Jay Lighter, president of NitroFill Inc., is passionate about the service drive, and its potential to increase the bottom line for the dealer. He sees the F&I department as the pivot point for that process, and is currently looking for agents to help him get the message to dealers.
Traditionally, filling tires with nitrogen, and then putting the program in place to bring customers back on a regular basis to check the pressure, has been the realm of the service department alone. It was sold through that channel, capturing only a percentage of customers who came to the service department for an unrelated maintenance or repair need. However, Lighter sees the product, and benefits, as being a bigger product.
Today, he uses more than 80 agents — but only 10 of those are in F&I, and he would like to see that change. He sees the F&I department as the biggest single growth space for both his product and for dealers, and he wants to educate those dealers on the benefits of a nitrogen plan. By selling consumers on the option while they’re in F&I, he believes, it will be an increase in sales for everyone — and will bring those customers back regularly to the dealership service department, with an opportunity to cross-sell additional service services.
“Every owner’s manual of every vehicle sold in this country encourages customers to check their tire pressure every month; it is a stance also taken by every tire manufacturer and the federal government, and further promoted in the media whenever vehicle safety or fuel economy are discussed. Tire inflation maintenance is the greatest traffic builder of our time.”
The problem, Lighter noted, is that in the past, customers came in to the service departments regularly for their oil changes. The dealership then had the opportunity to convert them to other services such as tire rotations, wheel balancing, alignments or new wiper blades. Today, he said, engine and lubrication technology have turned quarterly oil changes into something that can be done, at most, once or twice a year.
To combat that, he is pushing dealers to use tire inflation maintenance as a way to get customers into the service drive. And by selling it as part of the F&I package, it doesn’t rely on getting customers in to the service department the first time for something else. It captures that customer at the point of sale, and gives them a reason to continue their relationship with that dealer from day one.
His company sends out reminders to the consumer on behalf of the dealership once they sign on to the program, and he points out that the average U.S. consumer visits their car care professional 1.2 times per year; the average NitroFill customer, however, visits their dealer up to 4.5 times annually. It’s also the only F&I product, he said, that is almost purely a customer retention tool. “No other F&I product does this,” he said. “Typically you sell it, and it goes away unless they have a claim. It’s mostly an insurance product — if you damage a tire or wheel we’ll replace it. We do have some of those components, but we tag that along with a product that we install in the car that will give benefits and great retention tool. We are very unique in the F&I space, and that’s where we see our growth, through agents.”
His company does offer packages that the dealer can customize, from roadside assistance to full tire & wheel packages, but rather than making nitrogen a ride-along, he makes that the primary product, and the rest are additions to give the customer and dealer more options. But at its heart, he sees their tire inflation maintenance program as the main selling point.
“Before the collapse of our economy a few years ago, converting the industry to nitrogen inflation was a hot topic. However, after the fall, priorities changed. But it’s coming, because it just makes sense.” Lighter said.
In addition to bringing customers in to the dealership more frequently, he notes that the use of nitrogen also has other benefits, such as no oxidation, meaning no rim rust or corrosion, and no tire rot, among others. He pointed out that it also means tires stay inflated to their optimum level for longer, meaning better fuel economy and less chance of tire failure. So it becomes not only a win for the dealership, that can strengthen it’s ties to the consumer and have the opportunity to offer additional services on a more regular basis, but it’s a win for the consumer, who sees a wide range of benefits.
And it’s a win for agents, who have a new tool to add to their lineup to help F&I managers frame the conversation around immediate customer benefits, instead of costs or programs that may or may not be needed in the lifetime of that vehicle sale.