This year’s Agent Summit will include “Capitalizing on Lease Opportunities,” a panel discussion devoted to F&I products for lease customers. One of the panelists is Rick Meinke, a nearly 40-year veteran of the auto retail and finance industry who currently serves as national sales manager at ECP Inc. On the eve of the event, Agent Entrepreneur caught up with Meinke to retrace the steps that led him to ECP, talk about the state of F&I, and learn how trainer humor can sometimes be lost in translation.
AE: Rick, what does your work entail?
Meinke: I wear a number of hats. My primary responsibility is increasing the business we have and adding new business through new agents.
AE: Do you have agents in every state?
Meinke: We are in every state, as well as Canada, Puerto Rico and just opening in the Dominican Republic.
AE: Have you traveled to Puerto Rico?
Meinke: I go at least once a year. I work with our agents and I’ll go in and talk to dealers and salespeople. I’ll do a sales meeting, and, in most cases, I have a translator. I like to interject a little humor, and I hope it works in Spanish. Sometimes they don’t laugh, and I wonder, “What is he really saying?”
AE: Are the basics of F&I training universal?
Meinke: I’m sure you’ve talked to a lot of F&I trainers, so you know everyone has their own concepts and approach. But I believe basics really are basics. Our national director of training, Carter Abel, has been a trainer for Penske, Pat Ryan and EasyCare. Basics are basics, but we may have a different approach to menu selling, for example.
AE: Where do you stand on the issue of presenting F&I products online?
Meinke: I worked for a Toyota store when Scion was launched, and Scion was all online. You had to have not just information but pricing online, as well as on menus posted in the Scion showroom. It worked out fairly well for us, once we understood the concept and made adjustments.
I don’t see an issue with that. I think it’s a good idea. When you’re that transparent with the consumers, I think it’s a positive. The hot button for most is usually rate. As there is no value to the consumer in rate, you still have many other products that can be sold and will add to the profitability of the store and give the consumer value. It can, however, affect the profitability if you don’t have a strong aftermarket program and a strong F&I department.
AE: Do you worry online F&I gives the consumer an opportunity to just say “No”?
Meinke: I think it gives the consumer a choice. If they don’t like what they see, they’ll go to their bank or credit union or possibly another dealer. But it forces dealers to put up conservative numbers, earn their business, and have a chance to marry them to your dealership and your service department. That’s a long-term goal for any dealer today.
AE: How did you get into the car business?
Meinke: I got into it in 1979. I sold cars at Gerald Olds Jeep Renault AMC in Naperville, Ill. I grew up in Joliet, right next door. It’s a funny story. My father-in-law worked in that store. He came to me and said, basically, “If you’re going to support my daughter, you’re going to be able to do it in the car business.”
AE: Was it something you wanted to do?
Meinke: You know, it always seemed like it might be a fun thing to do. It got in my head when I purchased my first new car in 1977. And when I did it, I enjoyed it.
AE: How much training did you get?
Meinke: Not much! I spent two full days watching Betamax videotapes of Joe Girard. From there, most of my training was just working with my father-in-law. He was the top guy until I got there.
AE: You passed your own father-in-law on the leaderboard?
Meinke: After 30 days, I started driving the Toronado, which was for the salesman of the month.
AE: How long were you in sales?
Meinke: Only for about 18 months. I wanted to get into F&I. We had a young man in that position and I didn’t really care for how he was treating the salespeople and customers. I felt I could do a better job. The dealer didn’t want to take me off the floor, so I went to work for Pat Ryan. This was in 1981. And of course, back then, all you had to sell was credit insurance and service contracts.
AE: How did the opportunity with Pat Ryan come about?
Meinke: My brother- in-law worked for them. He put the idea in my head. He put me in touch with the right person. I called him up, we had the interview, and they hired me. As I understood it, back then they made an exception, because they preferred to hire college grads and put them through their program. They didn’t think they’d be able to keep the retail guys.
AE: What was the job?
Meinke: I was a specialist. We called it, back then, a “Rent-a-Ryan.” I would go work F&I at an underperforming dealership or fill in for someone who went on vacation. It could be a week or two or up to six months.
AE: Did you travel all over the country?
Meinke: I wasn’t in that position very long. The furthest I went was Wisconsin.
AE: How was the pay?
Meinke: The pay was not good. But I didn’t have any kids at that point and figured going backward was OK as long as the opportunity was good and I enjoyed it. Selling cars wasn’t enough of a challenge at that point in my life. But then, I didn’t like being cooped up in an office either. I liked to see deals being made and talk with customers on the showroom floor.
I did that for six months and then got promoted to district manager. At that point, I felt like I was basically an agent. My job was to go in, raise expectations, and show them how to exceed those expectations, and to increase my district be putting on new dealers. I did that for a little over a year, then I was promoted to area manager for Northern Illinois.
AE: Did you get to know Pat Ryan?
Meinke: I won’t say I knew him very well, but I certainly had the opportunity to be in the same meetings on occasion. Once a year, we had a corporate meeting. He would always make those meetings and make time to have a drink with us.
AE: Was there a sense at that time that you were doing something special?
Meinke: Yes. The big thing is, Pat was a genius. He understood the retail automobile business and the training aspect of it. He started the first real training class in the industry for finance.
AE: How long were you with the company?
Meinke: I left in 1986. With a partner, I started a training company specifically for protective coatings. We didn’t sell any products, and we didn’t care what the dealer carried. We just applied training concepts to what we saw as a new profit center. Nobody was doing really well with protective coatings at that point. We Ryan-ized that industry.
I ended up selling the business to my partner in 1990 and went back into retail. I went in as a sales manager and moved up to general sales manager and general manager. I worked in several stores, mostly Toyota, Honda and Hyundai. I spent a lot of years with Toyota, and it was a lot of fun. We had good product and it was an exciting time.
So I did retail throughout the ’90s and into the 2000s, then left around 2009 to come to work with ECP.
AE: What prompted that move?
Meinke: The hours. When you’re working five days a week, and your head is in the game six days a week, you don’t see a lot of your kids growing up. In her senior year of high school, my daughter was the captain of her cheerleading team. She had an awards banquet. I had to be there, so I took the night off, but someone got sick, so I had to go in. A few weeks later, I quit, and shortly after that, I joined ECP.
I’ve known ECP since the ’80s. They ran an ad, I saw it, I called the president, and I went in the same day. I went in as a regional manager, did that for about a year, and then I was promoted to national sales manager. Looking back, I wished I could have done it 10 years earlier.
AE: It sounds like you’ve had success at every stop.
Meinke: I don’t know that I have. I think “success” is a very broad word. No matter how successful you are, you can always be more successful. I’m learning every day and getting better. I’m still striving to hit the pinnacle. But I’m happy, and I love what I do. That’s more important than anything.
AE: What are you working on now? What gets you up in the morning?
Meinke: What gets me up in the morning? Incomplete business from the night before. (Laughs) No, really, the challenge growing the business and seeing the results materialize is what really gets me excited. I’m proud to have a good team around me at ECP that does a really good job. They are the folks who make everything happen. We are like a family and everyone loves what they do. The passion is what makes it all worth doing.
AE: Do you plan to retire with ECP?
Meinke: I will, yes. I have no intention of going anywhere. It’s a great company. When I stop enjoying what I do, then I’ll retire. When it becomes work, then I might take up golf.