Lloyd Trushel has a passion for the automotive industry and a background that spans decades spent in sales, F&I, new and used, management positions, and eventually training. His entrepreneurial spirit has led him to build companies from the ground up and author his own book, The Art of F&I. AE sat down with Trushel recently to get some insight into his experiences and uncover the secrets behind a successful career in F&I.
Slow down and focus on making a connection with your customers.
How did you get started in the world of automotive?
In 1991 I was playing in a band, living on next to nothing, in Tampa, Florida. The singer and I would go out on the streets in Ybor and we would play for money. One afternoon I was talking to my buddy in New Jersey, who was selling Hondas at the time and making $900 a week. I couldn’t fathom what $900 a week looked like, but I knew I was tired of being broke, so I went to go stay with him for a little while and sell cars. I moved into his basement, sold cars for a little while. During that period of time, I learned how to read credit reports, and listened to my F&I manager rehash. That’s basically is where I began my love affair with F&I.
The store I started at didn’t offer any training. Basically, the schedule was posted on the front door and we were told to read the brochures and “Go make us proud.” To be frank with you, I didn’t sell cars very well at first. One of the first customers I had was an old man looking at a used Honda Accord while his wife was down the street at an appointment, so he was just wasting time and kicking tires. He wasn’t actively trying to get too much information, but he did ask me the price on a particular car. So I go inside to the desk and the sales manager says to me, “Well, it doesn’t matter what the price is, if he doesn’t want the car, it doesn’t matter if the deal is good or bad or any of it. So just go sell the car.” There was no training given on how to handle a situation like this. So I go talk to the guy and let him know they wont tell me what the price is, which is kind of ridiculous, but that was old school car dealerships. That was just one of many similar situations that probably wasn’t the best training ground to be in. But, the important thing was, while I was there, I learned how to read credit reports.
When I moved back to Florida, I ended up getting a job as a buyer for a mortgage company, and I did that for a few years. After that, I applied for a job as a bank rep that called on car dealerships. During the interview, I mentioned my short time at a dealership and the guy goes, “Hold on, you know what an F&I manager is then, right? You’ve got the job.” That was in 1995, and I wound up working for a company called Aegis Auto Finance. A year later I was offered my first F&I job at Bill Curry Ford in Tampa. The finance director there hazed me for about 15 minutes because they heard that Aegis ran out of money and was going out of business, before I even knew about it. So they hazed me about being unemployed, but ended up offering me a job in their F&I department, and I’ve been working with dealers ever since.
I see you spent time working as a GM and within the F&I office. Would you say spending time in both areas of the dealership helped round out your skill set?
They are very different positions. But with where I am today, I’m doing training with F&I managers in stores, but I also have to communicate with the general managers all the time. Having been a GM, and having spent time looking at financial statements, measuring what your net gross is and being able to have those tough conversations has been incredibly valuable.
After working your way through different dealerships and positions, at what point did you think — I have what it takes to train in F&I and help others build on their skills?
When I worked for the bank, I was training dealers on how to do subprime deals and set up their special finance departments. So I was kind of an F&I trainer before I actually spun a deal in that sense of the word, as well as teaching people how to put a deal together. Later on when I was looking for a gig, I picked up the phone and called the people I knew at Assurant. At that point, they didn’t have a position open in a store, but they were looking for an F&I trainer for the company. So they hired me, because I had the background not just in F&I but also in training F&I managers on subprime.
Fast-forward to 2020, and you’re currently a co-founder of the Consator Group. What’s it like building a business from the ground up?
Its fun; it’s occasionally challenging, but definitely fun. We do training and development for dealers, and we build private label and custom programs for them. We build customized programs for each store because everything we’re doing is based around the culture within the specific dealership. Different dealerships are set up differently, have different personalities that run them, and different metro-markets that they operate in. Some dealers genuinely care about the customer a lot more than others. Now that’s not to say that any of those dealers are bad people, but what we’ll try to do is customize the exact experience the dealer is looking for.
A number of years ago, I had a client that had 14 different rooftops in Florida and owned another 15 stores spread out around the country. We were at lunch one day, having a conversation about rebuilding the VSC program for all his stores, and whether or not we were going to keep the thermostat as an included item. After discussing the actuarial data and the current loss ratios, it was determined that there was probably 2.5-3% greater profitability in his portfolio by not including the thermostat because the contract didn’t include subsequential or consequential damage. He wasn’t a mean-spirited person by any means, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t as profitable, so he decided to cut it out.
