JM&A Group Launches Virtual F&I Solutions for Dealerships Nationwide

In today’s segment, we’re pleased to welcome Jonathan Jordan and Scott Gunnell of the JM&A Group. Jordan is the manager of sales strategy, and Scott is the group VP of business strategy and operational excellence. The pair discuss JM&A’s brand new virtual F&I program that can help your dealership level up its digital retailing strategy. Later in the segment, host Jim Fitzpatrick catches up with Brian Benstock, partner GM and VP at Paragon Honda, to discuss more on maintaining back-end profits in the virtual space.


Jim Fitzpatrick: Hi everyone. Jim Fitzpatrick with CBT News. Thanks so much for joining us as we continue our coverage into COVID-19 and its impact in retail automotive. We’re joined today by Scott Gunnell. Who’s the group vice president of business strategy and operations. Along with him is Jonathan Jordan, manager of sales strategy with JM&A. Gentlemen. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Scott Gunnell: Jim, thanks for having us.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. The reason we wanted to talk to you, JM&A is obviously one of the leaders in the F&I space. So we wanted to catch up with you to talk about digital retailing. And more specifically the impact that it will have in the F&I process. As you know, there’s a lot of dealers out there that are very nervous about digital retailing, and F&I putting those two things in the same sentence. Should dealers be concerned about their backend profits, and how they’ll be able to deliver cars successfully to consumers online?

Scott Gunnell: We don’t believe dealers should be concerned, Jim. Actually, we’re excited about the premise of digital retail, and the impact of really the Omnichannel transaction. And how it correlates into our business today. Obviously, in the situation we’re in right now with COVID-19, it’s accelerated a lot of focus in this space. And as you know, Jim, we’ve talked on this show in the past about our virtual F&I initiative.

Scott Gunnell: Fortunately for us, we’ve been walking down a path now for almost two years around, how do we further enable F&I into a more digital transaction? And we’re excited. The data tells us that consumers desire it. And ultimately that dealer personnel can be very successful doing it. So we’re bullish about digital retail and the impacts from and F&I perspective.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, you’re ready for it. All of the OEMs seem to be running ads. It’s hard not to see one of the manufacturer’s ads on TV right now. It looks like they’ve almost doubled their ad budget on TV. And they’re promoting the showroom to door experience. Our dealer’s currently prepared, right now, to deliver on the OEMs promise?

Scott Gunnell: We believe they are. I mean, dealers are resilient businessmen and women. And ultimately a dealer’s going to rise to any occasion when it comes to the challenge that’s in front of them. Certainly, dealers are on different aspects of the spectrum when it comes to digital retail. And when it comes to enabling consumers to transact, and do more of the transaction outside of the dealership. Jim, what we’ve done in this latest environment that, or what we’re dealing with here from a current state is our virtual F&I initiative, we actually rolled it out nationally.

Scott Gunnell: And so the learnings we’ve done over a thousand deals virtually, we have a lot of experience, and a lot of perspective that we’ve been able to uncover through this process. And learning, and making mistakes, and overcoming those mistakes, and continuing to learn. And what we found now is with our learnings and with the open mindedness the dealers have, because they have to rally to the cause for the challenges that exist today. Dealers are making it happen. And they’re finding success in this space and really being able to treat customers in a manner that the customer wants to be treated based on concerns that are out there today. So we feel dealers are handling it well.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Jonathan, what tools and training do dealers need to ensure a seamless car buying experience for their consumers?

Jonathan Jordan: Jim, there’s a lot of tools out there, and dealers obviously need really good tools. They need a good digital retailing tool. They need a solid website provider. They need a good menu tool, good CRM in the store. And what we’re really finding though, is most dealers, or a lot of dealers already have these tools in place. And a lot of dealers have done a good job of using the tools, and training their team around those tools. To provide a really seamless in-store experience.

Jonathan Jordan: And what we’re finding now is a big conversation. Is how do you use those same tools, those same learnings, to enable a good seamless out of store experience? And a lot of that conversation is just about being comfortable. And not over-complicating of what you’re trying to do. It’s doing what we’ve always done for a really long time. We’re just doing it in a different space. And doing it in a space where the customer, what we found is even more comfortable and the results we’re seeing from that have been huge.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. It seems as though dealers have kind of held this off in some aspects. And said, “We know digital retailing is coming, we haven’t jumped into it yet.” And now it seems as though COVID-19 hits and now they’re like, “wow, we got to do this. We have got to get into this. If we’re going to survive and then thrive in that post COVID 19 world.” Right?

