As AutoStar Solutions opened its seventh annual Innovate conference on Monday by highlighting six of the top new capabilities of its new DMS — Fusion 2 or F2 — president and chief executive officer Allen Dobbins explained how buy-here, pay-here dealers and finance company executives can sidestep the entrepreneurship landmines common in the industry.
During a Q-and-A style opening keynote address Dobbins said, “Sometimes, as business owners, we forget how to be entrepreneurs. It’s not enough to be a sales organization. You must develop a solid, repeatable infrastructure, especially if you plan to sell your company one day or pass it down to family.”
Dobbins conceded that most dealership owners are sales-minded and dread mundane chores like paperwork. “Big-picture tasks like vision casting and growing same-store sales are certainly vital to your success. But the nitty-gritty details also matter,” he said.
“That means appointing competent department heads to serve as your inner circle. It means creating clear job descriptions, processes and policies that make your business appealing to an outside buyer — or understandable to the family members who will take over when you retire. Whether you do so will make the difference between running a ‘lifestyle’ business or one with an exit strategy,” Dobbins went on to say.
After Dobbins’ keynote, more than 600 attendees dispersed throughout the convention center, choosing from classes in 10 different, simultaneous tracks, including compliance, management, industry operations, financial management, future proofing and F2: The Paradigm Shift.
Product experts Blaine Morgan and Steve Hall led up to 150 attendees at a time through detailed demonstrations of F2 – a ground-up, total rebuild of Fusion, AutoStar’s current DMS offering.
“We rethought every single aspect of Fusion when developing F2,” Hall said. “This is not an upgrade to an existing product. It’s a completely new, from-scratch solution that will make your business run more efficiently in ways you can’t even imagine.”
Dobbins added that F2 is the culmination of 23 years of data, experience and listening to dealers’ and lenders’ needs.
“More than two decades ago, AutoStar launched its Fusion product. Since then, we’ve offered countless upgrades and enhancements,” he said.
“But about four years ago, we caught the vision for something that would require much more than an upgrade,” Dobbins continued. “We set out to redefine what a DMS can do to save dealers and lenders time and money. These days, I don’t know of any company that isn’t forced to accomplish more with fewer resources.”
While the company insisted hundreds of differences exist between Fusion and F2, officials indicated the new product’s benefits can be boiled down to six points:
1. Functionality centered on the customer, not the contract
2. Automated workflows and more options for customization
3. A single user-friendly interface
4. Custom dashboards
5. Access from any device with a web browser
6. Functionality for independent retail dealers, point-of-sale and bulk purchase lenders, and buy-here-pay-here operations
Dobbins believes F2 will launch AutoStar as a true competitor in the independent retail and auto finance market.
“Since the company’s inception, we primarily served buy-here, pay-here dealers,” Dobbins said. “We delivered a superior product year after year to that market. But the time has come to invite others to the party,” Dobbins said. “Today, independent retail dealers and lenders make up about 14 percent of our customers.
“Over the next 12 months, we plan to double that number,” he added.
In the F2 sessions, Hall and Morgan dug into the functionality for independent dealers, as well as how to maximize the CRM and accounting capabilities of the new system.
Morgan said, “We built F2 on a full enterprise resource planning (ERP) system at its core, which means everything starts with financials and customers. Sales transactions result in immediate, related entries throughout the CRM and accounting platforms.
“Dealers can shave off several hours a day — from multiple employees — by eliminating these manual entries. At the same time, they will significantly improve accuracy through automating hundreds of daily tasks,” Morgan went on to say.
Hall added, “This is how a DMS should work, plain and simple. And F2 will be the only DMS in our market to offer this much efficiency. I personally believe F2 will save dealers more money than any other DMS, by far.”
When asked about the rollout schedule, Morgan said the company will start with new customers first, where no previous Fusion data exists. AutoStar will install F2 at its first dealership in October and roll out to new independent retail dealers from there.
Next spring, the company said it will convert existing independent customers to F2 and also begin adding new BHPH dealers and finance companies. Around August of next year, the company noted existing BHPH dealers will start the conversion process.
AutoStar expects to convert existing customers continually for several years.
“We will execute the transition slowly and methodically, because we want to do it right, and we have a long list of customers to serve,” Dobbins said.
“It’s important to note that we won’t force anyone to convert to F2 if they’re happy with the current Fusion product,” he continued. “We plan to support and frequently enhance Fusion for years to come. Although the day may arrive at some point, we currently have no timeframe in mind when we would no longer support that product.
“But I can’t imagine anyone would pass up F2 once they see it in action. We believe in this vision wholeheartedly and will build the future of AutoStar around it,” Dobbins went on to say.
Ahead of the rollout, Dobbins said his development team is already working on future enhancements to F2.
“The entire F2 product operates on any device that supports an internet browser, including smartphones and tablets. However, we are already looking at adding several task-specific mobile apps, such as inventory valuation and stock-in, service estimating, and more,” he said.
Dobbins noted that any dealer who acquires F2 should not worry about outgrowing the system.
“Whether you’re doing leasing, buy-here, pay-here, retail financing, wholesale, or are in the contract acquisition business as a lender, F2 is your comprehensive solution,” he said.