer web sites.  I also noticed that these sites are mostly hideous, and lacking consistency in even simple functions like credit application.

The consolidators have strong tech teams devoted to online shopping.  Dealers may fail to see the threat, because it’s not a physical presence.  If you owned a hardware store, and Home Depot went up across the street, you would notice.