Jonathan Jordan: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. You’ve got a lot of dealers, and a lot of customers, that because they either can’t come into the showroom or they’re just not comfortable coming into the showroom. They’re forced into that virtual, digital space. And so a lot of people in the industry, us included, have really had to really jump on that and double down in that space. And I really believe after this is all over that there’s going to be kind of a new normal. And customers are going to have really an increased awareness of the flexibility that exists in the way that they buy a car. And it could be interesting to see what that looks like.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Scott, what is JM&A doing to help their dealer partners to succeed in this new online sales, and F&I process?

Scott Gunnell: Several things. First, earlier, really it was last month. So not earlier this month in April, but in last month we rolled out free virtual training to any dealer. Any dealer across the nation, through our performance developments, or other instructor-led classes. Just a week ago, we introduced four more classes to that. So we have eight free training offerings. A lot of that is centered around scenarios that are relevant today. As I mentioned a little earlier in the interview, several weeks ago, we made the decision to accelerate and launch our virtual F&I initiative.

Scott Gunnell: And so now what we’re doing is, is we’ve equipped our field team to go out and in essence, train dealers on how to execute F&I in a virtual capacity. And as Jonathan mentioned, it’s tool agnostic. So whatever digital retailing platform we have, or whatever menu selling system that you have within the store, what we’re teaching folks is, how do you take what Jonathan described as the expertise in F&I, and expand that outside the walls?

Scott Gunnell: There are tools that are further along in this process than others. And ultimately our team will educate the dealer on what is the offering out there? That based on whatever the need is for the dealer, and how do we satisfy that need? So it’s very authentic to each store in each individual situation. But we’ve got hundreds of dealers now that our team has engaged in to enable a successful virtual transaction, maximizing F&I.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. And you guys have put this out there in a thousand deals already. Talk to me about that.

Scott Gunnell: Yeah. So we kicked this off back in 2018, actually. And I think that you and I might have spoke around that time. And so what we had is a very tiered crawl, walk, run-type rollout, because we wanted to learn as much as we can.

Scott Gunnell: So that is correct. We’ve done well over a thousand deals prior to the COVID scenario. And what that gave us the ability to do is really understand the customer interaction, the preference that the customer has. And then how, as Jonathan was just touching on, how do we make associates at the dealership level comfortable in interacting in this space?

Scott Gunnell: Jim, many people are good in hand-to-hand discussions in close proximity to folks. But you put them in front of a room or you put a screen in front of them and it changes the dynamic. So we’ve created a lot of scenario based training. We have a lot of perspective now that we can really rapidly speed up an F&I managers transition into this new space. The other cool thing is, is we survey our customers after they go through this process.

Scott Gunnell: And customers suggest that they would rather this process than a more traditional process. Now, we recognize customers don’t buy cars every day. So we realize that as part of the data. But it’s a truly authentic customer driven transaction. And our strategy as that’s the path we’ve been on. We in the dealer population knows that’s what customer’s been desiring for years. It’s just a matter of now, the need has changed. And necessity breeds innovation. And here we are, we’re happy that we’re here, and we’re able to support our dealers.

Jim Fitzpatrick: We’ve interviewed a number of recent car buyers that have actually purchased their vehicles completely online. And it seems they came back and said that, “Not only did they enjoy the experience more than actually going into the dealership, but they would buy a car again that way, and they’d recommend it to others.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Do you see this as the future of the auto industry? Do you think there’ll be a day in the next five years that we wake up and say, “Wow, the majority of the vehicles that a dealership is delivering in the average market is actually online and not in the showroom,”?

Scott Gunnell: Jim, I am not a good prognosticator. I’ll just tell you that right now. And so I think it’s tough to predict that. Our belief is this, is that we want to be ready for any scenario. Do we believe digital engagement is going to pick up? Absolutely. Do we believe that today there’s a new dimension from a customer’s mindset of being comfortable around human beings? And then is that driven? Some of that? Absolutely. We see that. But we do believe that the dealership still plays a role. That role will morph in time, and we believe it’s going to be more of a seamless interaction.

Scott Gunnell: And the transaction of how the dealership might not be the center point of the transaction anymore. It might be a one of many points within the transaction. Whether that’s a Zoom call like this, whether it’s a phone call, whether it’s an email, et cetera. We do believe there’s going to be a continued growth in digital engagement, but it’s tough to say how much is truly going to be online, only online in the future state.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Jonathan one last question here, and I’ll give you the last word here. What are you think are some of the lessons learned through what we’re going through right now in retail automotive, dealing with COVID-19?

Jonathan Jordan: I think we’re way more flexible as an industry than maybe some people think we are. And there’s a tremendous amount of innovation going on out there. And dealers are figuring out how to sell cars, and how to remain profitable, and how to accommodate customers in a totally different space. Is it really exciting to me to see this? Because we’ve been talking about this for a really long time, right?