That same week I was visiting with another dealer who owns several Ford stores, and I was installing a service contract program for his dealerships. Instead of trying to cut out a little piece of coverage because it made it more profitable for the stores, he explained to me the most important thing he has is his customers. He said, “I can sleep good at night, and I like the fact that I sleep good at night, so I need a contract that is going to take care of people so they’re not going to be angry, they’re not going to be frustrated, and they’re not going to resent that they spent money with me. I need the contract to be bullet-proof, and I need it to take good care of my customers.” So I always have conversations like that with the dealer principals that I’m working with because some people are just about the dollars and others are about creating legacy. You’ve got to figure out where they draw that line and build a program around what their specific goals are.
It sounds like you are really helping these dealerships create an atmosphere that caters to the customers of today that go into the store knowing what they want.
Yes. But at the same time you have to keep that in check, because sometimes customers are very unreasonable and you need to rein that in. The customer obviously doesn’t want you to make a profit off of them, the customer isn’t always going to take perfect care of their vehicle, and they’re still going to want the claim paid. So there is a little nuance in making sure that, yes, we want to be focused on the customer’s experience, but there is a little bit of a boundary that needs to be acknowledged there too, because if you did everything the customer was hoping for, there might not be any profitability left for the dealer, and that’s not good either. None of us would be in business if that occurs.
Is there anything new and exciting on the horizon for the Consator Group?
I mean, there’s always something happening. Right now we are getting an interesting amount of traction off the book in that I’m having finance managers around the country tell me, “My PVR was $1,500 and it jumped up to $2,280, thank you!” Right now it’s slow, but at the same time it’s not. I keep making 10 new connections a week from GMs around the country, and I don’t know how much of this is going to grow into training down the road, but it’s momentum.
Moving onto your latest undertaking, The Art of F&I. What spurred that venture — Is writing a book something you have always thought about doing?
It’s something I have been talking about for maybe 10 years. Back in December, I finally sat down and said I’m going to write the manuscript that I’ve been toying with for more than a decade. Then COVID happened, and I tried very hard to focus on the book I had planned in my mind pre-COVID. I didn’t want to write a book that was heavily influenced by the pandemic and human behavior aspects as a result of it. All of those things are the same, they haven’t changed — and once we get to the other side of this, humans are going to be exactly the same as before — in my opinion.
Without sharing too much, what is the main focus?
A lot of it is about understanding human behavior and generating trust. If I spent all my time trying to figure out how to overcome objections, that’s fine and most F&I training teaches the model of overcoming objections, but the bigger problem is if the objection is not based on cost or value of your product, and instead, the objection is based on trust. So if I’m a customer and I don’t trust sales people or the insurance company or the F&I guy, then you’re going to have to sharpen your pencil to try to close the deal. And that’s not really helpful for the dealers bottom line or the customer’s experience, because now we’re haggling to the point where instead of trusting the salesperson, the customer can only trust the price. But if I do things right, hopefully, I can get them to extend trust to me, just based on the way the transaction feels, and that’s really what the book is about — generating trust and creating relationships with your customers.
You mentioned not wanting the book to focus too much on the effects of 2020, but more so on the normalcy of everyday life. But, in times of crisis, are there any F&I survival tips you’d like to share?
The main thing is wanting to connect with people, and it doesn’t matter how you do it. We find ourselves in situations now where we don’t have the perfect scenario, where the customer comes and sits across from us and we do the presentation the way we’ve always done it. We have to improvise a little bit now. Maybe someone is trying to do the transaction on the phone or remotely. Being able to use certain techniques and having a value system that supports offering the products is good F&I managers already have hardwired — these types of behaviors will help you sell more products. It also helps the customer out more too, because they end up walking away from the transaction feeling good about them and having the peace of mind that comes with the protection.
Before we sign off, is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
For F&I managers — slow down. Slow down and focus on making a connection with your customers. If you treat the customer like it’s only a one-time 45-minute transaction, that is a very different experience than treating the customer like it’s a relationship that could last the next 5 or 10 years. I say this because I don’t just train F&I managers, I still spin deals too. I think it would be hypocritical of me to try to train someone when I haven’t done it in years. So because I still spin deals, I’ll also run into people — doctors, lawyers, CEOs, photographers, college professors, social media gurus, all kinds of people — and I don’t always walk away having done just another transaction. Sometimes we become friends. If I am visiting with you for the first time and doing the transaction, I’m not only trying to make it as positive as possible, but there’s also the opportunity for an ongoing relationship.
When you put that in the dealership context, if I’m going to work in that dealership for five, 10, 15 years, I want to have good relationships with customers. The kind of relationship that if I ran into that customer a month later at the grocery store and we’re standing in line next to each other, it’s a positive experience where there are mutual feelings of respect. But if I don’t do it right, and it’s just a quick transition where I’m trying to maximize my profits as fast as I can, I can’t have those feelings when I meet those people again and neither can anyone else.