Jonathan Jordan: We’ve been talking about customers changing, and customers wanting things done a different way. And we haven’t necessarily all embraced that. Because the way we were doing it, it’s been so successful. And now that the situation with the COVID-19 that’s going on right now, it’s forced a lot of us into a different space. And I’ve really seen the industry really rise to the challenge. And it’s really exciting to see what’s going on out there and the success that dealers are having.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, there’s no question. Dealers need all of the training and all of the tools that they get their hands on. Right now, I’ve spoken to over 100 here in the last five weeks. And they all are wanting the best tools and the best training that they get their hands on as they navigate through this digital retail and experience; both for their store and for their customers. It’s why we wanted to bring JMJ&A on. I know you guys are leaders in that field. So gentlemen, I want to thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Scott Gunnell and Jonathan Jordan with JM&A. Thanks so much for joining us here on CBT news.

Scott Gunnell: Thanks Jim.

Jonathan Jordan: Thank you Jim.

Jim Fitzpatrick: As we continue our conversation about digital retailing and virtual F&I, we’re joined by Brian Benstock, who is a partner in VP of Paragon Honda in New York. Brian, thank you so much for joining us here on CBT news.

Brian Benstock: Jim, thanks for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. We just spoke to a Scott Gunnell and Jonathan Jordan with JM&AQ, as you know, they’re leaders in F&I products and F&I services for dealers. And working out the best processes for consumers and dealers in their F&I space. Talk to us a little bit about what you’re doing currently. I know you’re actually one of their clients. So we wanted to reach out to you today and find out what the real deal is? what are you looking for as a dealer? What’s your F&I director looking for? And then what do the consumers want in your market when it comes down to delivering a car online? And also being able to make a profit in doing that on the back end of a deal?

Brian Benstock: Well, I think that was the big concern was that we wanted online transactions to also be profitable transactions. And a couple of years ago, I started delivering cars online. For us, what I want to be is a distributor of transportation. Not necessarily a new or used car sales department, but a distributor of transportation; however, wherever, and whenever consumers want to consume it. And we have a centrally located warehouse.

Brian Benstock: And I had this vision of being able to deliver the cars out of paradigm, and just deliver them right to the customer’s front doors. But the challenge was the customers wouldn’t come to the showroom. So I needed a solution there. And a woman from Jim Moran and associates, and I started talking and they were developing a product to keep finance relevant as a digital agent was taking over. And I was looking for a solution that would help it be profitable.

Brian Benstock: And I think we had a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich when we got together. And we started bouncing ideas off of one another. And it seemed like they were offering an incredible solution to the problem that we had identified. We wanted to be able to have a thorough, transparent process with our customers online. And Jim, we all know that every decent dealer or sales manager, knows the 300% rule; 100% of the products for 100% of the customers, 100% of the time. They all know that phrase.

Brian Benstock: How many are actually doing it? And I think the answer is a lot less than 100%.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Brian Benstock: So it’s not really a 300% rule. The really good thing, and the part that we liked is that the online process that was developed with the JM team and with our team, sort of requires that the F&I salesperson go through each of the steps, and each of the items with the customer.

Brian Benstock: You can’t go from step one to step two, without completing step one correctly. Then step two to step three. And what’s happened is we’ve developed something that’s very transparent and wow, guess what? If you present all of the products to the customer every time, guess what happens? You sell more of them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: You sell products.

Brian Benstock: Yeah. And you sell products. And we were really, really impressed with the beta test results that we got, prior to COVID. And I thank God that we got started with JM before this happened. Because I wouldn’t want to be one of the people now struggling to catch up with what’s going on. It’s here.

Brian Benstock: And we’re having a mixed month this month. I think the volume is not where I want it to be. But 100% of the sales are retail sales. And I can tell you that there’ll be over 300 online transactions conducted at Paragon Honda and Acura this month. And we were able to do finance processing on every one of those deals, and the numbers of very, very respectable that we can read.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. The dealers that are listening to us have this discussion right now about F&I and the virtual world. Are concerned about maintaining gross profit. It’s kind of the last frontier, if you will. Especially on a new car deal to make any money, right? Dealers are just holding onto that saying, “Please don’t touch this. This is our final area to make any money selling these vehicles.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Can a dealer maintain those same backend profits in the virtual space? Is it going to cost them money? Or, talk to me about that?

Brian Benstock: You stop. Who’s the richest man on the planet? Guy whose name is Jeff Bezos. Has he figured out how to make money online? What about Apple? Have they figured out how to make money online? What about Google, or how about Facebook? These guys are figuring it out. And when you buy an iPhone, who do you pick for your iPhone? MSRP each and every time. Right? Many of us, have to struggle with this concept of transparency. And we equate transparency to know margins. And Scott Galloway, professor Galloway says, “The great thing about Apple, is they have the gross profit margins of Ferrari and the volume of Toyota.” And they sell their products mostly online, or in the store. So I think as we get comfortable with transparency, as we get comfortable with transparency, we can retain a reasonable margin.

Brian Benstock: Now, many customers that we’ve spoken to, and that I know you’ve spoken to, that have taken their vehicle to delivery at home, are very happy with that experience. And let’s face it, time is a commodity. And I will pay more for, if you save me time. I will pay more if you provide convenience. The truth of the matter is, we’re not asking the customer to pay more. We’re asking the customer to pay a reasonable price for the items that we’re selling. And I think the more transparency that we employ the better off we’ll be.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure you had mentioned to me in previous conversations, that the reason that you chose JM&A, and the reason we want to talk to you today, was because of the training mechanism that they offer. Because if you don’t have buy-in, and you don’t have training at the F&I level for your store, you’re in trouble. You could have the greatest tools out there. As we all know, there’s some phenomenal tools that are never used, because the company didn’t support that dealership, or that team with training.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Talk to me about the importance of a company like JM&A, in terms of what they do. Working with your team, to get them up to speed on how to use these tools effectively.

Brian Benstock: We have 14 finance managers at the Honda and Acura stores, and we think that they were fairly well trained prior to getting together with JM&A. But this is a different skillset, selling online. This is a much different process that they have to go through. And I think they’ve been invaluable in working with our salespeople, and it was really back to basics. There was a gentleman Mark and I, and we were first beta testing, and going through the process. And Mark started asking me questions. And he started asking me basic questions, How many miles a year do you drive your car? And how many years do you keep your car?” And I went, wow, I haven’t heard that talk [crosstalk 00:19:34] such a long time. But what he was doing was really not closing the sale, but opening the sale, finding out what was important to me.

Brian Benstock: And then, and only then can you satisfy the needs. You’ve got to understand them first. And so it was really some basic training along with the technology training. And one of the big questions that people aren’t asking are, are our sales teams technologically savvy enough to deal with an online transaction from home? Do they have the right equipment? Do they have the right knowhow? And, everybody, who’s got an iPhone thinks that they’re good at communicating on the phone.

Brian Benstock: Effective communication, and using a telephone can be two very different things. Or same thing with computer technology. And so when we started working with JM, one of the things that was really appealing to me is that they’ve got their ducks in a row. They’ve taken the necessary steps from a legal perspective, to make sure that what we’re doing is compliant.

Brian Benstock: They’ve taken the steps to make sure that the training processes are consistent with the local state and regulatory rules and regulations, which is really important. I’m seeing a lot of people right now that are doing business online and they’re transmitting private data on a cell phone. Well, you can’t do that. You’ve got to be very, very careful. And I had, one of our associates ask me for access to our DMS from their home. And I went, “Are you kidding?” It’s not going to happen. You’ve got that secure database that you’ve got to protect. JM and I take those considerations as well as training and selling into mind before we got started.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Before I let you go, and I appreciate all your time that you’ve given us here today. How off is your business overall through COVID-19 and when do you think it will be back to the levels that it was prior to COVID-19?

Brian Benstock: Well, our district is reporting sales down 80%. And our dealership is in the most impacted area in the district. I’m going to say that we’re going to be off by about 55%. And that’s a big win, I think. But it’s just very uncomfortable for me to be in a position now where the sales volumes have dropped so radically, overnight. I didn’t cause the virus. And so I’ve got to give myself a little bit of a break there, but I think we’re going to come out in May.

Brian Benstock: The customers are itching to get back out into the world. And I think we’ll see sales volumes increase week over week as we go from now until July. There is a silver lining, business will be back bigger and better than ever. The silver lining may very well be that dealers, OEMs, and the consumers now, are getting very accustomed to doing transactions for our products online. And I think if there’s any good that comes out of this, that will be part of it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And that’s the very reason we wanted to talk to you today about preparing the dealers out there for this kind of virtual structure, and specifically in F&I. It’s a number one area that dealers are so concerned with. So I want to thank you so much, Brian, for joining us here on CBT news. It is always a pleasure to have you on, and you give it to us in straight talk. I will never bring up Amazon or Apple again. I promise. But Love to have you back to talk more about it. Thanks so much.

Brian Benstock: All right, Jim. Take good care.

Did you enjoy this interview? Please share your thoughts, comments, or questions regarding this topic with host Jim Fitzpatrick at

Car Biz Today, the official resource of the retail automotive industry.

soundcloudBe sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date or catch-up on all of our podcasts on demand.

While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for all the latest auto industry news from CBT News.